Contemporary Drawing – Key concepts and techniques by Margaret Davidson
During my business trip last week I found time to read the entire book on Contemporary Drawing by Margaret Davidson. The book was was readable and easy to follow and extremely inspiring. The book was published in 2011 so is reasonably up to date.
As a lead in to Part 3, Project 3 Developing your studies, it was perfect and an excuse to reflect on my work so far and considerations that I would be wise to reflect upon during the final phases of Part 3 Expanse, and beyond.
I have tried not to copy out large chunks of the book and place them here, as I believe it will be more useful for me to provide myself with a kind of checklist/action plan to follow.
The book is broken up into interesting sections that I will use as the guide for my checklist:
SURFACE Investigate surface textures and in particular the relationship between mark/tone and surface texture, and incorporate this experience into choice of paper/support /medium/s for my drawings.
The relationship between surface and mark is fundamental to contemporary drawing, and every kind of drawing artist today makes this decision deliberately
Options available are smooth paper, slightly textured paper, intensely textured paper, toned paper, transluscent paper, graph paper, book paper, phonebook, textbook, glass, wood and leaves, cloth among others!
Note to me: Smooth papers are quiet and textured papers are more assertive and chaotic.
MARK It is important for me to appreciate that there are three ways to use marks:
- The mark as a means to the end (the mark is secondary to the subject)
- It can be the end itself (the mark/s is the subject), or
- Both these things at the same time
Note to me: In contemporary drawing, all drawing is abstract.
Techniques available to me include: Line (outline, contour line etc), tone, other marks such as stippling, dots splashes etc etc, .
Note to me: Explore even more and regularly all types of mark making and tone including mixing line and tone!
Other techniques: Artist induced mark, nature induced mark, gravity, propulsion, surface tension, fire, culture induced mark (text based marks, machine generated marks, self governed but unforeseeable mark….)
Note to me: Additional considerations in relation to my mark making include:
- Relation to surface (what response de I have to the surface when making the mark and what do I wish to express to the viewer)
- Relation to space (around every mark there will be space – use this to advantage/effect)
- Relation to composition
- Relation to scale (Scale can change the entire nature of mark making – small and conscious to large and physical)
In contemporary drawing, intentionality has to do with personalizing the image, and arriving at a personal truth……contemporary drawing artists continue to work at finding new ways of arriving at it.
SPACE A drawing is, most basically, some sort of surface that includes areas of marks and, usually but not always, areas of no marks. There are four main types of space:
- Depicting illusion of 3 dimensional space
- Promoting the truth of the flatness of the picture plane
- A combination of the above
- Making actual 3 dimensional drawings
Note to me: To depict the illusion of 3 dimensional space I need to explore the following: Overlap, size difference, value or contrast change, reflection.
Agnes Martin’s work is an example of an artist that fully explored and used the flatness of the surface in her drawings/paintings.
To focus on the mark and its relationship to the surface and to the space is something akin to meditation and focusing on one’s own breathing.
In Part 3 of the course I want to explore the combination of the flatness of the surface with 3 dimensional space using a translucent material – working on both sides and using collage if necessary – borrowing ideas/style from Julie Mehretu.
Contemporary drawing artists especially know that space in drawing is a touchable substance, one that must be worked with consciously, and deliberately moulded.
Note to me: Research Russell Crotty’s actual 3 dimensional drawings and try out some personal work in an actual 3 dimensional space.
Balance creates a unity within the structure, and makes possible a relationship between the drawing and the viewer.
Note to me: Universal fundamentals of composition are a connection with the format and the significant use of eye level. Look for opportunities to use these fundamentals to best effect in my work.
Note to me: Eye level is an intriguing subject and needs to be carefully considered. Consider the ‘Why’ when choosing a particular eye level. Examples include:
- Straight on position
- Lower position
- Higher position
Other considerations in composition include:
- Balance – Symmetrical and asymmetrical, balance of cubical space where one uses the x,y and z axis
- Eye pathways – Faces, vectors, high contrast points, power centres, focal points
- The golden section/the golden rectangle
- Overallness – overall evenness of mark making or tone…arriving at unity and balance
- The grid
Agnes Martin writes about her grids:
My formats are square, but the grids never are absolutely square; they are rectangles, a little bit off the square, making a sort of contradiction, a dissonance, though I didn’t set out to do it that way. When I cover the square surface with rectangles, lightens the weight of the square, destroys its power.
SCALE Predominantly there are three sizes of drawing – large scale (big papers, rolls, canvases, large panels, walls, sidewalks etc), normal size (some thing that can be held in two hands and looked at easily) or small scale.
In big drawings I need to consider if that means working on a large roll, sheet or panel, or a series of panels/sheets. Other considerations for big drawings:
Relationship to me as the artist: Composition and spacial implications, in a series of tiled pieces – the space in between/joining is important, mark making and body movements, work alone or collaboratively.
Relationship to the mark: The size of the mark in relation to the whole drawing is a critically important decision. There is potential for a greater range of mark size than in a smaller drawing, or the mark can be kept at a normal size but add more marks/layers of marks – this can create more depth.
Note to me: Large marks are taken in quickly, while smaller marks take more time to see.
Relationship to the viewer: Big drawings are imposing, and require the viewer to step back from them, but also look up close to view the details, they require ample space for viewing.
Small drawings for mean working close and tight, microscopically – something for that would be uncomfortable, unnatural even. Having said that I wish to experiment with small drawings exactly because they will be out of my comfort zone!
Contemporary drawing that is small also has that sense of preciousness, a quality that some artists like to work with, and some like to work against.
Relationship to the artist: These drawings require a tolerance for sitting and a patience for working closely with small movements/marks – sometimes magnification.
Relationship to the mark: There is restriction/limitation to the size of marks available.
Relationship to the viewer: The size means that only one person can view at a time, there is an intimacy (a connection with the intimacy of the artist), the work is usually framed in a much larger size frame inviting the viewer in and increasing the sense of preciousness.
INTENTIONALITY Every drawing artist MUST decide on what surface to use, with what materials, at what scale, involving what compositional structure, indicating what kind of space, and exhibiting what kind of marks – in other words intentionally making decisions to achieve the final drawing.
Checklist for making and looking at contemporary drawings:
- Have I or the artist shown the relationship between the negative spaces and the forms?
- Have I or the artist shown a relationship between the surface and the mark?
- Is it clear why I or the artist has chosen certain materials and a particular surface?
- Does the scale tell me or the viewer anything?
- Have I or the artist been clear in how space is depicted?
- What is the eye level?
- What is the message, and is the message clear?
- What helps, or hurts, the clarity of the message?