Quick on the draw

Wil Freeborn

Wil Freeborn’s instant sketches have won him an ardent following – he explains how the people and places of Scotland inspire his art

Wil Freeborn is a man so committed to his craft that he tweets about the status of his art supplies: “That perfect moment when your Pentel brush pen is running out of ink and you get a great textured type of line…” is just one recent comment. But he’s on the move a lot, so Twitter is a good platform for him to connect with his followers. To them, his images provide a visual diary of his travels around Scotland and a record of many of the latest openings, launches and new ventures taking place around the country.
Part of his job as an illustrator sees the 42-year-old setting off from his Gourock base each day and heading to the most interesting coffee shops and artisan outlets that are popping up all over Scotland, to capture their interiors, customers and atmosphere in his brilliantly descriptive sketches.
The coffee shop series came along by accident, says the unassuming artist. “I had a studio at the Briggait,” he recalls, “and every day I would take a good long break by walking to the nearest coffee shop, where I’d draw while I was having my lunch.” He’d noticed a new style of independent café was opening up in and around the city – places like Papercup and Laboratorio Espresso – so he turned his lunchtime doodles into a series of paintings. Soon he was adding exterior studies and looking to travel further afield. “I like doing small, self-initiated projects. I recently did a short exhibition in Peña, a coffee shop by Glasgow University – it was a series of small watercolour portraits of its customers.”
For Wil, it was not only a great way to draw people but also to engage with them and allow them to become a part of what he does. He has worked on a series of illustrated takeaway coffee cups, something that moves him away from his sketchbook and forces him to “play around with the idea of what drawing can be”.
It all began on his daily commute, when he decided to try to do a drawing a day on his train journey from Gourock to Glasgow. Having lived in a “pretty harsh part” of Glasgow, he wanted to live by the coast. He’d grown up in Dumfries and Galloway, in a quiet, countryside setting, where, he laughs, there wasn’t really much else to do other than walk and draw. He was happy to get back to his rural roots.

The new Waterstones bookshop interior in the west end of Glasgow and a view of Byres Road

The new Waterstones bookshop interior in the west end of Glasgow and a view of Byres Road

Autumn, Papercup, on Great Western Road

Autumn, Papercup, on Great Western Road

This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 187-190, issue 106.

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Words Catherine Coyle