David Hughes’ Pandemic Sketchbook

Emotions have been running high over the pandemic and for many artists drawing has been a natural response to their own reactions. In his new book AOI Patron David Hughes has collated many of the drawings, sketches and works on materials-to-hand sketched ‘live’ in front of the television since news of the virus broke in late 2019. His collection, currently a limited edition, is made up of a selection of sketches from over 800 created up to June 2021.

David’s Pandemic Sketchbook has been self published with the cover artwork containing the phrase that many will remember from Government pandemic briefings as various speakers issued useful – or vague – information to the watching audience: ‘Next slide, please’.

David Hughes’ work grabs the eye through powerful, sometimes challenging images, and The Pandemic Sketchbook shows him adept at capturing the characteristics of politicians, government advisors and television presenters in the public eye. His distinctive hand rendered text, which connects so well with the drawing, emphasises the personal as comments are neatly added or sometimes scrawled around the drawings. Speech bubbles capture quotes from those observed or thoughts of the artist, and snippets of other news he depicts telegraph memories of pandemic related events that now feel like they are from another era. Sadly, of course, they are not.

There have been many photographs revealing the impact of the pandemic on the public and national institutions, but an individual’s response to the ongoing crisis carries a personal weight which can also have a universal quality.

We asked David for his thoughts on the pandemic project, and below he reveals how the drawings started and what plans he has for the Sketchbook.

You draw regularly – were the images in response to the pandemic situation spontaneous or part of a project?

Spontaneous. Very rarely have I ever used sketchbooks until I drew Walking The Dog in a sketchbook and subsequently The Pillbox, and from then on nothing but sketchbooks. I also realised in the past few years I spent more times in hospital and doctors waiting rooms, so I finally began to use pocket size sketchbooks to pass the time sketching fellow patients and the like. Then in the last couple of years I started to erratically draw in the pocket size books in bed instead of reading, which meant using pencil. So that was the run up to the pandemic.

When the pocket sized books were filled up I graduated to some old ‘dummy’ copies of Folio Society books that I’d illustrated in the past, and finally a blank dummy of The Pillbox.

I hate drawing politicians, but then obsessively drew the daily Downing Street briefings live from the TV, and then it started to creep up on me that it was almost becoming a job, a commission…

Do these drawings feel cathartic in any way?
They did at the beginning, especially if I did a daily morning drawing from my bed before the day started – it was not unusual for me to start drawing at 4am.

What are your plans for the Pandemic Sketchbook

To get a full version published. What you see here is a ‘sampler’. I must’ve drawn about 900 or so drawings during that period January 2020 – 19 July 2021, I’ve stopped now. The Pandemic Sketchbook sampler has been sent out to some publishers etc – but to date no takers, only Taschen replied with a sympathetic and encouraging reply. 

It was designer Tom Shaughnessy who follows me on Instagram who wrote last year ‘if you ever want to put these drawings together as a book – I’m your man.’ (Tom had co-designed my book Shakespeare’s Othello, back in 1997) – Ideally a 300 page or thereabouts a book that is not A4 format printed on lovely paper – that’s not too much to ask is it?!

Maybe now I’ve gone past the sell by date, it’s too late… I don’t know – many of my Instagram followers have commented it’s an important historical document and should be published. I don’t know about that, but if nothing else, it is a personal record that my grandchildren perhaps will look through in the future. Crowdfunding is an option but I don’t think I’ve the energy or nous to participate… if any publisher wants to get in touch, please do.

To purchase a copy of The Pandemic Sketchbook message David via his Instagram account.

17th August 2021

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