Winter: A Study in Black & White

1.5.18.2

 

Winter B and W

Winter is the perfect time to celebrate the particular qualities of black and white, rendered here in a photograph and an ink drawing.

“Black and white creates a strange dreamscape that color never can.”
— Musician Jack Antonoff

Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected.
— Photographer Robert Frank

“Color is distracting in a way, it pleases the eye but it doesn’t necessarily reach the heart.” – Photographer Kim Hunter

Black and white is abstract; color is not. Looking at a black and white photograph, you are already looking at a strange world. — Photographer Joel Sternfeld

“Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but black and white films still hold an affectionate place in my heart; they have an incomparable mystique and mood.”― Actress Ginger Rogers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Experimental Drawing Redux

IMG_2078Recently 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.

IMG_2058

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.

IMG_2060

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!

 

IMG_2065 (1)

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:

IMG_2045

The next morning we covered another large roll of brown paper with charcoal and graphite.

IMG_2069

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.

IMG_2075


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.

IMG_2081

IMG_2082

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.

IMG_2078

Miniature Worlds

IMG_2011

“Like a lamp, a cataract,
a star in space, an illusion, a dew drop,
a bubble, a dream, a cloud,
a flash of lightning;
view all created things like this.” – Diamond Sutra

AbstractGarden

What is it about these miniature worlds that fascinate me so deeply? The smaller and more intricate, the greater my delight. Perhaps a dash of color, an accent, or more vivid tones are needed to portray their strange biographies.  These flakes, stamens, stalks, droplets, buds, blossoms, fossils, desiccations, landscapes . . . form precious moments of frozen time, evidence of being. Their scientific precision is unconscious. Their imperfection is perfect. They are alive, they are dead, they are dying, they are transforming. I like to fix them in time by recording them on the page, extrapolating and refashioning them into reflections of my own inner frangible world made visible.

IMG_2018

“When you realize there is nothing lacking,
The whole world belongs to you.” – Lao Tzu

IMG_2012

Life is unreal, unfathomable, illusory. What we think is solid is a spider web. What we think is obvious is a delusion. By exploring these hidden realms and studying their secrets, we honor their fragility, and our own.

IMG_2015

“Miniatures invite us to leave our known selves and perspectives behind.” – Lia Purpura

IMG_2017

“I can be sure that even in this tiny, insignificant episode there is implicit everything I have experienced.” – If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino

IMG_2016

 

Sketchbook: Black and White

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“Drawing is still basically the same as it has been since prehistoric times.  It brings together man and the world.  It lives through magic.” — Keith Haring

“Color weakens.” — Picasso

I love drawing, an act I find profoundly meditative, and most especially I love drawing with pen and ink.  There is a power you get with black and white that isn’t achievable through color.  Writer and photo historian Peter Bunnell said, “Full-color images lack the poignancy of monochrome. . . Black-and-white film inherently peels off interesting images from the world; it sees things we do not see, and thus insists on the existence of a phantom presence within reality, a world we cannot perceive.”  And In Praise of Shadows, a long essay about the aesthetics of the sublime in Japanese culture, Junichiro Tanizaki said “we find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.”

By stripping away the color, the power of the pattern emerges.  The absolute contrasts are eloquent and bold.  Drawing with ink is closer to writing.  It contains the seeds of an ancient magic, as so profoundly depicted in Werner Herzog’s documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, in which Herzog leads the viewer into the depths of the mysterious Chauvet Cave in southern France.  Although these images, the oldest human ones yet discovered, are called “paintings,”  I read them as drawings, and when I draw I feel connected to these ancient humans.

To me, color is symphonic, and I think of these sketchbook drawings as more like piano pieces, frozen pieces of time.  Of course, sometimes a hint of color does seem warranted.  Though nowhere near as talented as these artists, my influences include Vincent Van Gogh’s drawings, the paintings of Maurice Utrillo, and the prints of Hokusai.

 

Experimental Drawing

Last weekend I participated in an amazing workshop called Experimental Drawing with Maine artist Cindy Davis. We experimented with all kinds of media and materials as well as a variety of techniques and surfaces. The class was framed by the provocative idea that the practice of drawing itself has become experimental and may encompass everything from mixed media, to 3-D work, to video. An expanded definition for drawing in 2013 could be said to be “making marks on a surface.” That surface may be paper, mylar, vellum, or even virtual. The sky’s the limit.  Here is some of the work I created.

Experimental DrawingThis is my favorite piece, created using black acrylic paint and a Wite-Out pen on two layered sheets of Mylar, which is a thin, strong polyester film.  One technique used here was to scrape away the black paint in varying stages of dryness with a sharp tool, essentially drawing into the media, which yielded interesting textures and a sculptural effect.  The second layer added to the interpretive, abstract effect.

These are some “blind” contour and gesture drawings we made to loosen up.  I’ve always loved doing blind contour drawings especially.  Drawing with eyes closed, guided only by memory and touch, is so counter-intuitive, and the results often capture startlingly essential aspects.  It’s like drawing with the mind.  This is a particularly great exercise for people who say, and falsely believe, they can’t draw.

Here are some studies on drawing paper and rice paper using ink, colored pencils, Conte crayons, graphite and pencil.

Experimental Drawing

This was my first exploration with Mylar; the white ghostly images of the flowers were made through scraping off the black acrylic paint.

ExpDr.Milkweed

This is a pencil and pen-and-ink sketch of Milkweed.  From the drawing we made rough sculptural forms, which we then interpreted in mixed media.

ExpDr.VellumSampleExploration of various wet media on Vellum.

ExpDr.StillLifeVellum2Still life, using various media on Vellum.  There are drawings on each side of the Vellum, which creates interesting effects.

ExpDr.StillLifeVellum1This is the flip-side of the Vellum still life.  Additional images/effects can be added using overlays of additional sheets of Vellum.  So many possibilities!

Experimental Drawing

This was a really fun exercise, created using Gesso and black acrylic paint over an appropriated color photograph.

Cindy is a fantastic teacher, and I have so many new ideas from experimenting with materials and media that I never would have explored on my own!