Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Why I Draw : Notebook drawings

This is the first of what I anticipate will be several posts about drawing. It is a personal and decidedly myopic reflection of one artist’s experiences with mark-making. I expect that for some visual artists what I describe will ring true, while for others, the experience of drawing is markedly different from my own.  

I am starting this series with a discussion of my notebook drawings. For me, drawing is the most direct form of visual expression, and my notebook drawings are the truest expression of my uncensored self. Think of what it is like to dance with abandon when no one is watching. Think of what it is like to sing when walking alone in the woods. The joy and freedom are present both in the physicality and the privacy of the experiences. And that experience is at the heart of my notebook drawings.   

Most recently, in the midst of the COVID19 pandemic, I have been limited to working from home. So drawing in my notebooks is now my only studio activity, day after day. Perhaps because it is all I have access to, perhaps because it is a way to block out the troubles that rage outside my door, the notebooks are filling up very quickly. Although the physicality and solitary experience of working in the notebooks remains, a sense of joy has largely eluded me. I've included a small sample of the nearly 250 pages completed between March 27 and April 20. The drawings shown here are not presented in the sequence of the notebooks.

Each page in my notebook is a fragment, a note to self, a gestural record of a moment in time. My notebooks are fairly small – most are 8.5 x 5.5” and none larger than 14 x 11” – so that I can work quickly, as well as also see the entire the page without stepping back. It is also important to me that these drawings remain together as a notebook. Working this way preserves the sequence of drawings, but more importantly, when I feel myself floundering I just turn the page and start again.

I keep a variety of materials at hand  – sticks of compressed charcoal, large charcoal blocks, oil pastels, graphite, conté crayons, rags, scraping tools and erasers. Every drawing material has a different feel on the paper and I want to switch between them with minimal disruption to my process.

There is no plan. Each day, I start somewhere, anywhere, just to see what will happen. It is about letting my hand lead the way, unmediated by consciousness. It is about getting lost so I can find out where I am heading. It is about working fluidly before thoughts intrude and interrupt my hand. The process is motivated by a restless energy, and I keep going, page after page, until I get tired or more likely, frustrated. The frustration stems from my gut telling me that once again, there are too many marks on the page. 

I've noticed that when working in a larger format (14 x 11"), I am likely to define the edges of the field. This allows for a more deliberate dialog between the gestures and the boundaries of the image. While this decision is made before I start drawing, after taping the edges I go back to letting my hand lead the way.

None of this is to suggest that my conscious mind is absent from the entire process. But I try to keep it at bay at least until I’ve done 7 - 8 pages, working at a fast pace. Only then will I look back to see where my hand has taken me. I notice how the lines have changed from lyrical to angular, that I put down the charcoal and started working with oil pastel, that the lines are more energetic, that the drawings are more layered and marked by pentimenti, that more of the marks have been erased or obliterated by scrapes and smears.....   

And with all that noticing, I attempt to understand why, for every page that holds my gaze, there are ten pages that don’t interest me at all. I look for clues to better understand why this page and not that one. I discover what my hand is telling me about the nature of the marks, the weight of the lines, the varying qualities of the field – where I seem to be heading. All of this will be useful when I am ready to put the notebook aside and start a group of capital D Drawings, whether that happens in a few weeks or a few months. 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Stumbling through uncertain times by maintaining a creative practice

It is nearly a year and a half since my last post
Since that time, I have lived through the decline and death of a beloved parent, but I have also rebounded in the studio with renewed vitality. A more vibrant palette has emerged in my paintings, and my drawings have moved past stillness and control and entered a space filled with spontaneity. Until a few weeks ago, I was busy in the studio, preparing for my next solo exhibit of paintings, looking forward to showing a series drawings, and starting the process of curating a group show.  

But now....  everything has changed
We stand surrounded by uncertainty.  All routines have been paused, and for far too many people what was routine will never return.    Since there is no clear path to follow, we try to find ways to stumble through this uncertain time. We try to hold fast to what is familiar and feels safe, while allowing for the possibility / probability that there are moments when we will be in free fall.  How might we regain our footing? Will we regain our footing? No one can say. For many, the uncertainty is terrifying.

*   *   *   *   *   *

As a visual artist, I’m familiar with spending long hours in social isolation stumbling around in the studio.  It is my way of getting lost so I can uncover where the work wants to take me. Although stumbling out in the world can be perilous, stumbling in the studio is not a place that scares me.

Since it is no longer sensible or safe for me to make the daily trek to my studio, I cannot sit surrounded by my paintings and drawings to contemplate where the work is heading.  Now confined to my apartment, I’ve set up a small workspace where I can draw.  While I can maintain my studio practice to some extent, the changes in my workspace along with the swirling uncertainty outside have disrupted the path I was on. 

The first 8 drawings in this post are from one notebook of approximately 70 pages. 
The entire notebook (8.5 x 5.5") was completed over several hours on March 27, 2020.  
The drawings are not presented in the order they appear in the notebook.
Charcoal, graphite, oil pastel. 

I am stumbling as I begin drawing in my home workspace. However, I feel safe despite the uncertainty of the process. 
I have experienced this many times before, although the current circumstances are completely different. Of course, while some of the mark-making in these notebooks reflects vocabulary I have been using for the past year,  there are many pages that bring me to unfamiliar places.  But I feel safe because I know that allowing myself to get lost will help me find my way. I know that the vocabulary I have developed over decades of practice will keep me grounded, even as I may break from it. I know that I can allow myself to go into free fall because if I keep going, page after page after page, I will uncover what wants to be said in the work. I may reach that place in a few days or a few weeks, or not for several months. But I keep going because it keeps me grounded. 

In this way, for a few hours spent in quiet isolation each day, I can take comfort surrounded by boxes of charcoal, conté crayons, and oil pastels, along with a stack of blank notebooks.  It will help me stay anchored until I have no choice but to return to stumbling through the crisis we all face.

Several pages from the same notebook. 

Several drawings completed in the weeks before I began working from home in mid-March.  
Graphite and oil pastel.