It’s Friday, and you know the Week should be winding down; but new deadlines have managed to creep ominously forward, whilst others you thought you’d disposed are rearing their heads with ‘just one more thing’. You find yourself looking at the weekend trying to work out where you can fit in a bit of work to try and sneak back some of the time that is currently slipping through your hands. Your mind is popping with the logistics of zig-zagging family and work, and your energy is focused on finding the time - but not on what it is you have to do.
So, as I felt a familiar twitch of the eye and the bitter taste of adrenaline, I was lucky that I’d already agreed to spend a day getting drunk, and another going to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park this weekend. Having no choice meant that I had to refresh rather than stress. A day to let go, and another to revive my eye, and my mind (and a bonus day to obsess) enabled me to reflect on the projects, to explore more fruitful ideas and choices. Specifically sculpture often inspires me to sketch in detail, and in this case it was a drawing inspired by some of Ai WeiWei’s Sculpture of the Chinese Zodiac, which I’ve subsequently played with digitally [fig.1 and 2], and want to think about a bit here.
I am fascinated by the drama of gesture, shade and dimension, but can only really process all this by working it through in tone and shade. Drawing involves making judgements about distance and placement. Doing this reminds me about the rules and potential of composition, and also, as I inevitably find that I have made a mark that is errant, of the hubris of picking up a pencil. Realising your fallibility is useful, as is the realisation that sometimes the mistake is more interesting that the ideal. The process asks me to reflect on my choices, to defend my decisions, but in a situation of my own making, where I can feel free to fail.
Drawing also requires bravery - the sketch is recognisable, the objective achieved, should you stop, or do you have something else in mind, do you risk destruction to persevere? The further in to the sketch to progress, the more hinges on this decision - have I wasted a day? At this point the certainty of my hand can be tested. There is always the temptation to continue - the question have I done enough, can I make it better - will it be worth it? My way of drawing, in this case, requires building up layer on layer, in other words constantly resisting the same marks to add depth and contrast, but a method that can lead to overworking, and needs a determination to leave areas, whilst working on others. As a left hander I tend to work bottom left upwards to lessen smudging, so to finish, and realise the now the bottom left now needs refreshing can be agonising.
For me there is something relaxing about depicting detail - I am not a philosophical realist in Art or Design, it is more that searching for depth and nuance in detail has zen aspect - it demands an ‘active looking’ that is both exhausting, and a release. I often find I complete a complex drawing with a new appreciation, and understanding of simplicity - of the meaning of a single line, or of the juxtaposition of colours or objects. Drawing sculpture provides ridges and creases, but also the play of light and shadow, all of which combine to create an illusionary quality to a physical existence - something you only realise when you try to follow the line of a dogs mouth, or the perspective of a dragons cheek!
The process of the drawing is not the end though, once finished it is an object - both in itself, and digitised to communicate online. So I continued to mess about - enjoying the play of light on graphite to pick up on pinks and blue-greys, and the distressing effect of deletion. I’m not sure this is finished yet, but a digital context can be an exciting way to refresh a traditional image, though of course it can be a way to extend the dilemma of when to stop beyond the pale.
Speaking of which *coughs… .