This exercise requires us to draw a small object from touch, with our eyes shut, with only to odd glance to reposition the pencil. I selected a small (10cm) bronze bust which is highly strokable. It combines small planes with areas of more complex texture.
Initially, I used pencil and line.
I didn’t feel that the pencil was expressing the planes I was feeling, so I substituted a hard pastel. The length of the pastel gave me an additional reference point with which to orientate myself within my drawing. I used the side for areas where I felt planes or smooth surfaces and the end for edges or texture. These drawings have a much greater sense of mass.
I looked at the drawing a few times just to recentre myself. Using a continuous line helped maintain scale and relationships. When I felt I had tuned into the object, I added a second colour to add interest and build complexity in the drawing.
I think this drawing is particularly successful at capturing the baby’s round cheeks, forehead and button nose.
Developing the idea of working in several colours, I continued the exercise but working much bigger on an A2 sheet, standing at an easel, using hard pastels in colours which reflected the material of the bronze. I used darker colours for planes/mass and lighter ones for texture and edges. Inevitably, I looked at this drawing each time I changed pastels to start again at a sensible point, so it is more considered than the sketchbook drawings, but only marginally. The poor child has no neck and has a rather grumpy, hunched look, but I think that standing and working large, trying to use more of my body, has produced a lively image. Using pastel has allowed me to vary the weight of my line and I used this to express the sharpness or smoothness of the edges. Overlaying lines in different colours not only adds interest but additional information.
I want to continue this by obliterating the image in places using paint and then restating, developing more layers. I used to be precious about my work, but now I am quite prepared to dunk it in water, set fire to it or cover it in paint to see if I can make more of it.
I used gesso to paint over the areas which were misplaced, and scratched through with the end of my paint brush to establish a new structure. I then worked back into it with pastel, this time sighted, but I tried to make the minimum of additions so as not to loose the original liveliness.
This is a more resolved work but at the cost of loosing the spontaneity of some of the marks. Where gesso has been overlayed by pastel, the texture changes and looks rather mushy with the clarity of mark lost. In contrast, scratching through the gesso has added marks of a different and interesting character.
Going back to the beginning of the task again, and with Claude Heath in mind, I drew a plaster cast which I have persuaded the local museum to lend me. They have a collection which sit on a shelf in the restored artists studio which we use for life drawing. They are never used and certainly never dusted. After Heath, I placed a small blob of bluetack on the centre of my paper to denote the tip of the nose, a point I could return to both on the plaster cast and on the paper.
I drew completely blind. This method of drawing has a brutal honesty to it and is a record of the movements of my hand as I traced the shapes. In places there are zig-zags as I went up and down an indentation trying to define its extend.
It is impossible to hide behind technique here; it is an uncompromising record of observation and concentration. I did a further drawing using three colours, but it is clear that I was getting tired and had lost my concentration.
The next morning, I had another go, this time using paint and ink. I put some gouache on a plate and drew blindfold with my middle finger dipped in the paint and guided over the paper by my thumb and forefinger. This gave me a more accurate representation than with an unguided pen. When the paint was dry, I added pen.
The addition of tone gives the mask more volume and presence. The way that the tone intrudes into the left eye brings the face to life, rather bizarrely.
Feeling an object and feeling the act of drawing, at the same time, is a sensual experience. I even found myself listening to the noise the pastel made as I went from using the side to the tip in response to a plane becoming an edge. I love the physicality of drawing, especially drawing large, and this experiment goes to the heart of that. In the first drawing, using different colours, although I was trying to express different aspects of the object, I found myself restating, often in a different place on the support. This adds to the richness of the image. Working back into the image, sighted, is a balance of gains and losses. The work has become more fully realised but some of the freshness of the drawing is lost. However, I think the final work is more expressive and sensitive for having started off trying to transfer shapes from touch, than if I had used my eyes.
The drawings of the mask are more uncompromising and have a different narrative. They are about the act of drawing at least as much as they are about the object.