“We often think of drawing as something that takes innate talent, but this kind of thinking stems from our misclassification of drawing as, primarily, an art form rather than a tool for learning.
“…Human beings have been drawing for 73,000 years. It’s an inextricable part of what it means to be human. We don’t have the strength of chimpanzees because we’ve given up brute strength to manipulate subtle instruments, like hammers, spears, and — later — pens and pencils.” — Matt Davis, Why drawing isn’t just an art
“Look for rhythmic lines, not just in individual clouds, but in the patterns clouds make. These lines will add energy to your painting.” Michael Chelsey Johnson, Clouds
For some reason “rhythmic lines” makes my brain run to the click-clack, click-clack of rail lines, and de-dah, de-dah, de-dah of poetry lines, rather than jazz, which is probably more like the rhythm of clouds with an underlying structure but full of surprises.
In the V&A Museum in London there’s a wall with cloud studies by Constable. I find it very assuring that he spent so much time trying to “get clouds right”.
Substitite the word “idea” with “brushmark” or “pencil line” or “painting” or “drawing”.
Not knowing what the outcome will be, but allowing, and trusting, ourselves to undertake the journey into the not-entirely-known-nor-unknown, is part of the joy of painting and drawing, irrespective of style.
This quote is from an article about the distrust of knowledge, how life with technology has made it “harder to have the expertise necessary to navigate every arena in our lives independently“, even as education levels have risen. Does making toast using a toaster rather than over a fire give you more or less control? Most of us could, given matches, make a fire, but couldn’t make nor fix a toaster. Control is not the same as convenience. Yet convience does give us control of our time.
I have no idea where this train of thought is going; I don’t even eat toast. So let me divert to the sentences following the quoted two at the top: “Experts would do well to remember that they may be masters of their fields, but they are servants to society. Mastery means nothing without trust and engagement.” It seems to me like a definition of both a good teacher and a good student: trust and engagement.
“Books are frozen voices, in the same way that musical scores are frozen music. The score is a way of transmitting the music to someone who can play it, releasing it into the air where it can once more be heard. And the black alphabet marks on the page represent words that were once spoken, if only in the writer’s head. They lie there inert until a reader comes along and transforms the letters into living sounds. The reader is the musician of the book: each reader may read the same text, just as each violinist plays the same piece, but each interpretation is different.”
Paintings are frozen voices, crossing time and distance. The brushmarks are a way of transmitting the artist’s interpretation of a vision, lying there inert until a viewer comes along and transforms the brushmarks into a story. Each viewer may see the same painting, but each interpretation is different.
“Successive stages of work can be tracked … abrades the surface to reveal the original white of the paper then makes further marks … This alternation of layering and tearing back suggests that he is not simply reducing an experience from three dimensions into two but also reaching for the fourth dimension — a sense of passing time.” — Claire Rendell on the artist David Tress, in a catalogue from 2002 “David Tress”, p46
I like the thought of layers in a painting conveying a sense of the passing of time. I’m going to have to try tearing the surface of the paper — deliberately rather than accidentally — and see where that takes me. Wonder if my April workshop participants will be in for a milion-miles-from-comfort-zone activity?
“…the emphatic quality of the artist’s brushwork … allows the spectator to recreate how the artist, in touching the depicted object in the act of painting it, imaginatively touches the real object itself, or brings it within reach.”
Source: Interpreting Cézanne by Paul Smith, page 63
If you’re undecided as to the direction brushmarks should go when painting something, imagine holding the object and visualise the direction of your fingers. That’s your answer.
What about a tree, I hear you ask? Well, on a small tree I’m likely to try to see if I can wrap my hand around the whole trunk. On a tall tree, I’m probably first going to put my hand on the trunk with my fingers pointed upwards as you look at how tall it is, then turn my hand sideways and pull it around the trunk as I look at how wide it is.
What about a mountain, I hear you ask? Well, if I were to climb it, my fingers would be going up; if I were walking around the lower reaches, my hands will be at ninety degree to the summit.
What about my coffee cup when I’m holding it by the handle, I hear you ask? Well, take a look and see.
“The brushstroke is not simply a record. It is a unit of experience: calibrated, targeted, cogitated, yet pulsing, vexing, responding to its neighbours like a rhythm or a beat. The building of the painting is both planned and extemporized. The sensations are in sync.”
— Alex Danchev, writing about Cézanne
(in “Cézanne: A Life”, page 340; quoted in “A Writer of Our Time: The Life and Work of John Berger” by Joshua Sperling, p144)
If this feels like too much to assign to a single brushstroke, think about how we learn to use a brush, how it moves from feeling unfamiliar to controlled, yet simultaneously a moment’s distraction or shake can take the paint where we don’t want it.
Not being able to do something does not invalidate everything you can already do.
There will always be someone who appears to do it easier, faster, better. At times you’re that person to someone else.
Learning as a shared journey is a recipe for discovery and intrigue, spiced with angst and frustration. Helping one another to not over-season, nor only pick out the cherries from the fruitcake, is part of it.