Ooooooooh! The Guardian just launched a series of photos and first-person essays on drawing! It looks fantastic! Highlights include William Kentridge on the mystique of charcoal, David Shrigley on his idiosyncratic ink doodles, graphite master Paul Noble on his rather technical fictive drawings, and Ingrid Calame on her vector-y vellum tracings.
The timing’s great because I just taught the first session of my Sketchbook Drawing class at the Associate Student Union at U.C. Berkeley. It had been a while since I’d been in a figure drawing set-up, and I had a blast and I think my students enjoyed it too. I’m inspired to spend more time with my sketchbook soon.
Sometimes I find the idea of picture-making to be quite conventional, so it’s nice to be reminded of the immediacy and rewards of a fundamental mark-making practice.
Having once engaged in the activity of drawing fervently, and now doing conceptually-oriented work in different media, I tend to disappoint past colleagues who are fond of my old drawings, and surprise new acquaintances when my skills are revealed.
Sometimes These are nice drawings! also means Oh! You can draw!
I’m sure most people would wonder why I’ve de-emphasized my expressive “hand” in favor of simpler, diagrammatic drawings. Maybe persistent stereotypes — like the myth that individuals either “can” or “can’t” draw, or that conceptual artists are too lazy or un-skilled to make objects — influence their views.
But the reasons are: I’m not out to “wow” anyone with my drawing skills, most of the time. My drawings are usually proposals for objects, information graphics or investigations of time and labor. So, using an expressive hand (revealing an authorial ego) could undermine the work. I try to execute my ideas in a straightforward way, with conceptual rigor and economy—to make simple acts go far.
While I’ve stepped away from intensive journal-keeping in recent years, I’ve come back to it during the Breathe Residency in Manchester. In those three months, I filled up almost 400 5×8″ pages. And those pages couldn’t look more different than my past sketchbooks.
Here’s a page from about 10 years ago.
I was inspired by illustrator/teacher Barron Storey and friends like John Copeland to capture my daily life and draw my immediate environments. I was blurring the line between finished works and works in sketchbooks.
Now, though, I’m consumed with research spanning pop psychology, installation and conceptual art, and any source that offers insights on optimism and pessimism. Here’s a page from my current sketchbook:
OK, I’ve embraced my inner nerd. Many of the pages are reading notes, lecture notes or diagrams of concepts. But I sketch ideas for projects too.
Honor your intangible labor in the studio, even when you or others don’t see apparent results.
And that’s what the residency afforded — time and space to embark on intangible labor — experiments, research, reading. I’m confident that absolutely none of the work that resulted in the residency would have happened without all the research I conducted. So these notebooks may not be “works,” but that doesn’t diminish the importance of this work.
I’ve had every sort of possible sketchbook available on the market, and some handmade ones too. For research and diagrams, I’ve been happy with Moleskin’s gridded books. Yes, Moleskins are sort of hoity-toity, like I should be wearing a velvet blazer and Mary Jane Clarks, but they’re sooo worth it, even if the grid is in metric. Recently, I found a Moleskin knock-off (complete with creamy pages and soft grey grid) in a composition book form. This one’s nice because you have more space for your hand to rest.
Still, this one has a hideous plastic cover, molded to mimic pebbled leather — a tactile feature I’ll try to overlook.
Alas, the quest continues.