Last week’s constellation day on Thursday we took to Llandaff fields, braving the raging Storm Doris and the threat of rain to create indexical drawings. Indexical drawings record that something has happened and document the activity involved rather than being ‘icons’- resembling the thing they are drawings of or being conventional symbols like music notation. It could be argued a piece of sheet music is a drawing of music but we know it has no relation to the way we experience music, it is just symbolic.
The road to the park was scattered with broken branches, victims of the storm the night before and the trees above us swayed precariously. However, we decided to use the blustery weather to our advantage, harnessing the power of the wind to create a drawing that would be impossible to capture on a clam day. Our group of four gathered together our tools – some old violin strings to tie things together, brightly coloured sharpies to draw with and sketchbooks to draw on. We were attracted to the movement of the trees swaying but how could we capture this energy and activity when the branches were meters above us? In one corner of the field we spotted a sapling, about four feet tall and decided to use this tree for our exercise. We tied a couple of marker pens to a swinging branch, held a sheet of paper underneath then let nature do its work.
The image below shows the results of the branch’s movement over 10 minutes. As the wind blew the plant, the sharpies swayed over the paper in a random pattern, stopping and starting, tapping here and there then sweeping over in long calligraphic lines like a miniature Jackson Pollock. What is the result? A collaboration between uncontrollable natural forces and human intervention? A drawing of what wind looks like?
Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson made a fascinating series of kinetic drawings called ‘Connecting cross country with a line’ (2013) in which a drawing machine drew’journeys’ between train stations. An ink coated ball rolled around a sheet of paper, documenting the topography of the country as the train winded and juddered. The varying darkness of lines as the ink runs out is beautiful.
The randomness of line quality in both our work and Eliasson’s reminded me of a workshop I took part in a few years ago with artist Zoe Robertson. We set off machines that vibrated, filled with felt pens onto a sheet of paper and they created abstract patterns of coloured lines, pooling where the robots got stuck and forming dotted, tentative lines where the pens weren’t laid flat.
These unconventional methods of drawing are exciting and I like their move away from dependence on human agency to create them. I think it’s the same reason I like the unexpected results of raku and saggar firing. The lack of control makes the outcome feel like more of a collaboration between myself and the forces of nature rather than forcing materials to my will.
While I was on the art Foundation course back at the start of last year I took part in a project themed ‘Balance’. I was experimenting with mixed media and made a wire armature into the shape of a dancer based on a photo shoot of a friend. I then glued tissue paper and PVA all over and coated the whole skeleton in air drying clay. Once this had dried (and cracked as it contracted onto the form) I then painted the entire thing in white acrylic paint to seal in order to see how these materials worked together. I didn’t know what to do with the figurine so it disappeared into a box in the garage. However when I came back home for Christmas I was surprised to find what looked like an unusual fungus growing from the base of a tree in the garden. It turned out to be the little dancer. She’d undergone an exciting transformation.
The paint and clay had broken down and weathered to leave a strange patina like quartz veins or lichen on a stone. Fallen leaves and vegetation have morphed with the clay over time. This decomposition reminded me of a series of ink drawings I left out in the rain (can be seen here). This interaction of material and environment also made me think of Phoebe Cummings’s ‘Vanitas’ installation (2012) in which clay was left to change in enclosed glass micro-environments.
Underneath the tree the model was fairly sheltered and the breaking up of the surface has been caused by water dripping from the branches above. It would be fascinating to watch this decomposition in a time lapse film. I’m eager to experiment with this idea on a much bigger scale and see how the clay would fare in different environments.
Today’s visit was to Craft in the Bay, Cardiff to take part in a workshop organised by Dr Natasha Mayo. We worked alongside local A level students to problem solve and took a look at Craft in the Bay’s new exhibition ‘Drawing Inspirations’ which examines the relationship of drawing to the artists work.
We discussed different ways artists use drawing to inspire designs such as printmaker Claire Florey-Hitchcox who uses drawing as a pre-design for her woodblock carvings and ceramicist Richard Heeley who explores the energy and rhythm of markmaking to create a decorative surface.
We began with the challenge of joining two strips of paper together by folding only, then were asked to transform a rectangle of A2 paper into a vessel. Our pair’s approach drew on my previous knowledge of how to make an origami cup although we had to improvise and make the paper more flexible so it would stand upright.
The next task was to create a spoon from paper. Aware that we had drawn from past knowledge for the previous task we tried a more intuitive approach this time, folding the paper with the idea of making a plaited stem like a love spoon. I feel our designs were very economical – we were careful not to waste any of the material.
Next we used the spoon to mark make with Indian ink, then to draw the paper spoon using the spoon which was a lot more challenging exercise. We developed our markings from the first sheet but rather than running wild, we took a more linear approach and thought of how our marks could convey the presence of a 3D object rather than only drawing 2D patterns.
Over lunch we were tasked with finding objects in the environment around Cardiff bay to make drawing tools from. We then used our new tools to draw with the ink, free to take any approach we liked. My plan was to work in a generally organised manner from the left to right of the page exploring mark making with typography (our previous mark-making with the ink had reminded me of calligraphy) but still working freely enough to explore the limitations of the new tools.
Today’s experience has taught me that the process of playing with materials and developing ideas is just as, if not more important than the final outcome.