Sadness is my choice for this project.
It was quite difficult to be sad so I imagined something awful had happened to my son and then found myself so upset that I couldn’t draw anything… which wasn’t what I expected. I’d expected to shade in big black blocks of colour or fill the page with streaming lines like tears.
I quickly went from one drawing to another unable to draw.
When I looked at the four drawings together I was surprised by how similar they all were.
Firstly I tried graphite and made the visible looping mark on the left. The mark was much weaker than I’d expected… then stopped and cried a little. The little line at the bottom is where I pulled the graphite off the page. I took a moment then tried to force myself to continue and made the faint mark on the right but couldn’t do it.
Next I tried charcoal. I’d come out of the feeling and thought this would be easier. I picked up the charcoal and dived back in.
I made the strong mark first as I was determined to draw something. Added the cross mark and started work ‘shading’ the top but the emotion was too strong.
After a breath I drew the weaker vertical line on the right but it was too much for me and my hand fell limp on the page.
As I thought about Josh the tears welled up again and even though I told myself I would be better doing something constructive, all I could manage was to push the charcoal weakly around the bottom. After a few seconds I lost the battle and stopped.
As I’d used up most of my black oil pastel I decided to use dark blue. Blue seemed like it was a sad colour and the instructions had said it was okay. So, even though I’d reservations that it wouldn’t compare to the black oil pastel and that I was ‘cheating’ artistically I decided my wallet warranted it.
This made me think that artists must sometimes make decisions on cost… rather than on an artistic basis.
They might use up materials they have left, use found materials or even create a movement that challenges the whole notion of art based on expensive materials – I think the Italian Art Povera movement was all about using found materials. There was also a vague memory that the reverse had happened in medieval religious painting where the blue pigment was very expensive… so one reason for the blue was not artistic, or to do with religious meaning but to show the wealth of the patron.
This lead me on to think about the durability of art (expensive pigments last longer) and the value of the materials and how it relates to commercial/perceived value versus the purely artistic value. Oil paints are expensive whereas pastels and paper are much cheaper.
Is it purely supply and demand – with cheaper materials there’s a bigger supply so the price drops.
Does that mean artistic values being similar an oil painter will be perceived as a higher ranking artist (and therefore more expensive) than the pastel person? Generally do paintings of the same size fetch higher prices in some mediums than others?
This seems a little counter intuitive to me as once you get beyond beginner paintings the price of materials becomes less significant to the total cost and the artistry more important than the materials?
Something to think on further!
Back to my oil pastel… I came fresh to my sadness but with a determination that this time I would force myself to work. I had a plan. I would drive a big block of dark blue. That wouldn’t take any thought, would be mechanical and I could use the physical against the emotional.
It didn’t last long.
The emotion quickly overcame me and I stood up from the paper making the long downward line from the block of blue.
I then rested the pastel hard on the left making a definite mark. Launched myself back in making the upward mark and semi-circle… then lost the battle making the final light marks at the bottom as I pulled away from the drawing.
Ink… strangely this was the least resistant to my sadness… or more honestly, grief.
Something about it being liquid and not a ‘pencil like stick’ – was it the connection with language? That anything that drew lines had control as one of its properties? … But that ink being fluid was more open to my emotion?
I dribbled a few light drops – liked the dark pool of ink in the bottle and connected to it. Pushed the stick in deep and blobbed on some bigger drips.
This (surprisingly) triggered anger at what had happened and I spattered drops angrily across the paper in a burst of flicks and prods into the pot.
After a moment (the ink was running out – had it been full I would have been tempted to tip it all over the page) – I felt cross with myself for being mean and using up an old bottle of ink rather than the new bottle I’d bought… but it felt false to stop and open the new bottle.
So again the cost of the medium was dictating my drawing.
I spattered out the last few drops. The sadness welled back up inside me – I wanted more ink.
After a moment I put the stick on its side and started rolling it through the ink. But as soon as I did this I had to stop. It was as if it suddenly became a ‘mark maker’ (in the sense of being like a pencil – something I controlled with meaning)… and I had to stop.
I don’t understand this but it might be that when I was using a ‘pencil’ in the form of a charcoal stick, oil pastel or graphite stick that involved controlled thought? Whereas the fluid ink allowed me to stay in my emotion and became part of my feeling?
This exercise has been a real eye opener.
I’ve realised that how we feel affects how we make marks and that this is recorded on the paper. That we can try and capture an emotion from the outside… draw ‘happiness’. Or capture ‘happy’ marks… a bit like a pianists changes his touch on the keys to express the emotion he’s experiencing. That our mood affects our drawing just as does our connection to our subject. Or we can record the thing that is causing our joy… that our feelings are in integral part of our art.
That great drawing records an ‘inner vision’ not an ‘outer reality’. And that drawings that live are not about the subject… the flower or the face but about the artist’s vision. And that is informed by reflection, study, soul… the sum of what makes the artist informs his seeing.
So, although as trainee artists we all have to learn the basics of drawing ultimately it’s not actually about the technical skill. It’s not about making an apple look like an apple so people stand open mouthed and go ‘wow!’ at our expertise…It’s about looking, reflecting, growing and having personal vision… and transforming the apple into art.