Visual art exhibitions and events with a platform for critical writing
Black Dog Publishing, London
2 May - 14 October 2011
Reviewed by: tanja wilmot »
Both as a manual for learning how to draw and as a reference book on the place of drawing in contemporary art, 'Drawing Projects' is a book which fills a gap in available literature on drawing.
Useful to beginners, but equally valuable for those of us who have a pile of unloved charcoal sketches from life drawing classes stored under the bed, this is no over-simplified 'learn to draw in ten easy classes' book.
Often, we've gone through these, and done our time in drawing classes, and yet still yearn to discover a more personal, subjective drawing language.
Authors Mick Maslen and Jack Southern make thoughtful use of the 45 years of experience they have as artists and lecturers between them. They have also consulted a wide range of practitioners, curators and educators and included these conversations in the book.
The result is a book which is an open-ended, intelligent look at the ‘possibilities of drawing’ rather than a didactic drawing manual, and very much one that could be a guide to finding a more personal drawing language.
The rich matrix of the text includes examples of drawing in contemporary practice, a core text about fundamental principles, as well as a series of exercises which can be approached as a foundation course on learning to draw.
Or, for that matter, a refresher course for the jaded.
Here, we learn the point behind those piles of charcoal drawings, the over and over again careful looking at an object that we do, often all too mechanically, in the life drawing studio.
We are invited to consider how the sketches we are making also relate to contemporary art, and learn ways into a drawing language of our own.
It’s a process that is never complete, as the core text makes clear.
This section begins with a series of reflections on the process of learning to draw from the whole body sensory experience that we have as young children, to the struggle we have in wanting to reproduce more of what we see as young teenagers.
From there on, say the authors, we focus on the end product more than the process of drawing, striving to draw the ‘grown-up three dimensional world’.
Many people give up drawing at this point, frustrated that their skills can never match up to a photographic version of reality.
The authors offer an encouraging vision of learning to draw, reminding us that ‘we may only ever be just about good enough, and the quest is always the search to improve and make the next drawing better than the last. It is a continuing process that always starts in a different place, and follows neither a linear nor sequential route.’
Traditional aspects of drawing like negative space, tone and light, lines and edges and the need for selectivity are also covered in the core text.
While beginners will find the basics clearly explained, experienced students will find refreshing takes on familiar themes, for example the idea of valuing negative space as related to emptiness in Zen Buddhism.
The second part of the book weaves Southern’s interviews with a range of international artists together with the drawing projects of the title.
The drawing projects were used in a course in 2010, and the resulting works are included alongside the exercises. This adds another layer, weaving the collaborative atmosphere of a good drawing course into the book, including studio photos of student work in progress and students' comments on the exercises.
Interviews with 18 artists, cleverly interleaved with the drawing tasks, link the process of learning to draw with contemporary art practice. The reasons for including a particular artist alongside a drawing project are not always spelled out. Instead, readers are encouraged to make their own connections.
Each interview is illustrated with examples of works discussed, on many occasions including seldom-viewed pieces.
The visuals here are a rich source of inspiration in themselves, and the range of approaches to what the ‘language of drawing’ might mean for each practitioner stretches the medium way beyond traditional notions of drawing.
The interviews also reveal often aspects of the working process that are not often talked about. For example, Jeff Koons explains how his sculptures sometimes begin on a napkin and Dryden Goodwin makes connections between his student etchings of Russel Square and his later portraits. Kate Atkin relates how she made her first successful drawing from a photograph to prove a point when she was floundering at the RCA.
The drawing projects focus on process, as much as on greater fluidity and keener observation skills.
The first half are meant to be tackled in sequence, with the emphasis on learning to co-ordinate eye, brain and mark-making.
The latter half of the exercises focus on rethinking traditional approaches, and learning to express a more feeling, personal response.
While the projects were taught in a studio, the tasks could also easily be done at home with more limited means.
Since the layout encourages meandering and makes no concessions to the usual drawing manual layout, it can be hard to focus on the drawing tasks. The projects are buried in a dense matrix of illustrations, interviews and background information.
But this need not be a bad thing.
After all, plenty of inspiration is needed if one is really going to put everything into making one brave, experimental drawing after the next.
It is in any event a small price to pay for a thoughtful, beautifully illustrated mosaic of a drawing manual that encourages questioning and relativism without giving up on drawing all together.
Crucially, the focus remains squarely on the business of putting pencil to paper to discover a personal language of drawing, one sketch at a time.
Tanja Wilmot is a London based illustrator who plans to keep learning about drawing as long as she can hold a pencil.
Black Dog Publishing »
10A Acton Street London WC1X 9G
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