Written by Vicki Holder
Years later, he would take his own sketchbook as he cycled on his travels and recorded what he saw. Then, as he nurtured his thriving graphic design career and had three children, the sketching stalled. “I never thought you could do art while you did these things. It took a while to figure out.”
“There is something about the immediacy of a sketch which brings you closer to the subject than photography can.”
Five years ago, while initially sharing his work online, he caught the attention of Urban Sketchers, an organisation dedicated to fostering a global community of artists who practise on-location drawing. The group, which has a particular interest in the storytelling potential of drawing on location, invited him to become the only New Zealander among 100 global correspondents.
Members of the group include a guy embedded with a military unit in Afghanistan and Iraq and a social worker in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak. Reportage is diverse; from the banal and family focused to the newsy with events such as a family wedding in Mexico and a Chilean rodeo championship.
Ever since, he’s dedicated a few hours a week – mostly weekends and lunch-breaks - to an ever increasing body of work, some of which can be seen on his own blog Auckland Sketchbook. It ranges from authentic big live-action events like the Rugby World Cup, ITU World Triathlon and Santa Parades to beach scenes, buildings, family holidays and his kids.
“I’m now a co-editor of the website which is quite exciting work. We hunt out and publish some interesting stuff.”
With the crash and boom of old buildings being demolished and replaced all around his Victoria Street CBD office, Murray doesn’t have to venture far for material. Often, he nips out from his graphic design work and becomes absorbed in the action. Through keen observation and fine brush strokes, loosely filled in with colour, his sketches inject a real sense of energy and life to the scene.
“There’s something about getting away from the computer screen and getting the feeling of pencil on paper. It gives the eyes a rest.”
Murray relishes the ability to lose himself in quiet contemplation even when he’s recording the clamour of deconstruction and construction among diggers, trucks and cranes.
After picking his subject and setting up the composition, the hand takes over and time just passes by. “There’s a trance-like element to it. I feel a bit invisible. I once spent an hour and half drawing the Duomo in Florence. Standing on a super busy street corner, I was totally oblivious to the throngs of people and traffic around me.”
When he’s sketching, he becomes disguised as part of the action. People generally ignore him as he takes out his pens and works vigorously, to convey a place and a moment as realistically as he can. The aim is to finish on site occasionally finishing the colour later. If too much of the sketch is completed off site the work is no longer an authentic reaction to a place.
His favourites are some of the old sketches completed when hanging with Kurdish herders near Mt Arawat in eastern Turkey. “Even though they were quite average, basic black and white sketches, they transport me straight back there – bringing back the colours, sounds and tastes.”
Recently, he started Urban Sketchers Aotearoa to encourage others to sketch.
“Some people do architectural rendering for a job but they’ve never thought about doing it for fun. People like engineers, scientists and chemists are actually quite creative. Sketching lets them have a creative life as well."
"It’s continual practice that makes you good.”
“I’d like to encourage younger people to continue with their drawing practice because most stop. We have young graphic designers in the office who can’t draw. For me, that’s why I got into it.”
He regrets not having been more active when he arrived in Auckland during the 80s. The fact is, the urban landscape looks considerably different now. Many of his illustrations are of old heritage buildings that have since disappeared.
“For a long time I found the fact Auckland is changing depressing. I don’t like to see old character getting destroyed unnecessarily. There was a building I sketched along Jervois Road, the old Erawan Thai Restaurant. At one in the morning, the movers came and carried it away to a lifestyle block in Leigh. That kind of thing dilutes the heritage of these inner city suburbs.”
About the intensification of Auckland he says: “It’s inevitable and it is exciting but sometimes I wish they’d ask me personally how to do it!”
Last year he took part in a sketchers’ symposium in Singapore and was selected as a reporter to draw events and post stories as they happened. “It was challenging and I learnt a lot – how to economise on the amount of actual drawing. I had to be really quick drawing people in action. It taught me to extract just the required amount from a scene, to tell what was going on. Writing about it really quickly gave me an idea what it was like for a reportage artist 100 years ago before photography took over. It would have been a great time to be a sketcher.”
He also recently illustrated and designed a children’s book called Bruce Wants To Go Faster – from Backyard Racer to World Champion. The inspirational story of racing car driver Bruce McLaren written by Dreydon Sobanja. “His story about overcoming shortcomings to do well in life has parallels with that of my uncle,” which gave Murray the idea for the story. The book will make the perfect accompaniment to the movie about McLaren’s life which comes out early next year.
Murray is never lacking ideas. He’d love to unleash his sketch reportage on some more serious events. “That would be cool and maybe some day to turn them into paintings. I’m interested in narrative in illustration, telling stories like the Bruce McLaren one. I need the next new big project.”
So, if you have something in mind, give Murray a call at Worksight.
Phone +64 9 308 998