The big picture

Seawhite 1706 blog

Gestural drawing (5m x 1.5m mixed media 2017)

Perhaps all art classes should begin with a guided meditation. We have one at the start of the life drawing class I attend and it puts a welcome line between my day of spreadsheets and schedules and an evening of drawing. It certainly put me in the right frame of mind at Katie Sollohub’s Gestural Drawing workshop which I attended earlier this week.

If, like me, you have problems with the blank white page, imagine if that page would be 5 meters by 1.5 meters. That’s what confronted us at the beginning of the workshop: a page of heroic proportions, hanging from the wall and extending out across the floor, which would be filled with marks of one sort or another by the close of the second day. That initial grounding meditation was an essential start, I thought.

I’m sure someone like De Kooning or Joan Mitchell would immediately feel at home with a surface that large, but we were encouraged to explore, to find our way into it. Touching it, sniffing it (that’s as intimate as it got with me), whatever you felt – all with eyes closed. Then, charcoal in hand, starting to make marks on it, again with eyes closed, just using the arc of your arm movements; or dotting, or scratching, rubbing, scribbling, following your instinct wherever that led you.

Detail of the above

It was liberating to work in an intuitive, emotive, unstructured way. A large drawing without preparatory sketches, without an object to look at and interpret on the page, a drawing created purely out of gestures and marks. The resultant piece was surprisingly dark in places, the tiny coloured squares swallowed by the darker tones, the colourful flower-shapes threatening to entangle.

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Detail of the above

As one worked some of the usual creative responses kicked in: balancing the composition, plotting contrasting lines, adding colour on the second day after re-hanging it lengthways along the wall. It was interesting how others reacted and developed over the two days as well: one who had attended art school in the 1990s and now only did small sketches of her travels produced a work of such vibrant magnificence it stopped me in my tracks more than once; someone who experienced a creative block on the second day broke through by hurling a sponge dipped in white paint at his picture, incorporating the spatters into an impressive piece by the end; another unused to abstraction sailed out into those choppy waters to return to a semi-figurative composition where faces and bodies emerged from white washes and black lines.

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Detail of the above

It was an astonishing experience, exhausting and exhilarating, and although my access to 5m sheets is limited – not to mention the lack of space to work on them – I’m sure it will inform what I do from now on. For example, I’m contemplating a pastel drawing of a friend wearing a blue dress: I now plan this at around double the originally-intended size, and much looser in execution.

Sometimes one recognises that the imagination actually is boundless.

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29 thoughts on “The big picture

  1. Sounds wonderful Michael! I attended a similar workshop last year run by Emily Ball, which was also liberating. I think its fantastic what artists can achieve when encouraged out of their comfort zone in this way. 🙂

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  2. What an exhilarating post Michael, really captures the sense of exploration and excitement/anxiety when moving out of ones comfort zone; just reading it feels like great preparation before I start a drawing!

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  3. This is fantastic! I love the process, too. I’m going to be taching again this fall and I like the idea of surprise with a big surface. I’m working on a gessoboard mandala that is almost a meter across and I have to say I love working LARGE! It is taking a while, however.

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  4. What a fun activity and a great way to break through any kind of artist block. I love meditating before I write. I started doing that about a year ago and now I hardly ever journal without meditating first. Conversely, I always feel I need to write after meditating for a while. Those two just seem to go together. I am going to suggest this BIG artist suggestion to my writers group. We often do art because that seems to prime the creative pump as well. Thanks for sharing the suggestion, Michael.

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    • Thanks LuAnne. Yes the meditation does seem to influence the creativity in a very positive way, all the more since I’ve started meditating most mornings. I love the idea of your writers group drawing – just get some rolls of plain wallpaper backing and go for it!

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  5. This experience sounds transformative. I am intrigued, imagining how it felt to work this way. I wonder if I can try it myself at home? Thank you for your thoughtful description and sharing this – what you came out with is truly inspiring.

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  6. This reminded me of my wonderful high school art teacher who took us into the hall with huge pieces of paper and gave us a similar assignment to get us out of our “everything has to be perfect” mindset. I hadn’t thought about it in years. I’m not sure I have any space where I could do something similar now, but I do love working large (which I haven’t been doing because of lack of space). Thanks for sharing…perhaps I can try something similar on a smaller scale…pieces of paper taped together? A roll of paper? Food for thought. (K)

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  7. What a wonderful experiment, breaking free like that from expectations and limitations. I really enjoyed how you detailed the process, not only for yourself but for others in the class. So interesting. Like others here, it does make me want to try something similar myself.

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  8. You created something quite extraordinary through this process. Andrew Scriven runs similar workshops for photographers. It is great fun to let go of the usual rules and disciplines and processes within which we normally, often subconsciously, approach creative work.

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  9. Pingback: Interlude | A Certain Line

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