Thursday, October 26, 2006

Abandoned Waterworks

At 6 1/4" x 10 ¼”, Abandoned Waterworks is one of the largest drawings I've done to date. I didn't keep track of hours, but this one took ten days or so- Including at least a couple sessions spent working up, smoothing out the mist at the bottom.

I like mist I can see into, and the best way I’ve found to achieve transparence and depth is by building it up slowly, with many layers. I begin with a light layer of charcoal dust, lighten too-dark areas with a kneaded eraser; repeat the process; at the last, I’m using my hardest pencils to add very small marks and dots, and a dirty eraser shaped to a fine point to lighten or remove them.

Admittedly, a labor-intensive approach- But there are times when it’s the right kind of work for a couple hours. And usually, the results seem well worthwhile.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sketching On The Fly

I don’t sketch much. Or rather, I don’t do much sketching before I begin a drawing- I’d much rather sketch on the fly, exploring options, fleshing them out, revising, refining as I go. I want exploration and discovery to remain an ongoing part of the process; I want the drawing to remain an adventure throughout.

Initially, I sketch with a kneaded eraser, lifting shapes from a gray background of charcoal dust. Elements established this way are more easily revised than if I’d drawn them with a pencil, and highlights that work well need less cleaning up than if they’d been defined by a pencil line at their brightest edge.

As the drawing progresses, I lay in darks with soft charcoal pencils, then blend tones, soften textures with Q-Tips. Lift out more highlights with a kneaded eraser, add deeper darks, sharpen edges, blend to further adjust tones, textures, contrast. Repeat the process, continuing to refine, revise, explore whatever suggests itself next.

The work develops its own rhythm, momentum. Sometimes, I’m unwilling to take even a moment to put down one tool, reach for another; and I’ll block in the next element’s shape with the pencil I have in my hand, lighten it later as needed.

Of course, not everything I try works. Far from it- And if it did, what fun would that be? Happily, charcoal is a forgiving medium. Most tones can be altered; most marks are removable, more or less- Usually, I can revise or remove anything that bothers me. And I’ve come to realize that where traces of abandoned directions remain, the drawing’s various textures benefit from the added depth and richness these underlying layers have contributed.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Farther In You Go

“The farther in you go, the bigger it gets.”
- John Crowley, Little, Big

For awhile now, many of my drawings have evolved in what’s become a fairly predictable way: Growing first larger, then smaller again as I explore possibilities, discard those that don’t work.

Editing has always played a large part in my process. I like cropping, exploring ways to clean up, strengthen, focus a composition. I want the result to be at once comfortable and arresting to my eye; every element should contribute, none detract.

The drawings continue to evolve as usual, through exploration and discovery, trial and error. But I’m finding that I’m retaining more of what I’m reaching for, and more of the drawings’ interim stages remain in the finished image. Still editing judiciously- I don’t imagine I’ll ever stop working that way.

But then, that’s another of my goals: I want to imagine more, and in lots of ways. For one, I want to continue to sketch things I can’t wholly capture, bring to a level of finish that satisfies me- Yet. Hopefully, my reach will always exceed my grasp, my aspirations exceed my skills.

The more I reach for, the more I find; and in trying to capture more of what I can only glimpse at the moment, I continue to learn: How to work more efficiently; how to trust that part of me that understands more than my intellect about what I’m trying for. How to avoid habitual responses; how to further, instead, the flow of what’s happening.

Every now and then, I realize that I’ve gotten a lot better at something I’ve been working to learn, that I’ve reached some goal I’d set for myself awhile ago. Usually comes as a pleasant surprise, and I marvel at this a little.

And then I get back to work, and begin again.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Song At The Heart Of Silence

Song At The Heart Of Silence
Charcoal, Graphite; 7 7/8" x 6 7/8"

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Misty Days

Some days, drawing is like flying, or dancing- The work flows. My decisions are confident, results exciting. On those days, no one, anywhere, is having more fun than I am.

Of course, not every day is like that. I wish they all were; and I do what I can to make them happen. But there are days when, for whatever reasons (most predictable), the work is just that: work. If I’m tired, or under the weather; if I’ve been working too much, and drawn the well dry for a time- On days like that, it’s hard to do my best work.

Or at least, it feels harder. Over the years, though, I’ve learned that how I feel about a drawing’s progress- particularly, on days when I don’t feel my best, myself- isn’t necessarily a reliable indicator of how well the work’s actually going, or how successful the result will be.

For me, much of the challenge of working regularly and productively lies in this: As an artist, what I have to rely on most is how I feel. I have to trust, be comfortable with my own response to every choice, every decision. And yet, there are those times when I recognize that how I feel- about what I’m capable of, about any given choice, result- is simply not that trustworthy today.

Sometimes, I may elect to set aside whatever I’ve been working on, begin a new drawing instead. No risk there, no pressure to avoid making bad choices, blowing a drawing that may already represent much time and work. And sometimes, I’ll realize that it’s not a day for drawing at all. But most days, regardless of how I feel, I need to work; and often, I need to continue working on the current project. So I do.

I’ve learned to pick my spots, though. Mostly, by limiting the choices I need to make to smaller ones: Working on already established passages that require no major decision-making, only fleshing-out, polishing. Mist, sky, still water- Those kinds of passages and surfaces that may demand a significant amount of refinement.

Tedious work, sometimes. But there’s a time for everything, I think. Some days, I’m not yet ready to round the next bend in the road: I need to pause, finish what needs to be done here before I move on. Soon, the light will change, become beckoning, full of promise again. But for now, at the least, I can spend some time making mist look like mist should.