A constant delight.Graeme Macrae Burnet

In March 2020, as the coronavirus took hold and lockdowns were imposed around the world, author and illustrator Edward Carey published a sketch of ‘a determined young man’ on social media, with a plan to keep posting a drawing a day until life returned to normal. One hundred and fifty pencil stubs later, he was still drawing, chronicling the pandemic and politics, charting time, maintaining connections and finding beauty amid the horror of extraordinary times…

There is something so comforting about a blank piece of paper and the lines the pencil can make upon it. The pencil is a humble object but a versatile one: it can make very faint marks or the blackest black. It is also very forgiving: if you make a mistake, don’t worry, you can rub it out. A pencil can be anything, and drawing requires no great set-up – just a piece of paper and a sharpener, and then it can be kings or trolls, philosophers or grackles.

As I posted my first drawing on Twitter and Instagram, and having declared that I would do a drawing every day until we were allowed to be with each other again, I thought, it won’t be long, a month or two. That seemed easy enough then, and a daily drawing would provide at least a small piece of structure for the day. A drawing a day is, after all, not so very much. It doesn’t weigh on one too heavily. It’s a little escape, a hello, a mark of time like the scratches prisoners make on their cell walls. Don’t think about how long it will go on for, focus on the now. Today is here, tomorrow is unknowable.

Each morning I would scratch my head and wonder what to draw that day. After that, other people – including many I’d never met – started putting in requests.”

© Edward Carey

Day 1 ~ A determined young man

Very soon the question for me became what to draw next. The second day was, somewhat unimaginatively, a determined young woman, and then a grackle because I love grackles, and then the cat that had become the newest member of our family. But each morning I would scratch my head and wonder what to draw that day. I did Samuel Pepys because I missed London – I already missed it, I’d been there only a few days ago back then and it already seemed like forever. A friend quarantined in an apartment in Rome asked me to draw Daniel Defoe because, like Pepys, Defoe witnessed the Great Plague in the British capital.

After that, other people – including many I’d never met – started putting in requests. Soon I found myself drawing people or animals I’d never otherwise illustrate. Along came a magpie and a goat (Great Orme goats, taking advantage of the lack of people on the streets, were wandering casually from the countryside into the Welsh town of Llandudno). Then came characters from Shakespeare: King Lear and Richard II. Then writers: Mary Wollstonecraft and Virginia Woolf. Characters from mythology or folklore: Medusa, a brownie, Puss in Boots, Baba Yaga, Pesta (an old hag in Norwegian folk tales who is the embodiment of the Black Death), and a plague doctor. Also, more great minds to help us in this strange isolation, consolation from great writers of the past: Michel de Montaigne, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson. I posted a drawing every day, sending a little message in pencil. I was on my way. By then I’d made twenty-six drawings.

From B: A Year in Plagues and Pencils (Gallic Books, £14.99)

 

Edward Carey was born in North Walsham, Norfolk and now teaches at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a novelist, visual artist, playwright and director. His most recent novels are Little (Gallic Books, 2018), which was a Times and Sunday Times book of the year, and The Swallowed Man (Gallic Books, 2020). B: A Year in Plagues and Pencils is out now from Gallic Books.
Read more
edwardcareyauthor.com
@EdwardCarey70
edwardcareyauthor
@BelgraviaB

Also by Edward Carey on Bookanista:
Mannequins and monsters
Singular museums

 

Click on images to enlarge and view in slideshow
All drawings © Edward Carey

© Edward Carey

Day 2 ~ An extremely determined young woman

© Edward Carey

Day 3 ~ A grackle

© Edward Carey

Day 4 ~ Margaret Cat

© Edward Carey

Day 6 ~ King Lear

© Edward Carey

Day 12 ~ Medusa

© Edward Carey

Day 14 ~ A Great Orme Goat. These goats took over the deserted streets of Llandudno during the first lockdown.

© Edward Carey

Day 17 ~ Baba Yaga

© Edward Carey

Day 19 ~ Virginia Woolf

© Edward Carey

Day 20 ~ Self portrait aged 2 on my fiftieth birthday

© Edward Carey

Day 21 ~ A plague doctor

© Edward Carey

Day 23 ~ Pesta

© Edward Carey

Day 25 ~ Fiver from Watership Down on Easter Sunday

© Edward Carey

Day 26 ~ Richard II

 

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