Intentions and game plans

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During an afternoon at Shuswap, armed only with a graphite stick and paper, I felt compelled to draw. I didn’t want to be drawing the beach bodies roasting in the sun nor the parched landscape of the hills behind us.
Further down the beach, there were rocks that might have been interesting, but I was feeling particularly frustrated and obstreperous about my relations with mankind in general for no better reason than a pulled tendon that was preventing me from doing active things. I was bored.

The others were away – Heather and her husband were out canoeing and Lizbet was swimming.

Just using the side of my graphite stick, I tried to make the stick speak for itself, using pressure to achieve tonal variations. By moving in one direction, I could get a wide mark of equal width. I suppose that sounds obvious. But if I turned it or backtracked on what I had already done, I got overlaps that were visually very interesting.

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This method of working is conducive to finding new imagery.  Most times, the images don’t resemble anything – they are non-representational. Sometimes (like we do with clouds, occasionally) they ended up with a form that resembled some recognizable thing. They didn’t start that way, but in the end, I could say, ‘This one looks like a torso” or “this one looks like a mother and child”.

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An acquaintance to whom I showed these drawings asked me, “What were your intentions when you did these?”

I feebly answered that I was experimenting with materials, I think. Afterward, when I reviewed my conversation in my mind, I couldn’t remember what I said at all.  I only felt this berated emotion since I couldn’t explain in words what it was I was doing.

New directions in art are not made through copying work that has come before. They come from explorations where one thinks they may get this result or that, but in fact, one may or may not get it. Something beyond original expectations may occur that had not be consciously thought about at all; something not better nor worse, but different. That difference acts like a new set of building blocks to construct new styles of imagery.

Sometimes we call these happy accidents, but if one were not out actively exploring with the materials, the “accident” would not happen. Once an “accident” has produced some favorable result, then if the artist can repeat it and use it as part of future imagery, then a new direction may grow from it.

It goes then without saying that of all the experimental drawings that I produced, I did not end up liking them all. Some seem too simple or trite. Some seem overworked. There is a core of ones I’m very pleased with. The trick will be to see what I can do with them whether in more graphite drawings or perhaps translating that technique to another medium.

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Working like this has given me some new mark-making images that I hope to be able to use.

What was essential, to start the process, was to choose a support to work on (the paper) and then a mark making tool to draw with. Sound simple? On vacation, it was. I only had two books of drawing papers, each with a different surface – one with smooth paper, the other with paper more suited to charcoal. But there are many different papers to choose from, all of which will affect the outcome differently – smooth, toothed, machine-rolled, hand made and therefore randomly surfaced,  plate, YUPO.

One quickly comes to a conclusion on the graphite. If it’s not soft enough, not enough contrast in tone can be achieved. For this type of drawing, a 4B is needed, at a minimum. I prefer the 6B; and the graphite must be the rectangular sticks, not the round ones so that there is an edge to work with.

So my game plan was this:

1) to make marks using the full width of the graphite stick on its edge, and

2)  to make marks with it without lifting it from the paper, and

3) to make variations whether by change of direction or by changes in pressure weight along one side or the other of the graphite.

In a far more complicated way, successful artists do this Game Plan method of working. They become interested in a theme and carry it through with variations, one after another until they have a series, a body or work that hangs together with common purpose.  And that game-planning occurs sometimes quite consciously and sometimes not.

It may start with an interest in aviation, for example, and what follows is one airplane after another until there are thirty paintings with just airplanes in them. When the artist’s interest begins to wane in the subject, there may be something added to the game plan – like: now I will add a few figures on the ground and a context appropriate to the era of that particular plane.

It may start with an interest in hiking and a fascination with the movement of water. What follows may be a concentration on photography of waterfalls and the movement of water around rocks. The body of work accumulates. The first ones may not be so wonderful, but as the artist photographer continues to work in that vein, he or she begins to eliminate the facile work and replaces with the exceptional.

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In familiar art history, you can relate this to Gaugin with his Tahitian women, or van Gogh with his sunflowers or Georgia O’keefe with her flower close-ups and her desert skulls. They have followed a fascination with a particular subject matter, all the while tightening their technical skills until they work in their particular style without consciously having to do so.

Picasso was a brilliant draftsman in his early years, precociously so. It didn’t take long in his art career for him to become bored with that manner of working. He began inventing his own game plans which resulted, at first, in rather tame variations from the norm – his Blue Period and his Pink Period – but that wasn’t enough for his fertile explorations. The rest is history. He began exploring ideas that resulted in a large body of work now called  Cubism and he never stopped exploring in his long art life.

Picasso freed all artists from having to do the same thing, to reproduce endlessly the landscapes and bouquets of tradition. The explosion of ideas in the Twentieth Century is legendary. One almost wonders if there is still something new to be done or to be  said.

But of course there is! And the only way to get there is to go out exploring with open ended expectations.


5 Responses to “Intentions and game plans”

  1. lesliepaints Says:

    I really enjoyed your explanation of what you did with a graphite stick. We explored this with a colored pencil stick, in class last year and were asked to develop a piece with the design we made. I enjoyed this activity and it offered endless opportunity to explore.

  2. Animal Duo « Leslie White Says:

    […] Kristin Krimmel discusses her use of a graphite stick and the endless mark making one can explore with it. This is essentially what we did, covering our paper with a design. We then composed a finished piece from that mark making. The difference was that we used a colored pencil stick. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Soldier Field at NightPortrait of TomPlastic SunflowersPencil, pen, or glue stick, it’s a lot of fun « Luke Nancy’s Poppies » […]

  3. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Thanks Leslie,
    It’s a fun exercise, n’est pas? I was doing this sort of thing many years ago and developed a series of drawings in graphite and gold inks although not all were explorations on the pointy side of the stick.
    I was thinking as I wrote that it might be interesting to do in colour or with a paintbrush. I must try it.

  4. fencer Says:

    Hi lookingforbeauty,

    Thanks for showing your explorations. Very interesting… and neat how they can suggest ideas and images. I was thinking these markings might be useful in an abstract kind of landscape of distant fields and hills…


  5. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Hi Fencer,
    When I’m looking to nudge myself out of a stalemate, a writer’s block or painter’s block so as to speak, I do these kinds of explorations. It always works. Something will come up that I think is interesting and then I can build on it.
    I don’t always use the same tools. It might be a brush that I work with or pen and inks, or chalks or oil sticks. I justkeep working with much like a child would, not really expecting things to look like something, just playing until I get some sort of result that pleases….
    Your comments are always much appreciated.

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