When I was drawing with my pal Roz Stendahl, I was amazed to see that certain pages of her journals were randomly pretreated before she turned to them. She might have a fat, wet brush stroke across a spread or have some lovely textured paper glued onto a page. When she turned to that page, she just worked on it like any other blank sheet.
I found this very disconcerting at first. “What if the colors you’ve slopped onto the page don’t fit in with what you’re drawing,” I asked. She explained that this what made it fun. Each new spread became a double challenge: to capture the drawing and also resolve it with the obstacle she had set up for herself (Roz has just set up a gallery of some of these pages pre- and post-drawing here).
I spent a year with this in the back of my head and then, last month, I decided to try it. As readers of this site will have noticed, most of the drawings I did in December were on orangish blotchy backgrounds. This happened to have worked really well when I was in Mexico, an orangish blotchy sort of place, but that was just serendipitous.
I chose this palette at the beginning of my journal #43 because I had been looking at a lot of 18th and 19th century drawings in sepia ink (best of all the wonderful Van Gogh exhibit at the Met) and wanted to focus on warm colors rather than the black ink and bright watercolors I have been using for the past year. I unspiraled my book and took a handful of pages into the kitchen and one by one doused them in water. Then I took various bottles of orange and brown and yellow Dr. Martin’s and dripped and sloshed them around . Then I popped the pages into the toaster oven and, when they had dried, added some more layers. Patti described the results as ‘very Cheetos’. She also pointed out the drips of Doc Martin’s on the counter that only came out with bleach and elbow grease.
I drew most of the time with Faber-Castell PITT brown S nib pens and did my writing with a dip pen for maximal splashiness. But one of my favorite things about this technique has been the opportunity to use white pencils to bring out highlights. I just love the look of this.
Last weekend, I inaugurated Vol. 44, which has heavy Kraft paper and so I have stopped the Doc Martin’s pre-treatment. I am still using the same media to draw with but am doing a more traditional illustrated diary sort of thing with each right hand page being a drawing and each left hand page a straightforward record of my day. It’s another way of getting a drawing and some writing into each day and also having a sort of ancient looking document to work in. I have fantasies about burning certain pages and sloshing wine around.
Drawing on colored backgrounds is giving me a chance to think more clearly in terms of values. Because I have at least three tones in my palette right off (brown lines, tan paper, white pencil) and then the infinite variations in between (varying degrees of solid ink and cross hatching, different line weights, different degrees of pressure on the pencil from light dusting to solid opaque), I really pay attention to what is the darkest and brightest points in my subject and then try to capture the correct variations in between.