Tuesday, 31 July 2012

A Web Spun in Reverse

   I am taking a little break to warm up in a sunny window with chokeberry tea.  I've been spider-like this past little while: blocking everything out, joining up all the lines, and then taking everything apart again.  Since I started weaving my webs on paper, a snow of eraser dust has mounted up around the legs of my desk.

    I have been building invisibly across an expanse of deep white paper, making homes and then whirling them around like tops to find the best face to show of them.  Shadows of people slide past on the page from time to  time, only to be burst open into the bright oblivion of empty paper.  But all of this drama takes place in a creeping, creaking sort of slow motion, and with long breaks in the action. 

   Some people quite admirably make dozens of studies for an artwork.  They can lay them all out at the end and clearly show the journey from their first idea to their finished work.  At school when I was growing up, in art classes and math classes we were obliged to perform these sorts of demonstrations down the pages of our notebooks.  I inevitably went back at the end, just before handing a thing in, and treacherously made up all the steps.

    Despite my best efforts, I am a secretive person by nature.  My drawings rest on top of endless invisible false starts and revisions.   I would love this to change, but perhaps learning to erase with one hand while I draw with the other is the surest way of speeding things up.


  1. I love the image of your spider patiently spinning new lines, breaking down old ones and then starting all over again on the same piece of work; obeying the call of it's own nature. At college I did exactly the same thing as you did at school; I faked most of my rough work after doing the finished piece. Because I was studying illustration and not fine art the tutors quite reasonably believed in the visual progression of an idea, not just for philosophical reasons but because later on, hopefully, we would have to show roughs and book plans to publishers. I am trying to learn that process now, 20 years later. It doesn't mean I think I have been wrong in my approach, because part of the thrill of artwork is in self-discovery, making an untrackable intuitive jump; having that all happen on the finished piece is a powerful experience, and a well-worn path in the history of art. I am trying to change my method now not because I feel my previous method was ill advised, but because I want to be able to work with other people, and they will require roughs and explanations, no matter how much they trust me. So, it's a compromise in the experience I will have and a choice based on the arena that I want my new work to be born in, not a complete conversion to another denomination of art : ) That's what I'm telling myself, anyway!

  2. I was going to write something about process being something personal - that the best process is the one that is honest, and ready to admit fault and learn lessons so as to continually grow like most of the natural world... Then I read the beautiful comment above and was struck by the line "intuitive jump". So, if I might chime in on this topic, for whatever it's worth, as there was no question in this post, is that if one is open to any form of "creative impulse" or "intuition" naturally, a methodical approach can get in the way, can hinder the desire to learn - until one is ready to make space for it.
    This is such an interesting topic!
    So many of the revolutionary educationalists from the Victorian age (in which I'll include Rousseau's Emile, but I'm also thinking of Tolstoy and Tagore) seemed to advocate more an opening up towards nature than a submissive, mute reception of the lesson.
    On the other hand, while I had a punishing time with the latter in my own learning, where I couldn't get away with skipping over steps (like when I learned French), I've discovered that the knowledge has remained intact over time.
    Regarding what makes quality, long lasting work, isn't a prime quality the creator's individual engagement with the subject matter? There is something private about that: good work comes from hours and hours of thought...
    It is really tricky to find the middle line, but now that I write that phrase, I remember that most of my favaourite approaches come from the golden mean!

  3. Some thoughts: What route you take doesn't matter as long as you end up in the place you want to be. Creating something takes as long as it takes. Unless you have a paying customer holding a loaded deadline to your head, lighten up on yourself. Maybe this is not one of those where you have to chase it down, wrestle it onto the paper and tie it down. Maybe this is one of those where you have to be still and quiet, and let it come to the paper in its own time, settle down and make itself comfortable.

  4. Hita,

    To be honest, I do naturally make some studies, at least one usually.... I just don't turn out heaps of them the way some people do. I do all my corrections and changes on the same one usually. I feel like it would be right and proper to make more studies, but somehow that just goes against my nature. I think it might be interesting to be able to see how a thing came about, to have the different stages laid out there so that it would be possible to go back and develop something new from some of them maybe, an alternate end point. Good luck to you with your efforts to make more... and let me know if you find that they do come to some use!

    It's true what you say about the "golden mean", and I absolutely love the way it felt as though I was actually reading *your* process in this comment! Thanks for bringing me along that little path of your thoughts.

    I probably should lighten up a bit. Though, I do worry that I might lighten up too much and end up never actually getting down to work. I am awfully good at filling the hours up with pleasant distractions. Part of me really feels that there is a certain merit to just struggling away at the desk all day, even if not much gets accomplished in the end... and that maybe something new and unexpected might come out of it. At the same time, often the best ideas arrive in the bath or laying about on the floor, don't they?