The aim of this project is to ‘push marks as a tracery of movement…independent of your own movement’.
My objective was to create works where I set up an initial set of conditions which were then left over time to draw independently. I also wanted to include a sense of narrative; the marks should ideally speak of events or conditions which changed throughout the drawing time, such as domestic comings and goings.
As an initial experiment in capturing movement, I decided to harness gravity and wind. I suspended a disposable glove from a tree over paper, filled the fingers with water tinted with Brusho and pricked a hole in each finger. As the glove swung in the wind, the paint dripped onto the paper.
By manipulating the hole size, I wanted to add variety but the size of the drops are governed by gravity and not hole size. I noticed that the water seemed to attract dozy wasps, so I repeated the experiment, adding sugar to the coloured solutions, hoping to get the wasps to interact. Sadly, that didn’t happen but the sugar created interesting large crystals as it dried.
The most visually interesting part of this warm up exercise is the secondary spatter which happens when a drop hits.
I was planning the next stage of my experiments when my mother-in-law fell and needed support. We live about 140 miles away, so supporting her means a lot of travel and time away from home. Initially, whilst she was in hospital, we were spending every other day and alternate nights there. Sometimes we drove there and back in the day, if necessary. Whilst I would not choose to do anything other than support her, I feel as though my life has been hijacked. I therefore resolved to make a drawing machine which would draw whilst I couldn’t and would record the constraints of my current life.
I looked back to the times as a kid when I used to draw ‘automatically’ in the car with a pen held against paper. My response is also clearly influenced by reading about Anastasi’s Subway drawings. I made a box to contain my support and to which I could attach a drawing mechanism. This was informed by my researches into harmonographs. The wonderful thing about research is that it all goes in and sits there in my head until its moment arrives.
My drawing mechanism was made out of Meccano, supplemented with springs and a weight. The weight was intended to amplify the effects of swings in the car’s movement. The springs are to help control the angle of the pen and keep it to square to the paper. I tested the device with a felt tip pen, driving around locally.
I considered whether my support should be a map of the relevant part of the country and found an old road atlas from which I cut an A3 page. However, the paper was rather shiny and creased with use and the density of coloured information already on the page would be confusing. Instead, I drew a very simple diagram illustrating the journey, a bit like a strip map.
Initially, I chose to use fine coloured felt tip and change the colour for each journey or segment or journey. The box was installed in the car boot and could not be influenced (or even seen) during travel. Having paused at a motorway service area, I decided to change the pen colour, causing considerable interest to the guys getting into the neighbouring car. They were engineers heading off for a weekend’s walking, and where fascinated by the idea of a drawing machine and the use of Meccano.
The felt tips had a tendency to stick on the paper and blot. Travelling on the motorway produced limited movement and the pen often stayed at the side of the box. The colours are too pretty to be descriptive of the circumstances. The map element does not add materially to the narrative.
For the following week, made some changes to my method. I replaced the coloured felt tips with a fine, black Unipoint pen. I hoped the black would be bolder but the fine line more sensitive. I replaced the cartridge paper with a higher quality, smoother surfaced paper. I constrained the pen within a smaller area, initially with a wooden insert. This would intensify the marks.
Each week, I recorded the journeys, creating a series. I changed the shapes of the inserts each week, up to the last week, when I intended to use a triangle. However, the pen instantly stuck in one corner, so the final week reverts to a smoother shape but with a thicker pen, and accumulated on the the same support as the previous week.
William Anastasi thought of his Subway Drawings as ‘my own form of meditation’ and not as a way of documenting his life (Zhou, 2012). These drawings are completely different; I did not do the drawing and could not even observe it being done. However, they document clearly the number of hours I have spent in a car over the last six weeks. I also see them as a metaphor for the conditions of my life at present. I chose to make each drawing on a large support with lots of white space around it. This represents my sense of living in a bubble at present, largely isolated from the normal components of my life. The black ink and the constraining of the pen within a small area are also symbolic. The series has a certain visual monotony to it but also a sense of time passing, conditions gradually changing. Titles for these drawings are important. Their impact on an observer lies less in the visual content and more in the method and context of their creation. I hope that they would excite curiosity in the observer and also a mental image of all that travelling.
Visually, the interest lies in the contrast between the busy, hectic fine marks full of movement and the calm harmony of the large white negative space and the smooth containing shapes. It would be quite impossible to produce the delicate marks (especially of the finest pens, by hand.
It might have been more visually exciting to the observer if I had accumulated all the marks on a single sheet over time. I have combined the images photographically to explore this.
I don’t think that this is any more exciting visually and the narrative is confused and less obvious. The work stands best as a series. Using a drawing machine created something positive and interesting out of ‘dead’ time.