Yesterday evening some of us turned off the lights to mark Earth Hour. To briefly, symbolically, pay attention to the harm we are doing every day by the way we live on the planet. A feeble gesture no doubt. Can a drip, drip of small individual acts eventually add up to a system change? Probably not. But system change is what is needed and sooner than eventually…
As a child, you want to rub it all out ‘cos it’s all wrong! Start again from scratch or screw it up and throw it away in a fit of temper.
Later, when drawing from life, you think: don’t rub everything out; the ‘wrongness’ can only be in the relationships between marks, so you need to choose which of them to adjust. And don’t rub out before you have corrected the error, because it is a marker to work from. If you take it away you may just repeat the error, i. e. redraw the line in the same place.
Ideally, you think, never rub anything out – each mark should be a considered mark of observation worth keeping (this is a vain pose).
Then (lastly?) you recognise that the eraser is a positive tool – creating light, adjusting a line, balancing tone, making more precise etc. Taking away can be just as creative and selective and considered as adding a mark (this would be obvious if you started from the position of a carver).
And singular precision of line (as opposed to multiple exploratory wanderings) can also be worth pursuing. It’s all a matter of choice and awareness, of not automatically following a knee jerk reaction but being able to recognise that reaction and choose whether to go with it or not.
I recently succumbed to the pressure of the 21st century and got my first smart phone. It didn’t take long to find a free drawing app, so I’ve been playing, and thinking about the difference between drawing on a screen and drawing on paper.
I bought a cheap stylus in the hope of gaining more precision, but it turns out not to be any better than my finger, so my doodling involves a degree of randomness due to the fingertip obscuring the point of contact. This lack of control isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it may compensate for the lack of expressiveness of the digital line – constant in thickness and intensity (unless you use one of the pen options that have a programmed ‘angle’ of nib – these are still unexpressive of the artist’s gesture because the variation is determined by direction on the surface rather than any personal input).
The regularity of the line and of its perfect rounded end is uninteresting to the eye, and cannot show the speed or force of the drawing. So any liveliness in the image probably comes from inaccuracies and scribbliness in the drawing – you have to find the line by trial and error. This is compounded by zooming in and out to draw details like eyes – it’s hard to get them looking right when you can only see one at a time!
The contact with the screen is textureless – very different from drawing on paper – but that very slickness might be one of the things that make screens so seductive to interact with. They offer a sense of ease and power – all the things we can do with a swipe of the hand!
None of this is meant as criticism of the app – and there are probably other programs that don’t have these features. Rather it is making me think more about what is important in any drawing – the degree to which it can reveal the personal intention, thought or feeling of the artist in subtle (usually analogue) ways, in strong or faint marks, confident or tentative, forceful or delicate. (This is similar, though not identical, to the difference between a handwritten note and a typed one – no ‘handwriting’ font can convey what real handwriting can.) People sometimes talk about ‘mark-making’ – is this what they mean?
Anyway, here are some exploratory doodlings from my phone, restricting myself to the ‘pen’ and ‘pencil’ and eraser, and avoiding the complications of colour.
The name ‘Cassandra’ keeps coming to mind of late. So I looked her up on wikipedia and found this: ‘She grabbed an axe in one hand and a burning torch in the other, and ran towards the Trojan Horse, intent on destroying it herself to stop the Greeks from destroying Troy.’
In case you can’t zoom in on the text, and with apologies for mixed metaphors and mangled mythology:
‘Do not accept this gift-horse,’ Cassandra cried. ‘Send it back, unopened, to the Tory Brexiteers whence it came. It is a hubristic folly and a gross misdirection; it distracts us from great thefts and greater catastrophes to come. If you look in its mouth, you’ll find the teeth of a wolf.
‘While we gaze, amazed, at its massive and cumbersome form, they are eating the heart of the state, making a meal of our common wealth and fanning the flames of ecological crisis.’
But her own torch and axe were puny, and the baying press-hounds and their trolls bellowed ‘fake news!’, and called her ‘mad woman!’, ‘traitor!’, ‘treehugger!’ and she was not believed.