Log 5 - on drawing, three ways from three books

This is a work-in-progress post. I’d like to come back and tend to this as I go. In the meantime, you’re welcome to explore whatever is here so far. 🌱

I’m not quite sure how to start this off — I’ve written multiple times in my journal this week that I want to compose this log/response about drawing, but… am finding it difficult to get going. This might be even more rambling than usual.

In Log 2 - Rolling Stone update, teaching, rest, going to the library I talked about going to the library as part of classtime (which we did again, in yesterday’s class). The books I took out that time were three: Isamu Noguchi’s A Sculptor’s World, The Drawings of Normal McLaren, and an exhibition catalogue of Hipkiss’s show at The Drawing Centre titled Bulwark. The common denominator was drawing. I wanted to share some parts from each, and some of the ideas I’ve been ruminating on the past couple weeks.

image of the covers of the two booksimage of the covers of the two books cover of the Noguchi bookcover of the Noguchi book

Drawing as an experiential process • Norman McLaren

Norman McLaren was a Scottish-Canadian artist and animator/filmmaker. He’s someone I slowly became aware of after his name popped up a few different places over the past year — but now I’m kind of surprised I didn’t know about him sooner! He’s known for pioneering experimental hand-drawn animation techniques, the earliest of which were films he made by drawing directly on the film strips, as well as abstract-expressionist (imo) visual interpretations of sound and music. He was a longtime contributor/member of the National Film Board of Canada, along with his partner Guy Glover (apparently they had a great, maximalist apartment and would throw costume parties where they once both dressed up as Carmen Miranda… so I read in an article that I forgot to bookmark! Anyways, they sound great).

The book opens with the following:

This reminds me of some of what Lynda Barry talks about in her book, Picture This, which I touched on in my fourth Letter. There’s a kind of free-flowing thought to hand to pen to paper. He says he just “let my pen do what it wanted, and this is what it wanted”:

In the first ‘chapter’ he talks about how he came to hate drawing at art school, where they worked from plaster casts and focused on “meticulous rendering of static poses lasting days and weeks. It was painstaking and boring and [he] was no good at it.” Weeks of drawing from casts really does sound painful, and I haven’t quite had that experience, but I did take figure drawing classes for four years as part of my degree in Illustration at Sheridan. What I’m interested in here, is the effect of schooling on creative pursuits — over the past 6-ish years I’ve personally been trying to understand the baggage I had with drawing and creating images that I suddenly felt after graduating. Sitting down to draw suddenly became a fraught situation, with expectations and a loud inner-critic’s voice. I was an ‘Illustrator’ and meant to be good at this — but nothing I was making good, nor was I enjoying it. I moved away from drawing and re-styled my process as one of ‘image-making’, which allowed for other methods like collage, photography, scannography, etc. This helped, but I still wished (wish) to be able to go back to a time where I could draw without being so judgmental of whether it ‘worked’ or ‘communicated effectively’, etc. etc. It was hard, and I felt that it didn’t need to be that way. ^e638bd

I think there’s a few things at play. Yes, I partially blame art school for emphasizing technique, marketability and commercialization — but that’s also why I went into illustration at the time as opposed to fine art, and the result of a standardized ‘curriculum’. (It wasn’t all bad, honestly, and we were able to independently shape our experience to a degree. But anytime there are authority figures telling you things, there’s bound to be something that is harmful and sticky without realizing) And I wonder if this is the kind of effect turning a hobby, or something that you love to do, into a job inevitably creates. But especially now, since I began teaching in the same program — I wonder about the effects of art school on young artists. But really what I want to explore here: my relationship with drawing, and how that’s changed in part from my education experience.

But I digress.

Norman talks about how his discovery of film led to him enjoying drawing again — and dropping out of school. He also discovered surrealism, which for him meant that:

“in the first stages of a work, conscious motivation is surrendered, and the subconscious is allowed to break through and well up. This process can begin in a very small way. Just as a slip of the tongue may reveal the subconscious, so may a slip of the pen. The slip has to be allowed to have its own way, be nurtured and encouraged, until its activity has gained enough momentum for conscious control gradually to take over and mold the picture into some kind of unity.”

Norman’s drawings are spontaneous, but there’s repetition within the drawings and between them; there’s a whole collection of drawings with stairs and doors and archways, which slowly morph to become less structural and more surreal, and then phallic in a certainly self-aware and funny way. There’s chapters on his fascination with visual puzzles and mazes, and a lot of these drawings feel like him trying to figure 2D and 3D space out.

He built a periscope-like device where his line of sight was 24 inches apart and drew this– love itHe built a periscope-like device where his line of sight was 24 inches apart and drew this– love it

He also talks about the effects of the materials he uses: “wanting to use the pencil for rendering a kind of softness, tenderness, that was my subject matter. Drawing with a pencil in this way, so alien to pen and ink work, was like developing a photograph in a darkroom.” Throughout it all the focus is on the experience of drawing. Not drawing with the intent to illustrate what he imagines, or capture a scene from life particularly (perhaps the one above, is the closest), but rather as he says, letting the pen do its thing and then responding to what comes out.

Drawing for understanding, as communication • Isamu Noguchi


a simple cartoon-ish drawing of a dog with the word ‘trying’ written below ita simple cartoon-ish drawing of a dog with the word ‘trying’ written below it

a simple drawing of a cat with ‘not trying’ written below ita simple drawing of a cat with ‘not trying’ written below it

trying | not trying control | surrender product | experience

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