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.