Draw, draw and draw again

There’s a lot to be said for sessions of intensive drawing. I can remember frantic days of drawing workshops producing drawing after drawing in my art school days. My daughter, now doing a art school course of her own, is experiencing a similar intense working process.

In a working life that is filled with any number of commitments and distractions a sustained period of drawing is difficult to achieve, but the advantage of working on drawing after drawing in a condensed period is multiple:

• You don’t loose your place in the flow of the work, it is a continuum

• You don’t loose time in repeating and retracing steps that have already been made

• A sort of cumulative effect is built up, where although you might be producing a series of drawings, together they amount to a sense of whole, a single unity almost.

But perhaps most important of all is the element of risk taking that seems much more to become an intergral part of such an intense creative process. Maybe you become less attached to individual pieces of work, maybe it’s just that you become more open and inclined to experiment or maybe it’s just that you simply want to push each subsequent piece of work to a new place.

Whatever exactly is going on in the process, it does seem to be particularly dynamic in terms of a productive creative process. Many artists have identified and recognized the value of this approach to their work.

The last few days I have been away on the Friesian island of Vlieland, just off the north coast of the Dutch mainland. We have had fantastic weather and I have gone out and about around the island to draw. It has become an increasingly frenetic process and has resulted in an extended series of more than thirty drawings made in just five days. It is a long while since I have been so productive in such a short period of time.

It has been a fascinating series. As the days have gone by the approach has become more experimental, often more reduced and at times extremely loose and wild. The challenge is there, almost hour by hour to push the next drawing just that bit further and to avoid safer routes that I know only too well I can rely on when being cautious.

Drawings that I make out in the landscape are only indirectly connected to my studio based work. I see this part of my artistic process as a rather more recreational process. A sort of parallel that runs alongside the more extended studio work. In the past I have made use of landscape motifs such as birds, or trees or pools of water lying in the landscape. During these days of sustained drawing I have become aware of a couple of new landscape or features that may yet make the step from the traveling sketchbook to the larger canvases produced in the studio, only time will tell if these glimmers of new ideas can be brought to a more resolved form.

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The teenage photographic challenge

We live in a world where more photographs are made than ever before.  The teenagers that I teach are part of a generation who are barely able to live without their ever-present phone and photographic device in their hand. They are totally comfortable it would to record all around them and themselves for digital sharing on one of the many social media platforms.  It is all so easy and immediate.

As an art teacher it is fantastic to have the possibility to make use of the photographic medium so easily.  Yet experience shows that successfully getting worthwhile pupil work is surprisingly difficult to achieve.  Indeed, one of the problems I feel I face is the very casualness of the way many teenagers approach photographic documentation.  It is all so easy, point and shoot, endless quantities of images can be taken at no cost at all and the device of choice (the phone camera) always being with us in a pocket or bag. This same casualness brings also a sort of complacency or at less a much-weakened critical judgement.  Few teenagers ever look at their photographs on a screen bigger than that of their phone, fewer still bother to stop and evaluate the successes or failures of a composition.

Over the years I’ve experimented with a number of photographic assignments. Some have produced the results I hoped for such as a photographic exchange project and photographic art work reconstructions, others haven’t though and have resulted in mediocre or simply disappointing results.

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By David Hockney

This year’s photographic variation is a project based on the collages made by the British artist David Hockney during the 1970s and 80s. Hockney’s work used extensive sets of photographs that he had taken of various subjects, people, interiors and landscapes. These were reassembled in an overlapping fashion to document the view and made active use of distortions, disruptions and twisted perspectives that the process produced.

The resulting works are fascinating to see.  I showed my two classes of fifteen year olds a selection of Hockney’s work. I explained. They looked. Were they actually seeing and understanding what they were looking at and grasping the process? To be honest, in education I have that feeling more often. For most of them is was a completely unfamiliar way of working with a camera, but to be honest, I didn’t think that it was so complex or difficult!

 

A week later the pupils arrive with their own set of photographs at school. In most cases, still on their phones. There is a misconception that teenagers are technological able and literate.  In some areas maybe, but occasionally a surprise comes along…..in this case it seemed like more than half of the class had little idea how to get photographs off their phones and onto a desktop computer.  It seems a little symptomatic of a development I’ve noticed over last couple of years.  At the school where I teach all pupils have an iPad.  I’ve written before about how we in the art department make use of it.  There are new tools and new possibilities, but with it has undoubtedly also come a diminishing capability and familiarity with using a laptop or desktop computer.

I am digressing a little……. eventually the photographs the pupils have made are onto the computer and the creative process begins.  The room quietens, and the pupils gain that fixed gaze that comes when a computer-based activity engages them.

It is a puzzle, but a fascinating one to do.  In the end, the work is relatively quickly done.  The results in some cases are quite complex.  As always, you learn during the process, what are the extra directions that you need to give to guarantee a suitable set of photographs or maybe spend just a few more minutes looking at and analyzing Hockney’s collages in order to make sure the pupils have some insight in choosing appropriate subjects.  But overall the results are good, certainly interesting enough to have another go at it next year.