Check out the new Tumblr companion to Drawing OWU. You can find the link in the right column under Blogs. The Tumblr Archive feature allows you to easily see pages of thumbnails of every image ever posted on this blog, while the Home page and search option allows grouping of images that are related by one or more characteristics. You can look at drawings organized chronologically, stylistically, thematically, or by technique or nationality. Enjoy!
Ubiquitous in every art school and artist’s tool box, the humble graphite drawing pencil has an interesting history. In the 16th century graphite came into use as a marking medium in England where large deposits were discovered and first put to use by farmers to mark sheep. The slippery properties of the mysterious dark substance also made it an ideal lubricant for releasing cannonballs from their molds. Hardware stores today still sell powdered graphite as a dry lubricant for locks and other machinery. Because of its crumbly, friable texture, the first graphite “pencils” were made by encasing the soft material in sheep skin. Germany developed the graphite stick in the 1600s. Originally graphite was thought to be some form of lead, which it is not, but the reference to pencil “lead” lives on. The modern wooden pencil dates to the 19th century when graphite began to be mixed with clay as a binder, a discovery that some attribute to Henry David Thoreau whose father was a pencil manufacturer. The hardness or softness of the composite graphite-clay mixture could be moderated by baking which led to the development of the familiar grading system we use today for drawing pencils. The tonal range of graphite makes it a uniquely beautiful drawing medium, distinguishable from chalks and charcoals by its characteristically silvery color. The variety of its effects can be seen in this selection of drawings from different artists and periods.
John Virtue is a British artist known for his massive black and white paintings that he executes from a unique medium of ink mixed with shellac. His initial research involves making hundreds of on-site drawings. From this material he builds his evocative paintings in the studio. Virtue’s most celebrated series, 13 large-scale paintings of the London skyline, was carried out over two years from a studio in the National Gallery in London.
“The thing about London is that everybody knows, or thinks they know, these buildings. But the more you look at them, the more mysterious they become, so the more fascinating they become.
I would draw there, and then I would draw there. That would be one morning, and then I would do one part another morning… and so on, and I’d build them up sequentially; and then I’d mix them all up and I’d bring them all in here, and they inform the way you work and it helps you to be very free. It was phenomenally exciting, and stimulating, and refreshing, every day to get up and go and draw what you say are very, very famous and iconic buildings, and bring all that material in here and go to work.
I’ve never felt any need to put in cranes, and buses, and cars, and airplanes – the noise, if you like, of London. I like using it for my own ends which is to make abstract compositions, but from the way I perceive the world. The monochromatic way of working tallies exactly with the way I look at… the world. It’s a way of seeing that resonates, rather than a way of seeing that is comfortable or is referential to other things.
The basic materials, and they have been for the last twenty-six years, is a black ink mixed with shellac. I use titanium acrylic and I like working onto the raw canvas because I can bleed the image in; I like the idea of the image impressing itself into the canvas, and then I use rags, and my hands, all kinds of brushes, quite indiscriminately, quite promiscuously, in what I’ll use to try and get an effect.”
From the sinopia drawings that served as preparatory designs for Italian fresco paintings, to the stream of consciousness drawings of modern abstraction, drawing with brush and ink or other liquid media has a long tradition and appears universally in both eastern and western cultures. Drawing with wet media can be challenging for students who are used to the traction and forgiving nature of a pencil or charcoal. Unlike drawing with dry media where you can endlessly probe, plan, measure and erase, wet media seem to have a will of their own. Once the mark is made there’s no going back. You’re committed. In eastern traditions brush drawing is an extension of long meditation on the subject, which includes not just the objects one is drawing but also a keen sense of the instrument’s nature. This is an idea that still bears up for anyone trying his or her hand at working with ink and brush. Like putting a bridle on a wild horse, it works better if you understand and work with the horse’s nature than if you try to impose your own will for absolute control. Let the brush have its way, guide it where you can, and be open to what can happen. The ride is often more exciting than the destination.
The 10 rules were actually the work of Sister Corita Kent in the 1960s and later popularized by composer/artist John Cage. His life-long partner, dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham, kept these posted in his studio as inspiration to his students.
Hank Buffington is a Lancaster, Pennsylvania artist who works as a digital illustrator and graphic designer. A few years ago he began drawing and painting outdoors, executing quick, one-shot studies from observation. About himself he says:
“I was born in Pennsylvania but did most of my growing up in a somewhat rural part of New Jersey close to the Delaware River. I didn’t appreciate the bucolic charm of the area when I was a kid and a lot of my drawings were fantasies to take me away from it to a more exciting life. Those drawings eventually took me to the Rhode Island School of Design and after graduating with a BFA I returned home to begin a career as a graphic designer and digital illustrator. For the past several years I’ve taken time off from being a commercial artist to be a full-time dad to our five kids. The forced break from the computer gave me the opportunity to resume painting after years of pushing a mouse. In the summer of 2009 I began painting plein air landscapes to retrain myself in the craft of painting and try to break some old habits… not to mention get me out of the house for some much needed quiet time!”*
“With drawing I’m trying to be more spontaneous and courageous. These are relatively quick drawings that focus more on what I think is important in my subject; eliminating extraneous information and superfluous details.”
“Seems to me the true artist must perforce go from time to time to the elemental big forms-Sky, Sea, Mountain, Plain,-and these things pertaining thereto, to sort of re-true himself up, to recharge the battery. For these big forms have everything. But to express these, you have to love these, to be part of these in sympathy. One doesn’t get very far without this love…” -John Marin
A beautiful collection of drawings in a recent show of John David Wissler at the Lancaster Galleries in Lancaster, PA, brings to my mind the work and words of John Marin. Wissler apparently shares John Marin’s love for the “elemental big forms” of nature. Working mainly with water-based media and brush Wissler’s drawings are more than just landscapes. They are urgent translations of emotion experienced in the act of seeing, and being, in nature. His brush moves with the excitement and energy of an electrical storm, acutely aware that in another instant the whole scene will shift and disappear. An ancient Chinese text on landscape painting recommends that the artist meditate for hours before picking up the brush so that he or she becomes an instrument of nature’s forces. Wissler seems to achieve such a state in these works, channeling the force of nature directly onto the page. The artist has this to say about his drawings:
“My passion has always been the landscape. I feel a sense of history when painting… the painters I admire and study, Corot, Constable, Turner, Inness, Bonard, Resika…the history of the land itself and my own familiar connection to it. Painting comes through the study of nature…transformed, not merely copied. Seeing the immediacy of the place…what strikes me first. The way trees react to fields, colour to colour, shape to shape…pushing and pulling the plastic nature of the picture plane, creating believable space.
I find the challenge of using what I have observed, taking it to my studio, and creating a new painting invigorating. Drawing upon the memory of place and experience…using the language I have learned from nature, trying to keep the painting fresh…space, clarity, surprise…that’s painting!” (Courtesy of Lancaster Galleries)