Saturday, 27 October 2012

Line, contrast and drawing without looking

I've recently come across a fantastic book on drawing (via Amazon the great enticer). Drawing Projects: an exploration of the language of drawing, is by Mick Maslen and Jack Southern. The book approaches drawing from, for me, really unusual angles, providing all sorts of activities for freeing up, trusting eye and hand, and developing types of mark and mark-making. There are also features on well-known artists to inspire.

I love to draw and often choose to work in pencil to create line drawings. For me, there is something delightfully spare and simple about using line to evoke a mood or a landscape. It highlights the rhythms of the vertical and the horizontal, the straight and the twisting, and the visual relationships between them.

This book has been great as I've been exploring line in landscape. One of the many ideas developed in Mick Maslen and Jack Southern's book is to draw without looking at the results produced on paper - you merely look very carefully at the object you are drawing and draw in response to what you see - no visual checking back or elaborating as you go along. All the time you feel very carefully what your pencil is doing and ask yourself whether what you feel relates directly to what you are seeing in front of you - but you don't look....

In later exercises, you are allowed to 'take a sneaky look' at your drawing as it progresses, perhaps for example to work out where to put your pencil in relation to what you've already drawn. Even then you spend only perhaps 10% of your time looking at your results on paper.

Scots Pines and Silver Birches
by Loch Clarack, Dinnet, Aberdeenshire
I've been drawing in this way recently, both in Scotland, and also since I got back last week, using some of the photos I took while I was away. The pine trees and silver birches are always so drawable. They provide such good contrast for drawing - and also for photography.

Pencil drawing of birch trees and view across
Loch Clarack - drawn taking a sneaky look
The scots pine trunks have a controlled, architectural quality about them. They are strong and straight and branches are sparse so there is a long length of trunk and few low-growing leaf branches to obscure the view of them.

In contrast, the birch trees are fragile and random, reflecting the wild and unchanging nature of this landscape. Their leaves are fine and delicate and the slim trunks and branches twist at unusual angles and lean and interweave.

I have tried to capture all these qualities, especially recently the brittle branches and delicate leaves of the birches. Suggesting their haphazard nature was especially difficult.

Tree outlines Glen Tanar, Aberdeenshire - much drawn without looking,
but I allowed myself one or two sneaky looks

It is impossible to draw every tree trunk, branch or leaf but this approach has seemed to help me suggest the mood and the random nature of growth, if nothing else. Whether I've achieved this in the drawings in this post I'm not sure, but they've been a pleasure to do.

I suspect, like all other art work, it's work in progress ...........


  1. I purchased this book on your recommendation, Margaret, and I just love it. Might not do all the exercises (will definitely do some) but the first 60+ pages are worth the price of the book in my estimation!! It dovetails quite nicely with the class I'm taking from Liz Steel at the moment. Tks for the suggestion....

    1. It is a fantastic book ... I use so many of the techniques I picked up when reading it originally every time I draw. It really freed me up and made me look so hard at the object I was drawing rather than trying to make a 'pleasing' image. Your comment here has made me think I should take another look - I need to be taken out of my comfort zone again!


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