25 March 2010

Community Service #6 - Jenny Soep

Some of you out there might not know who Jenny Soep is, but you might well have spotted her at a gig. Her talent is that she captures the essence of live performance, by drawing artists as they play. If you haven't come across her sketchings before, then I would urge you to head over to her homepage or her blog (while you're on her blog, mind and follow her) and feast your eyes on something which is truly inspiring.
It was actually back in 2007, at the Ballad of the Books gig at the Tramway, that I first came across Jenny's work. Thankfully for the good lady she didn't have. Her sketchings were being posted all over the venue shortly after each gig, so towards the end of the day I had the great idea to try and find out more. By great idea I mean that I was a bit drunk and wanted to go and talk shite to her. Fortunately for her, she wasn't manning her station' at the time, so her poor brother had to listen to me waffle on about god knows what. Jenny - if you are reading this, please apologise on my behalf, as I still cringe at thought. Anyway, enough of my waffle, I'll pass you over to Jenny to let her explain to you in her own words as to what it is that she does.........

What was it that first motivated you to start drawing live bands?

I've always been an observer, but I get a kick out of forming a connection with what I’m experiencing on a metaphysical level. I am also fascinated by the different ways that people hear and remember. People don’t go to live gigs simply to ‘hear’ the music, they are there to experience it. Describing what they did the night before, they went to ‘see’ a gig or they ‘went to such and such’, they never simply say I ‘listened’. That’s because going to a gig moves you mentally, emotionally and physically. People have different ways of experiencing the music - sitting, dancing, standing, singing/humming along, with eyes closed or open, or simply being in an altered atmosphere with their best friends. It affects a response, is rousing. I’m a drawing based artist with specific interest in styles of drawing that are affected by the situation they have been created in, using the influence of the live music experience to affect the picture as it is created in situ. This leaves it exposed to all the other factors present – audience interaction whether unintended or not, humidity/weather, and myself. I am creating human drawings in an era where people have the technology enabling them to prolificly document their experiences, resulting in a new wave of people who are experiencing live events differently. I also live for the moments where I have to improvise, relying on my inherent skills and the adrenalin of the unknown. A gig has an unquantifiable time frame and a lot of components in its live production, adjustable to the mood and response of many factors including the different musicians themselves, the audience, the instruments, production, crew - there is a lot resting on the human elements and also the technology. It is my way of connecting to a moment in time where I am lucid, inspired, excited, creative and responsive, with a combination of observational drawing, blind drawing and automatic drawing, a moment that seems to join my conscious with my subconscious. I place myself in a scenario for the amalgamation between the controlled and the natural impulse.

What has been the highlight of your sketching experience so far?

Oh gosh, there hasn’t been ‘one’ specifically, but I was particularly insane with excitement drawing Bjork at Connect Music Festival 2007, Sigur Ros at HydroConnect 2008, David Byrne at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall last March, and The Flaming Lips November 2009. And that's just the music. There are other events and somewhat more static environments that have been hugely stimulating. Drawing first in the rain on paper, and then on my mobile phone at the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down was definitely one of the most intense experiences that I have had the fortune to share in. Doing what I do has introduced me to a lot of amazing and creative people and their work in poetry, theatre, animation and other arts. Scotland really has got so much going for it, in the artists it produces and those it welcomes and facilitates.

How do you choose the acts that you draw?

Up until the past year or two, I have lived for the incidental, the unplanned, the unexpected, the spontaneous. I choose acts without trying to know too much about their music beforehand. Up until recently I have very rarely listened to music other than live. Music and other audio tends to distract me faster than the visual. I have always found it difficult to pay attention to just one thing, and from schooldays to even now, I find it difficult in listening to one thing at one time. I have three main ways of selecting – people whom I respect's recommendation, the artwork used by the musicians, and minimal listening to a range of their music. Sometimes, but not often, I have researched some background or read lyrics, but I get a buzz from experiencing new music that clicks, or lyrics that appear on my radar - why will some listeners hear certain words before others? Is it the musicians intention, or is it a fate inflected moment? I want to be drawing at that first epiphaneous moment. Judging by the drawing and that first experience, I will know if I wish to develop more drawings with that band/musician, or conversely that I really don't think it was for me. Either way, I view them as valuable experiences and drawing can also give me the patience to listen in to music that initially I find aggravating, but then become hooked.

