the partisan of line

elephants in line

I like lines.  I think in lines.  If I had my way the whole world would be outlined.  Okay, maybe I wouldn’t go quite that far.  But when I look at the whole world, I often think about it in lines — lines that run round the contours of surfaces with a few lines tossed in willy-nilly just because.

Expressing this opinion got me into a bit of a kerfuffle recently at an artist’s post on social media.  Unbeknownst to me the author of the site where I commented offers drawing instruction and has very particular ideas about how to draw, believing that things should be constructed geometrically.  While I have nothing against geometry, I offered an opinion that geometrical approaches only capture certain features and omit others.  The same is true about contour line of course. (She acknowledges reluctantly.)  Nothing wrong with the information that a geometrical approach emphasizes.  It’s just that the vast everything else that geometry misses deserves a shout out as well.

I guess I notice the sieve aspect of a pedagogical approach most when it goes contrary to some manner that’s habitual with me since we all tend to use ourselves and our familiar routines as templates for understanding the world.  (Didn’t Leonardo da Vinci do a blog post about that …?)


Anyway, I got into trouble.  It happens sometimes.  My host and sympathetic guests appeared to assert that there really was no other way, that all things are at long last reducible to geometry.  If you’re a mathematician of a certain stripe that idea might ring true, but it’s not true of art.  If I had offered my drawing below, sketches of a dog (which wisely I didn’t) I believe I would have been informed that I drew the dog’s head in a geometrical way because it seems to have form.

page of dog drawings

But actually I just drew contour lines around stuff (and shaded in parts).  That dog paw in the center of the page, for instance, is all line.  The dog’s paw itself — the actual paw on the actual dog — has form — even geometrical form (if you incline to think that God (hearts) math).  But my drawing of the paw is just line.  It’s so just line that I’m pretty sure the dog would not comprehend it as a dog paw.  (Though dogs do recognize pictures of dogs in certain contexts! Or so I heard via the internet so it must be true.)

Anyway, I think there are many ways to think visually and sometimes one way has nothing much in common with the other ways though any of the ways might have a lot in common with features of the visual world that the techniques are meant to imitate.

Or not.

At least we weren’t fussin’ about the things that people usually fuss about.  Give me a good knock-down, drag-out fight about ART any day.  I fought a battalion of geometricians all by myself! Anything that gets people feeling passionate about art!

If I had my way the whole world would be outlined.

draw your dog

dog drawing ap 30

The drawing catches little of the actual situation.  Lucy lies inside her kennel where it is dark. She lies on a black mat which makes the darkness more amorphous.  The edge of her dark muzzle against the black mat is difficult to discern.  Meanwhile, I draw upon a white sheet of paper.  It could hardly be less amenable to the subject matter.  And I use a blue ball point pen (wonderful tool) which if used to create dark passages requires many scribbles, and I am feeling fundamentally lazy today.  This is abstraction and mindfulness.  There’s a species of drawing possible — that seeks out the keenest realism — that nevertheless often fails to resemble its subject.  Here it is.  I recommend it highly.

dog drawing 2 ap 30

I began again.  The first drawing — sequence of heads — lacked room to put in her ears.  Below her muzzle I played around with zigzag lines that pretend to treat some of the form of the mat she lies on — that black mat which fuses the edges of her nose into indistinct lineless contour, soft dark on dark.

dog drawing 3 ap 30

Even in the deepest darks, one has a sense of the contours of a thing.  I pretended that the tonality wasn’t even there.  I just made lines around forms of the dog’s head.  I followed curves, depressions, convexities, concavities, searched out the end of the nose, the flap of the lip, the edges of the ears, and so on.  If you don’t know where a thing goes (this works temporarily for house cleaning too, so take note), just put it somewhere.  You’ll figure it out later.   Perfection is the enemy of the good.  A useful catch phrase.  Remember it.

Then Lucy turned over!  A very relaxed dog!  I found myself looking at a beautiful pose:  the dog head upside down, underside of the chin, lovely honey colored spots on a white patch of an otherwise brown dog.  I started drawing (not shown).  Thirty seconds into it, she resumed the first pose again. Ah!  Gone so fast.  I decided to draw it — such as I might — from memory based on the not illustrated fast contour.  The memory drawing is below — not sure if it’s at all legible.  Doesn’t matter.

dog drawing 4 ap 30

Sometimes you draw just to draw.  Your hand describing the forms in concert with your active looking begins teaching you to understand the forms.  It’s a relaxing and useful thing to do.  It stills your mind.  It hones your focus.  Look at one thing at a time and react using the line as a form of biofeedback.  It’s a form of meditation.

The notation “figure this out” visible at the top of the first drawing has nothing to do with the drawing.  It’s the last words of notes I wrote myself regarding another topic — but it seemed like a good subtitle for the post so I let it remain.

“Figure this out.”  Another good motto to tell yourself whenever you are looking at something and drawing.  Figure it out.  Wander around inside the visual idea. Get your bearings.  Record what information you can.  Leave the rest to float in airy thought until another day.

Keeping the Koi in Line

Sometimes before I start a picture, or in odd moments between sessions of work, I do quick line drawings of the koi.  They are like the imaginary bees that frightened my childhood sleep, huge bees that were invisible, paradoxically invisible given how vividly I kept seeing them, a circumstance which was occasioned by the black contours that outlined them as they flew around my room.  Well, the linear koi are much pleasanter images.  And they do not sting.

These quick drawings are like tunings of an instrument, or are like a runner’s bending to stretch muscles.  They warm up my mind.  They go back to the beginning in an easy way.  No pressure, no worries, just lines.

Drawing Lines That Touch Sky

landscape drawing pen june 16

Along my morning walk this morning I decided to carve out imaginary space by drawing a corner of the tree horizon in my notebook.  The white of the  page is the field.  A few shadows, I could not resist scribbling them in.  But mostly I wondered to myself about the contours of the trees, analyzing their relationships to each other.  The lines are like handwriting that asks questions. Who is taller?  Which is fuller?  What  linear paths reveal these feathery silhouettes?

Took the walk before working today.  The air was cool, the sky slightly overcast.  My walk was still quite hot enough after an hour.  Washington is humid this time of year.  I managed not to wilt.

Passed my friends the koi, but we didn’t speak.  They were being lazy, and I was preoccupied.  We passed each other in friendly, understanding silence.

This is one of several fast drawings I made.  Quick thoughts and impressions.   Mentally to travel the zigzags of leaf and stem where their tops cross the sky with my pen like a finger pointing.