Drawing is an activity that I rely on to feel a little more in control of my life and after the last year of the pandemic, I think we can all relate to needing a positive routine and a bit of self agency. Drawing enables a meta level of control where you surrender yourself to the process; for a blissful few moments you can be working automatically and unconsciously. There is something so refreshing about being in the process of making a drawing that somehow clarifies everything, when the world around you is in churning chaos, drawing can be an essential life raft.
I draw everyday usually from observation, some time ago I formalised this habit into Daily String Drawings (2011-2015) where I produced one observational A5 drawing of a ball of string a day for four years. Looking at your own drawings and seeing the uncanny valley of what you wanted to do vs what you did do is always an edifying experience. It is strange how persistent this experience can be, looking at your own drawings and for them to be totally yours but also something else. My approach to drawing mirrors Haruki Murakami’s feelings about writing “Writers who are blessed with inborn talent can write easily, no matter what they do—or don’t do. Like water from a natural spring, the sentences just well up, and with little or no effort these writers can complete a work. Unfortunately, I don’t fall into that category. I have to pound away at a rock with a chisel and dig out a deep hole before I can locate the source of my creativity.”1. Every drawing is a struggle to keep the forces of what I wanted to do and what I did do in alignment.
A few years ago I set about building a studio in my back garden. The process of constructing the studio and in particular drawing plans for it gave me an appreciation for builders and architects. The drawings were on A3 graph paper and tried to articulate the complexities of building a timber box. I was disarmed by the volume of iterations and layers involved; how was this attached to that? what materials should be used? orders of operation? where is the wiring going? The process of making these drawings was quickly overtaken my the realities of using the materials. Building using simple materials and tools felt like drawing in three dimensions; I can definitely see the allure of architecture; being able to define and re-contextualise space is magic.
The experience of building the studio and some Lockdown DIY has fed into a new mentality in me where I question the space I live and work in. In the last two years I have built and altered more things than ever before. My house is now littered with these DIY three dimensional drawings; workbenches, birdhouses, cantilevered step, tree house, loft hatch, paving, mini green house and potter’s wheel stand. These bricolage constructions aren’t for public consumption and are far from pretty but enrich our experience of this space.
I have recently started to make drawings using plotters. Why draw with a machine? perhaps to further this desire for control. That experience I explained earlier of being able to see all the missteps of your own drawings; this still happens with the machine but is some how more explainable and fixable. I find the process of developing the machinery and my approach is pushing my practice into new areas. In programming there is a concept called decomposition where you unpick and plan a correct sequence of groups of activities, this has informed both my digital and analogue process. Every machine has it’s own quirks and limitations. My DIY Brachiograph machine uses lolly sticks, hot glue, a Raspberry Pi and hobby servos to draw an imprecise shaky line. My Line-us is a super cute mini machine that redraws iPad drawings, slowly building an image in the same order you made them but transposed into tiny marks. My large scale plotter is self built out of 3D printer parts and can draw to around an A1 size using a wide variety of materials. Each machine enables me to extend my own drawing abilities into new areas.
Everything informs everything else– is it nice to make a drawing without thinking about which script you need to Accomplish this? Yes. Is it helpful to instruct a machine to make a very accurate drawing for over an hour? Yes. Does it open up and go to new possibilities? Yes. The machine requires you to tell it what to do and this at times can be remarkably challenging. Programming feels very much like a drawing exercise where you are trying to simplify and refine the information and how it is transferred to the page. I can make anything I can think of as long as I can think of how to do it. Working with machines and specific processes do carry particular haul marks. Kelli Anderson’s describes the aesthetics of Adobe Illustrator “unless actively willed otherwise, the tool defaults to the aesthetic style of Illustrator, as if by a laws of nature. Evidenced by this on-going background struggle: digital tools shape what we make.”2. I am very consciously trying to avoid the default look of using these machines, trying to take into account radii of curve or compensating for a tool being dragged at an offset. In spite of this it always disarms me that no matter what process I work in that I make looks like I made it. I literally tell computer to make a drawing based on a photograph that I took using algorithms downloaded from the Internet and it still looks like my drawing, it’s very strange.
The advent of photography changed painting forever and alongside industrially produced paints fostered Modernism. My current obsessions with using machinery to make my work is fed by the legions of amateur technologists on the internet building the tools that I can adapt and use. We are at the intersection between the hobbyists making cool things and artists trying to find applications for these technologies. We are living in a time where plans, tools and techniques are freely disseminated and be used by people all over the world. Projects like U-Build and WikiHouse push architecture and building into the realms of software and manufacture. Being able to pursue this hybrid approach to making really excites me.
One of my formative teenage experiences was reading the book Process: A Tomato Project 3., in particular seeing and reading about John Warwicker’s sea drawings. “Drawing the same thing over and over again or drawing drawing upon drawing located the object and the act within the philosophical and cultural context which in turn informed both object and act. The process of process.” The vivid descriptions of their production and the vague tiny mysterious reproductions of these observational but abstract light pencil drawings of the sea on yellow legal paper stuck with me. “These drawings are about the material of the sea, the material of drawing, and the material of reproduction.”4. The process of process is a vital part of being a creative person, the outcome isn’t always the most important part, sometimes you need to get engrossed in the process of making. At what stage do use other peoples tools and software before you realise that you need to create your own bespoke response to a problem?
Watching SpaceX’s starship iteration over the last year has been fascinating. They have literally turned a peninsula in Texas from a small village into a factory capable of building space ships. I have been watching the streams on Youtube documenting the minutiae of the construction. It’s a modular, methodical a force of capitalist nature. Each day a new element of the system is created of improved. I want my processes of creation to have a similar drive, restlessly creating not only the next new thing but the process to make it. The machinery I am currently developing is basic and there is a lot of room to develop my understanding of the equipment and refine it accordingly. I am really excited about this area of investigation and would like to use it to somewhat rebuke Walter Benjamin‘s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. I believe that it is possible to use machinery in a liberating way to produce drawings that are “mine”.
- Haruki Murakami. The Running Novelist. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/06/09/the-running-novelist
- Kelli Anderson. A Stand-up Desk (Ikea hack). https://kellianderson.com/blog/2013/12/30/a-stand-up-desk-ikea-hack/
- Landscape Drawings. John Warwicker. http://www.johnwarwicker.com/landscape-drawings
- Process: (A Tomato Project). John Warwicker. 1996