Recently I took a second Experimental Drawing weekend workshop through the Continuing Studies Program at MECA. This one was taught by artist Michel Droge, whose work and spirit I admire very much. There were six of us and much of the work was messy and collaborative. I’m not normally drawn to those two aspects, but due to the instructor’s appetite for exploration and the camaraderie within the class, the workshop developed into a grand adventure in learning how to embrace the instinctual and let go of expectation.
Instinct and trust are two of the most powerful forces in art; ironically they are based on not caring too much. At one point Michel commented that the secret to “95% of artistic success is not caring.” In other words, when you invest too much expectation and put too much pressure on the outcome, it often stifles rather than provokes one’s creativity. I’ve known this all along, but to hear it put this way was both revelatory and liberating. The supportive instruction, messiness, and collaborative nature of this class gave me permission to make choices that were far less fussy and constraining than in my normal practice. The results amazed me.
The class began with some examples of artists who incorporate the subconscious, the surreal and the instinctual into their work (see other people do this too and it’s O.K.), such as Andre Masson (who bears the highly poetical full name of André-Aimé-René Masson), William Kentridge, Joan Mitchell, Stephanie Hadingham and Amy Stacey Curtis. Amy is a local artist and what I find intriguing about her is that her work is extremely structured and detailed yet profoundly experimental (this gives me hope for my own work).
First we taped large sheets of paper onto the floor and placed a heavy antique fan in the center. Then the six of us all took long sticks that had graphite pencils taped to the ends and proceeded to draw the fan. Every few minutes we rotated so that we all collaborated on the drawings.
Next, we took these drawings and drew into them with pencils and pastels, continuing to rotate so that we all contributed to the pieces. Rather than making a confused mess, the drawings were coherent, energetic and lovely.
We drew the antique fan again, using graphite powder (talk about messy!), kneaded erasers, brushes and rags. You have no choice but to confront gesture through this technique. Again, the results were rich (especially after we vacuumed off the powder).
We made ink drawings of tools using stamp pads and hard erasers. Once again we rotated and worked on each others’ drawings. This was helpful in letting go of too much ownership of a particular image and led to more exploration and invention.
We listened to poetry by D.H. Lawrence and Emily Dickinson accompanied by the music of ocean waves and jazz and drew ink drawings with brushes.
Then we did something truly radical. We taped a roll of drawing paper up on the wall and we TORE up the ink paintings and collaged them.
After that we took drawing sticks and drew in ink on top of them and then used drawing pencils and pastels and other media. We drew all over it. It was so fun!
We each covered a sheet of paper with charcoal and drew into it with erasers. Then we added more charcoal drawing techniques. This was mine:
The next morning we covered another large roll of brown paper with charcoal and graphite.
Then we each took a section and went wild with charcoal, erasers, rags and white chalk. Eventually we each freely moved around on the mural, drawing into various portions with the long drawing sticks, charcoal, and other media until we were happy with the results. I was very impressed with the end product.
In the afternoon we sectioned off our two mural projects, each picked a section and worked on them individually. These were the ones I worked on.
In the everyday world of getting to work on time, fulfilling responsibilities, and meeting deadlines, it is hard to reverse mental traits such as obsessive attention to detail and perfectionism. After all, we become rightfully proud and socially rewarded for these traits, which begin to define who we are. When given the opportunity/permission to let go of those expectations and demands, however, and take some risks, it feels like a caged bird has been allowed to soar. As Michel observed in the beginning of the class, we all make choices and create self-imposed structures. That is not a bad thing — it helps create order and stability. But once you learn how to break (or at least play with) those social and self-imposed structures, it can be tremendously freeing. And having done it once, you just may have the confidence to do it again.