Long Drawings

“Long drawing” is an interference technique I developed in Drawing 3 to stop myself from being precious with my mark-making. I tend to agonise over the way that what goes into my eyes doesn’t come out of my hand.

UPDATE: I have since learned that the foundation of this technique is known as “blind contour drawing”.

This blending of methods – not looking at the paper, continuous line, multiple pens, and minimum drawing time –prevents that anxiety as it is impossible to draw photo-realistically. I also discovered an added intervention: quick drawing and keeping nibs on the surface means my hand continuously slides over wet ink, smudging the image.

So I decided that I would try this process in a landscape with which I was unfamiliar. My first essay was in the creek below the Green House, surrounded by rocks, sand, gum trees, flies, emus, and goats.

Figure 1 – FG 2, 2021, pen on paper, 50 x 65 cm, with digital reference photograph

I like the large paper size as it forces me to open up the composition. The thickness and higher quality adds depth compared to the original 110 gsm cartridge paper. The surface really does matter when drawing.

While reflecting on the day’s work, I realised that I was drawing literally everything I could see inside my chosen frame; the same way a camera records everything in the viewfinder. There was no sense of importance, no prioritised subject matter, no dimensionality. There is some negative space but only because it happens to be a patch of sky. In my next drawings, I decided to draw just one tree so I could address these ideas.

Figure 2 – FG 5, 2021, pen on canvas paper, 59.2 x 41.8 cm, with digital reference photograph

By focussing on this singular tree outside Cottage 1 and eliminating everything else save a touch of grass for balance, I had accidentally made a portrait rather than a landscape. Also, this is my first use of the black pen set from the art kit, on highly-textured 290 gsm canvas paper. As each of the five pens is a different size and the surface simulates canvas, the pens skip and jump preventing them from making a continuous line.

After playing with these concepts, I decided to apply them to a more exotic landscape. Fortunately there was a spare one behind the shearer’s quarters so I set up a table and chair and went to work.

Figure 3 – FG 9, 2021, pen on paper, 56 x 76 cm, with digital reference photograph

While I was delighted with the open feel – and how a table and chair make drawing on a big piece of paper much more comfortable – I discovered that the further left my right hand moves, the more it skews the subject. Also, the top left of the image is impossible to reach without climbing out of the chair; my portrait of the landscape is also a portrait of me.

The next day, half an hour before first breakfast, on a chilly morning I set up a table and chair to draw. Then I realised that I was getting a high from doing such a sustained art practice and had become addicted to the process.

This is not entirely a bad thing.

For this drawing I deliberately chose a location with lots of Big Sky. While the image is still very flat, the fore, middle, and background have separated. But what I enjoyed most was the new flowing sensation of drawing the lyrical, swirling cloud forms.

Figure 4 – FG 10, 2021, pen on paper, approximately 56 x 76 cm, with digital reference photograph

Then, to make sure I hadn’t just become good at drawing Fowlers Gap, I began drawing offsite on the way back to Sydney, stopping at Menindee Lakes and the Living Desert and Sculptures outside Broken Hill, where I drew mulga trees in the approaching sunset.

Figure 5 – FG 12, 2021, pen on canvas paper, 41.8 x 59.2 cm

It’s interesting how:

  • The trees look like mulgas and not eucalypts,
  • The left side is full of smudges,
  • Drawing in public has a performative element that lets the public come up and talk to you about your drawing.

So what does this mean for Assessment 2? No work that claims to be the cumulative statement about Fowlers Gap would be complete without a solid reference to the long drawing technique. From experience in Drawing 3, using pens on a large scale takes a long time and most of the ink will be covered or diluted by the next layer. I must therefore apply bolder marks as a final stratum so they don’t get lost. It will be very self-reflexive to use the trees to draw themselves, perhaps using eucalypt branches dipped in ink. This is a most excellent idea that popped into my head by itself, as they often do.

UPDATE: If I use eucalypt branches from UNSW property in Sydney it will provide another link to the trees at Fowlers Gap. Also, Kurt Schranzer introduced me to Li Huasheng, whose stiff, dry brush technique has much in common with the open marks I have been drawing. This is an interesting development.

Figure 1 – Li Huasheng, 0826, 2008, ink on paper, 200 × 145 cm. Source: Artsy.net.

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