Do you have to ask for a bands permission before you draw them?

I will always try to ask someone's permission whether it's the musicians themselves, their managers or the promoters who usually ask the musicians on my behalf if they're cool with it. Haven't had anyone refuse so far, but I anticipate the day when I'm told to pick up my paintbrushes and piss off. If I ask someone I normally get their email so that I can mail them a copy of the picture I draw on the night as a thank you.

Can a band approach you to come along and sketch them?

A band approaching me normally scares me. I like to experience the music as an independent creature detached from its creators. I want to be taken in by the magic before identifying with the people. I want the initial feeling of awe to possess me and hopefully affect the style of drawing coming out, drawing the essence of the musicians performing their music rather than drawing caricatures of people familiar to me

Has anyone been offended by anything that you’ve drawn?

It’s not often although most of the time it’s because they’ve not been drawn in as much detail as others in the picture, though I only aim for simple depictions. There are also times when I am repelled myself by what I've done in relation to my own emotional interpretation of it but still feel compelled to show it to the musicians. I can be a bit self-effacing at times, so I try to keep quiet. It’s hard though when suddenly I am meeting the humans behind the magic, and I anticipate that my one off interpretation may not reflect for them the majesty of their own experience J

What artist would you like to sketch the most?

Bjork, infinite times. I am mostly attracted to musicians who are also artists (in the sense of visual/installation/sculptures/writers/poets) in their own right, or at least frustrated artists in their pursuit of their musical vocation. They tend to be more experimental, quirky, weird, are or have experienced being the underdog at one point or another (or many.)

Lastly, what can we expect to see from you in 2010?

Ah, well expect forays into new media, 'drawing projects' abroad, and the emergence of Jenny Soep ‘illustrated literature’. Last year I managed three solo multimedia shows with performances from Found, Alan Bissett, RM Hubbert, Burnt Island and Ryan Van Winkle no less. The final one I had all the audience drawing as well which was brilliant! So I’m hoping to expand upon that this year, date and location still being decided. I recently drew an amazing gig with Florence and the Machine in Stockholm at a great venue called Debaser Medis. I'm going to start hunting for particular venues around Europe that accommodate the type of musicians I like, and are suitable for my type of drawing - ie some venues are really difficult to get good drawings in, much the same as photographers have favourite venues. I'm heading back to the drawing board too as it were, to my roots in Illustration and am spending more time working on illustrated narratives. I am also experimenting with new technology, and am pursuing the infinite possibilities there. This coming weekend I will be doing projected digital drawings at the innovative Ten Tracks multimedia music and art night - The Verden Whistle Test in Portobello, Edinburgh. Every ticket holder gets a DVD of the nights’ entertainment. Last week I got my first paid gig to draw on my mobile phone where audience members were texted the picture afterwards. I also have an intimate little exhibition at Bar Ten, Glasgow opposite the building formerly known as the Lighthouse. Bar Ten is known for it’s photography exhibitions so I’m pleased to have my own variety of documentary work up on the walls. It’s on from Tuesday 30th March. So along with an increasing amount of teaching drawing workshops and a few other aspirations, all in all I’m feeling quite excited for the drawing devilry promised by 2010!


  1. I remember I was so wrecked at the WWPJ gig she drew and I was shouting 'JETPAAAAAACKS' and the like really loud when it was mostly a quiet crowd - I was that guy- but if you look at her drawing of the night, she has added all my shouts interweaved into the picture. Classic! Oh, I also think she is fantastic.

  2. Awwww nice shout Mr Peenko!
    I seen some of her work recently but sadly didn't know where to find more of it on the interwebs - result!