The great cartoonist and eccentric Gerard Hoffnung taught at my school for a single year in the 1940s – but he was still a legend when I arrived four decades later.
Little wonder. The man was a true artist – and one who knew that artistic technique is not the same as finding something worth saying.
It showed in the way he taught. You only have to eavesdrop on this memory of ‘Nunggy’ from a former pupil:
Dressed in fawn riding breeches, a yellow waistcoat and ginger tweed jacket, puffing at a Tyrolean pipe with clouds of smoke billowing through its perforated lid, Nunggy greeted us at the Art Shack door. “Sit down, sit down boys” he bellowed in his inimitable high pitched, tobacco flavoured voice as IV B tramped noisily in. “Take out your mapping pens and bottles of Indian ink and doodle”.
We looked at each other. “Doodle?”
“Please, Sir, what do you mean – doodle, someone bravely asked”
“Doodle, boy, doodle.” Adding: “Doodling is doodling. I’m going to play to you. While you are listening to the music you must doodle.”
A very large, long case was dragged up onto the wooden dais. Nunggy extracted what looked like a couple of organ pipes. He replaced his pipe with a reed, blew into it, filled out his cheeks and went a puce and made a noise like a duck. Attaching the reed to the end of a thin S shaped metal tube, he stuck it in the side of his double bassoon. He began to play. We kept our heads down – “doodling”, not daring to look at each others’ masterpieces.
Half way through the double period Nunggy stopped playing his bassoon, stepped down from the dais and walked round looking over each of our shoulders. “That’s not doodling, boy. DOODLE”, he screeched at every desk.
Doodle, doodle, doodle… when I read that for the first time, I was awestruck.
Because it’s exactly how I write – I muck around with ideas and words until they take on a life and direction of their own.
And the minute I worry about the technique I use for – say – a blog post, I sound hollow and boring and empty.
Worse – there’s nothing to distinguish my stuff from hundreds of thousands of other blog posts out there.
And that’s why I hate most advice about blogging technique – knowing that ‘5 great ways to…’ posts are popular with readers isn’t a substitute for having five great things to say.
I still fall into the trap, though. And I’m not alone.
So let’s forget the techniques that are supposed to work and summon up the ideas that do work.
And if it’s something commonplace with a bit of an expression, then so be it.
As Nunggy said:
I would try to draw something, a chair for instance, and there it would be – with an expression. I had almost nothing to do with it.