I asked friends and fellow students via Facebook for emotional prompts and, after editing out closely similar thoughts, arrived at the following list of ten.
- Thousands of people hate me
- I’m frightened of going outside
- I want to stand on top of a mountain
- I used to live for music
- I love stormy weather
- Will he ask me to dance?
- I don’t like Mondays
- I am falling from the high wire
- I live inside a tree
- Raindrops on the window remind me of tears
I did not have a willing model, so I considered my options for an alternative. I wanted some degree of complexity and perhaps anthropomorphism in my subject and considered household objects, including a very old teddy bear but decided that all of these had too much family history which might intrude to overpower other emotional input. The local charity shop provided a doll from their bin which I felt would be perfect. It had huge manga style blue eyes which I mostly removed with nail varnish remover and improbably long, blond hair which I roughly hacked. Its proportions are completely unnatural, so any thoughts of life drawing and getting hung up on realism could be forgotten.
A variety of drawing mediums, my A3 sketchbook and a couple of A3ish gessoed supports were spread out on a table next to my easel, facing the doll which was placed at chest height. The only prior decision I made was that I would work on the same size support each time and try to use a different medium for each drawing. In order to get my eye in and loosen up, I made a couple of sketches of the doll in pencil, in the same way we warm up in a life class.
For each drawing, I changed my technique. This was spontaneous rather than considered, for instance, I stabbed at the paper with wax crayons in my fist in response to ‘thousands of people hate me’.
A pinger was used to measure 10 minutes and I made myself move quickly from one drawing to another without analysing what I had or hadn’t done in the previous one. Some of the drawings were done in a lot less than 10 minutes because if I found myself thinking ‘that foot is way too small’, I lost the emotion and my marks completely changed, so at that point I stopped. The drawings were completed in two sessions, as I found this surprisingly intense and tiring. I could feel at a certain point that I was loosing my concentration on the emotions and flagging.
In this exercise, I was not trying to project each emotion on to the subject, but to take on the emotion myself, whilst I was drawing. I am really surprised by the variety of physical response to the emotional prompts. The strength of response is partly because I did not allow myself to analyse my drawing during the process; I tried to stay in the emotion and stopped when I lost the feeling, and partly because I changed my technique each time. Whilst drawing, I was really looking at my subject and trying to represent it, but even so, the doll’s face has taken on a completely different persona in each drawing. Some are wistful, some positively psychopathic. The power of the drawing also changes markedly; some are tentative and others are really strong. The biggest surprise was the drawing in response to ‘I am afraid to go outside’. Without intention, the doll is much smaller on the support than the other drawings. My mother used to say, ‘Never sew when you are angry, you’ll just make angry stitches’, how true. This exercise has shown me just how much of ourselves and our emotions we put into each drawing, even if we think it to be closely representational. We cannot subvert our emotion and personality, so we should harness them.