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The Thing About Drawing

I suppose it's to be expected that when I am going to be in Florence for three weeks, my drawing in art museums and galleries is going to look completely different from how I have come to draw in the last ten years or so. That is, like this:

This chap was a marble relief sculpture on a tomb in the floor right beside me, where we were having our introductory meetings yesterday (in a 12th century chapel, of course). As I said, I don't draw like this much any more, and when I teach drawing I don't, either (my emphasis is much more on making marks, any marks, as expressively as possible, and as soon as possible from the start of the first class). And while some people may look at the drawing above and think it's not bad (which it isn't), there are many artists better than this kind of life drawing than me who will see the same fault in it than I do. Shorter version: drawing like this is hard!

It got me thinking about what kinds of other drawing there are, and why I like them just as much as 'realistic' drawing. Here are some examples taken from the first few artist-friends whose names sprang to mind:
Stella Untalan. Reasons for liking: pattern, repetition, variation within a chosen vocabulary of marks, apparently using the harmonious balance of the grid, but note the hand-drawn nature of the marks, how they are evidently drawn by a hand and subject to the natural alteration of one shape to the next produced by the fine vibrations of human sinew rather than the fixed movements of the machine.

Deborah Doering. Reasons for liking: fiercely analytical subjection of reality to a mathematical, scientific symbology, yet also hand drawn (stencilled, often), a comforting repetition again, yet with an allowance for improvisation in the placement that results in an organic feeling, like we are watching the movement of waves or leaves.

Ravenna Taylor. Reasons for liking: good balance between light and dark, making the abstract shapes of the 'white' emerge from negative space (not space left blank, but space created by the boundary of contingent forms), an immediate feeling of something truly drawn, by the application of graphite pencil in smooth tonal marks.

C. J. Nye. Reasons for liking: the presence of the hand, the contrast between line drawing and tonal areas, the variation in tone from white through greys to black, the rhythm of the shapes, which seem to struggle against each other as they fight their way to each side of the picture plane, the feeling it creates of the artist's eye moving up and down and around and back and forth, adding a mark here and a mark there, searching for something, seeking out the destination without knowing where it is in advance, erasing, pressing harder, pushing some shapes forward and pressing others a little further back.

All of them (us) are using drawing as a way to see something better, whether that is something we see in front of us, or something we see in our minds, or something that we see only when the act of putting some material to paper begins. There are many other purposes for drawing, but this at least, I think, is at the root of drawing in different 'styles', and different epochs.


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