Reading the manual.
Recently I posted the huge drawing I did of my street here in LA. It was the culmination of a new drawing experiment I began a few weeks ago with the drawing above of the chaos on my worktable.
Over the years, I have played around with bamboo pens, the favored drawing tool of my old pal Vinny Van Gogh. The marks this pen makes are instantly recognizable — they have a certain roundedness to them and can be made in many thickness and degrees of blackness. My own attempts with bamboo have heretofore been disappointing; one has to redip thepen so often that it can be quite frustrating to fill a page. But recently, a chance perusal of an art manual revealed the error of my ways. Soak the pen in water for half an hour or so, it suggested, and bamboo becomes thirsty as a diabetic camel, absorbing a huge reserve of ink that can fuel half a drawing or more.
Once I had that sorted, I drew a bold outline, complete with minor variations in thickness, and was quite please with the result. Then, I decided to eschew all shading and fill in my shapes with solid gouache shapes to make a painting that was as bold as my drawing. Here and there I added a little detail and texture, but not too heavy handed. It was the sort of direct and confident drawing I have been wanting to make for ages but never quite knew what I was looking for.
One of the wonderful things about my time in the garage so far has been that I can really experiment and learn new things. I am reading more of the many art books that gathered dust on my shelves in New York. I am trying to understand the media I have been using blindly for years, improving my color mixing, understanding the limitations I often bump in to and using them to my advantage. And I am studying the work of the artists I admire most, not just for inspiration and new direction, but to see if I can figure out what they were doing and why.
I’m also taking more pleasure in my mistakes. I can afford to take a risk and then watch it go down in flames. A few days ago, I realize that the epic 15 foot drawing of the Venice canal I ‘d been working on for days was in fact a disaster. At first, I got quite depressed by it but then started to analyze what had gone wrong. By dissecting the composition, the line quality, the color range, I eventually figured out the errors I had made and how to avoid them in the future. I’m leaving the big panel up as a reminder.
God, drawing is so endlessly interesting and complex. Just when I think I have it figured out, I turn a corner into a whole new set of lessons. My garage is a lab, a school, a graveyard, a gallery, and a great place to eat a sandwich.