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Thoughts on Drawing

Statement on my drawing practice
I draw no "thing" - I trace energy, explore space, record sensation. My interest is primarily in non-figurative drawing, in pure mark-making, in creating work that eludes the tyranny of logic and language. For me, drawing is exploration, a road without destination, a pilgrim's path.
Working in a variety of sizes from the intimate to the expansive with all possible materials from charcoal to oilsticks, my drawings develop in continued response to marks made. Sometimes spare and full of light, often dense and multi-layered, the resulting drawings are witness to the process itself.
The above was written for my application to join the community at c4rd, the Centre for Recent Drawing in London UK; please see www.c4rd.org.uk for more on this dynamic site dedicated to contemporary drawing. My entry is on the "Community" page, alphabetically under "Krutina".




Below are my thoughts on "what is non-figurative drawing?" A disclaimer: These are my own ideas, as I have not yet found any comprehensive source of information on this topic. But I am open to discussion.  
- Drawing generally presumes an object/subject under scrutiny which the practitioner attempts to replicate in some more-or-less "resembling" manner by making the appropriate marks onto a surface. Non-figurative (also called non-objective) drawing (hereafter called NFD) presumes no such object/subject. In removing the object/subject, the scrutiny/attention are left to ponder the validity of random marks and to assemble them into a meaningful composition. The result is the evidence of the process.

- In NFD the markmaking is not 'about' anything, never about illustrating a thing/concept/narrative.

- Marks have an intrinsic value, the line is "the realization of it's own sensation" (per Cy Twombly, apparently).
- The idea is to confound/bypass the logical left-brain "cool web of language" and communicate directly with the right-brain - wordless "feeling about". For more on this, see Betty Edwards' well-known books on drawing and right-brain activity.
- Marks have their own "meaning" - speed, variety, dispersion on the surface - all lend a "feeling" to the marks, the drawing. For a better understanding of the meaning of pure markmaking, see especially Betty Edwards' second book "Drawing on the Artist Within".
- The marks may evoke something real and tangible, but do not literally describe it.
- Drawings can be in any scale and medium, but there is a direct, physical "making of line". Because the marks are generated from within, via the physicality of the practitioner, the scale of the drawing becomes an important factor. Large-scale drawings incorporate full-body movement, small drawings rely on hand/wrist facility. Also, large work is never completely "under the eye" as small work is. This means that it is often more natural for non-figurative drawing to be large-scale. The very precision of small-scale markmaking tends to devolve into figuration (but see Wes Mills for small-scale NFD). Large-scale work demands boldness, and many practitioners of NFD come from the non-figurative painting sector rather than from illustration, so working large and bold is natural to them. It certainly is for me.
- Basically, non-figurative painting is similar to NFD, but uses painterly means, i.e. wet/oily pigment manipulated by brushes, knives, etc. This is, however a very "fuzzy" area and many people consider anything on canvas to be a painting (q.v. Cy Twombly) while anything on paper is a drawing. I don't agree at all! Drawings can be on canvas, board, metal, glass, etc. as well as paper. Also on sand, earth, stone, etc.
- Drawing is like walking a path, at every point you are intimately in contact with the ground.
- Non-figurative drawing is all about the process - the record of that process becomes the image itself.
- NFD is contemporary (pre-photography, mark-making for its own sake was not a consideration, and I have not found any examples of NFD before abstract art began in the 20th century) but contemporary drawing is not necessarily non-figurative. There are very few examples of artists who work mostly in NFD. the closest, to my mind, would be Cy Twombly, whose paintings are really more drawing/markmaking except during certain "painterly" phases. I also think of Joan Mitchell and her glorious pastels, and Brice Marden. I am very open to discovering others. There are a number of contemporary visual artists who pursue drawing as their main practice, and may or may not work in NFD mode. Names that spring to mind:  Jeanette Barnes, Alison Lambert, Anne Sheid, Robbie Cornelissen, Jorinde Voight, Wes Mills.


Much non-figurative mark-making has a scribbling quality (and my drawings have, on occasion, been called "just scribbles"), so I have been considering - what is the difference between a scribble and a drawing? And this is what I think:
A scribble is a set of non-descriptive lines, much as a sketch is a set of descriptive lines, both are not taking into account the support and the placement of the lines on that support. Whereas a drawing always takes into account the space in which it exists (for an understanding of this concept, I am much indebted to Margaret A. Davidson and her excellent book "Contemporary Drawing: Key Concepts and Techniques", Watson-Guptill 2011). There is an intention, in creating a drawing, to put the marks onto a certain surface and into a certain configuration on that surface. It is the size of the support which will determine the effect. A scribble on a 6 x 4 foot paper has a vastly different effect from a scribble on a 6 x 4 inch scrap of paper!
In NFD, the lines are not delineating an object, but they are delineating space within the confines of the chosen format. The drawing always comprises both the lines and the space they are in. A scribble/sketch is just the lines themselves.
So, can I have a drawing without any lines? I think most people would say "no". But some of my favorite drawings have no lines, just darkness which happens when all the spaces between the lines are filled in. And I believe they qualify as drawings, created by moving/dragging the mark-making material over a surface, taking absolutely into consideration the paper, its size and its boundaries. Whereas, the same "filling in" done on the edges of a shopping list is just a doodle.
It seems to me that a drawing needs at a minimum two things - a mark and the space that mark occupies. It is the deliberate use of the space that makes the drawing.


I'm fascinated by what happens as a result of what I do, not by my actual drawing actions but by the unexpected "things" that these actions cause to happen. As I am drawing no "thing", but the resulting drawing is a thing in itself, the process of drawing nothing actually creates something that didn't exist before - true magic!


My own work is physically generated, that is, I begin by holding a drawing medium in my hand and moving it over a surface. The medium determines, to some extent, the movements possible, and the shape and size of the surface determines the reach of the marks; the movements made then determine the resulting effect.


I may have a general or specific idea of what I want to create (size/medium/overall effect desired) but I never have a specific plan or concept as I have discovered that it never goes according to plan! I keep working until the result "speaks" to me, often in an apply-and-erase manner. So the result is never predictable, often surprising. And it is this "out of control" (out of my logical, intellectual control) quality that I look for in my work. Perhaps, as drawing is inherently a simple, inexpensive mode of art-making, I feel more ready to risk than with painting, where I'm always conscious of the material costs and the sacrifices I've had to make for them. So I'm less inclined to risk in painting, and the results can become too predictable, controllable and eventually even stale. Perhaps this is why I have recently abandoned painting in favour of drawing (financial considerations aside).


When working on a series of drawings (and I generally always work in series or with multi-panel and/or oversize formats) I will keep them all, even the "bad" ones, until I have some distance to review and edit. But somehow, tearing up a drawing that doesn't work feels positive and purifying and encourages further experimentation, whereas destroying paintings that don't work always feels like failure to me.


Generally speaking, I feel I can hide much better behind my paintings, whereas the drawings (including the nude torsos, which are basically non-figurative mark-making conforming somewhat to a torso shape) are as personal as stripping off in public! It's a scary moment for me when I see someone look at my drawings. It's even scary for me to look at my own work. But I feel that art which doesn't feel scary is just "arty-fact", of which there is  already too much around in our world.