Workshop – Experimental Drawing

The excellent Oxford Summer School offered me the opportunity to study ‘Experimental Drawing’ with Claire Christie Sadler, in a three-day workshop.

On the first day, we explored mark making with charcoal and graphite, using words as inspiration. Claire gave us each a booklet of words and asked us to make quick drawings through a square template onto several large sheets of paper. We were encouraged to not be too literal, and consider possibly overlapping the drawings and incorporate the words. A selection of different papers were available to try.

Gathering together, we considered and discussed the results of this exercise. Having worked through ‘windows’, we looked at  how we could use the window to select portions of different drawings.

This allows a different tension between the marks and brings into play the unintentional negative spaces. I also enjoy the effect of using the marks accumulated on the frame in conjunction with the drawings.

We also looked at some books illustrating how some artists use these mediums. This introduced me to the work of Dennis Creffield, and in particular, his drawings of every cathedral in England, using charcoal. I was deeply impressed by his strong, fearless marks and the way he moves the charcoal around, pushing things back or pulling them forward.

This exercise was then extended to produce a work in response to a poem, The Cablecar by Lawrence Sail.  I focused on ‘the moon’s daytime ghost’, but rather than trying to draw the moon, I wanted to create an absence, using a torn paper stencil. I drew into my marks in places with water and then used a rubber, abrading the surface, inspired by looking at the work of Alison Lambert.  I was trying to create a soft, dream-like atmosphere.

Charcoal, A2

Again, we discussed our work. These drawings tended to be much more representational.

On the second day of our workshop, we experimented with lots more media, and with disrupting the surface of the support by painting, gluing, scratching, tearing etc. I have drawn with pva before but using a glue stick to draw was definitely new to me. The other method which we all found inspiring was abrading the surface with the very coursest sand paper.

We were then given a cotton bag of 12 items and a large sheet of cartridge folded into 12 squares. We drew a response to each item using touch alone, responding to the feel of each object, rather than the way we thought it might look. The items included sheep’s fleece, folded cardboard, crunkled paper, a ball of wire, a bulldog clip and a tie of clingfilm.

Shell, painted tissue and charcoal, 20cm by 20cm approx

Wood off cut, cartridge paper folded and charcoal wiped along the edges created, 20cm by 20cm approx

Tea bag, newspaper, watercolour, gesso and pastel, 20cm by 20cm approx

Scrim, abrasion by coarse sand paper with powdered graphite, 20cm by 20cm approx

Metal domed button, silver oil stick, graphite, water, 20cm by 20cm approx

Wire ball, gesso and charcoal, 20cm by 20cm approx

It was very interesting to review everyone’s responses. Some were very literal, some highly tactile, some had actually used the item in their response.

We then chose a single item from which to draw a larger work, using sight and touch.

Small shell, charcoal, graphite, acrylic ink, water colour, gesso, 60cm x 60cm

As usual, I like details of this work more than I like the whole. I then drew the same shell using different materials.

Small shell, Indian ink, gouache, graphite, charcoal, eraser, 60cm x 60cm

I think the gouache has worked well here, but otherwise I think the first piece was the more successful. In both, the hinge part of the shell has interested me more than the wide curve, rendering the rest of the drawing dull.

On the third day, we looked at different supports and at drawing in response to music. We were given an envelope of A5 paper samples to experiment on:

Claire (who has also been a professional musician) had chosen 11 short tracks of a variety of music. She played each one whilst we listened, and then we chose a support and any mark making media we wanted and quickly drew whilst she played the piece again for a couple of minutes. Again, she encouraged us to respond to the feelings the music evoked. The drawings for each piece were laid in columns for comparison.

Khadi, gold and black gouache

Sumi paper, gouache

Bockingford, watercolours

Chinese paper, ink in water

Newsprint, graphite

Kraft paper, white chalk and gel pen

Sanders Waterford rough, charcoal, water

Sugar paper, gouache

Sanders Waterford HP, graphite powder

Drafting paper, drawn on both sides, oil stick and gel pen

Most of these papers I have used before, either for water colour or printmaking. However, I was excited by the possibilities offered by drawing on both sides of the drafting paper. I found this exercise very difficult. We had only a very short time to consider which support to combine with which materials and draw. Music is something of a closed book to me and I suspect that lack of knowledge means that my response is rather superficial, certainly when compared to others in the group who were musicians. I certainly couldn’t identify any of the pieces of music apart from to say that one was Bach.

We moved on to draw large scale pieces in response to a work by a Norwegian composer which induced a feeling of peace and tranquillity.  I found my drawings becoming simpler and simpler, although I spent some considerable time on each, mainly thinking and rehearsing a single stroke.

gouache, A2

gouache, A2

gouache, A2

gouache, A2

This last piece was made by allowing a drip to run down the paper whilst occasionally touching it with a brush tip dipped in gouache.

I usually work fast and instinctively but this can lead to a piling up of marks without much consideration. I do know that less can be more, but I need to remind myself of this more often. This music had the effect of slowing me down and making my marks much more spare and considered.

One idea I shall take away from this workshop is combining drawings or selecting part and viewing it through another. Here I have taken these final drawings and reimagined them using photo-editing software.

I can reference Ellsworth Kelly and cut up my drawings and reassemble them, or I can select details and assemble these as a montage, but I do like the idea of cutting a window in one drawing through which you view another. I have experimented, cutting a frame in one and positioning it over others…

I think that this works best when an element from one drawing links into another. Below, I have extracted two sections of the surface altering experiments and related them in a wide space through lines I have imagined  extended from one to the other.

This workshop felt like a natural extension of many of the ideas and projects in the Drawing 2 course and whilst quite a bit wasn’t new to me, I still came away feeling excited and empowered. There were ideas which I will definitely build into my practice such as physically editing my drawings and juxtaposing them. Dennis Creffield’s charcoal works will be a touchstone.


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