3.2 Extended Arm Drawing

The objective of this exercise is to experiment with removing a degree of fine control over one’s drawing by making the drawing implement remote from the hand.

I began by cutting a bamboo cane from the garden, and since I use this bamboo to make my own pens, I cut one end into a large nib. I assembled several other things to draw with; a large bristle brush, ink and water in pots, a brush pen and the mortar from my mortar and pestle. To the flat bottom of this, I taped masking tape, sticky side out and dipped it in crushed charcoal.

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In order to work really large, I cut two A1ish pieces of lining paper and taped them together to make a single large sheet which I put on the floor over a plastic sheet (I know what I am like with ink). I find it very difficult to draw on a plane at 90 degrees to the direction in which I am observing and would normally stand at an easel but at this size it had to be the floor.

Mindful that the second stage of the drawing would be in colour, I selected a couple of large, brightly coloured objects and placed these in relation to a chair to make a group.

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I started drawing with the dip pen which made good sweeping marks or little precision. Redipping the pen meant that long, continuous marks weren’t possible but the pen did make a lovely character of line of varying weight.

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The initial drawing is spidery and insubstantial, so next I used the crushed charcoal to make broad sweeping lines with a scratchy character and without any defined edge.

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For the third layer I used the brush end of a Tombow felt tip. This was really quite precise compared to the two previous tools and particularly good for making long sweeping lines, though not necessarily where I wanted them.

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Since I had now spilt the ink, I used that on the brush next, alternating with water to vary the tone. This had an interested effect on the Tombow ink, dispersing it and changing its colour.

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As a second stage, I added colour to selected parts of the drawing using handfuls of felt tips in analogous colours relating to the local colour of the main objects. Initially, I thought that this was pretty dull and that the marks were crude without being free and exciting. However, I added more colours, particularly complimentary colours in the shadows and this helped add more visual excitement.

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Analysis

Each of the media used had their own special qualities but I really enjoyed working with ink and water on a brush at the end of the cane. It offered a range of breadth of mark and variety of tone. Fully loaded, it created emphatic marks but used drier it created subtlety. The crushed charcoal was a great contrast to the two pens. Overall, the variety of marks built up and enhanced each other. Working with the whole of my arm, making large gesture marks, gives the drawing real energy.

Using felt tips to add colour had the advantage that they make a suitably scaled mark in this context and the colours are brilliant enough to stand up against the ink. I rarely find a use for felt tips because I find the line characterless and the colours unsubtle, but I do think they work on this scale. The effect was radically improved by adding complimentary colours in the shadows, and choosing not to add colour to anything apart from the three objects has been effective in highlighting them and pushing everything else into the background. I would be interested to try adding colour in other, slightly uncontrolled ways, say with a brush on a stick and watery acrylic paint.

I find I get distortions of perspective when drawing on a horizontal support. This is a dilemma because I loved working at this scale but A1 is the maximum I can put on my easel and I don’t have a wall I can tape supports to.

Continuing Experiments

Just at present, I am suffering from tendinitis in the thumb of my dominant hand. This is making fine motor-control operations painful, so I have decided to continue exploring this project by making non-dominant hand drawings. I have been away from home looking after my Mother-in-law, with limited materials and finding it difficult to get inspires by sketching around the house. These are left-handed sketches in pencil in an A3 sketchbook.

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Plants in the conservatory

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A birch tree with ivy in a neighbouring garden

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A fly circling the light

Drawing with my non-dominant hard was actually relaxing as I did not feel under pressure to produce an accurate drawing. This meant that I was able to spend more time just looking at the subject and less time looking at my drawing. The outcomes have a freshness to them that I might well not have achieved otherwise. If I had not been bored and desperate for a subject, I might never have attempted to draw a fly flying, which turned out to be an interesting and different subject and has produced a drawing with a surprising element of narrative.

As part of my parallel project, I have been considering the subject of a falling/diving man as a metaphor for death. I did not want to create a detailed image and wanted to work large, so I decided to try painting with my brush on a long stick.

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110cm x 80cm, gouache

I worked in black and white over a grey background (two pieces of lining paper joined), correcting and restating. Of necessity, it isn’t refined but the method has given it a sense of movement and energy. I really like this way of working. This and related works are discussed in a post on my parallel project here.

Using the whole arm, and indeed body, gives the marks an energy. The drawing is not accurate but not ‘bad’. Whilst accurate representation has been sacrificed, the continued search for the ‘correct’ line, or at least the one I was striving to express, has build up a history of marks and effort within the drawing. I am not sure that these lines are more sensitive but they are more expressive of the physical act of their creation. They inform the viewer’s understanding of the process of the creating the drawing and are therefore more involving than a more controlled, analytical line.

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