Drawing in Pencil

It always starts with a line. As artists, we are well aware of the power of the pencil mark. Whether it’s the mindless doodle that generates our next conceptual approach or the random few passes that get lost in the hundreds of pages of sketches (bundled haphazardly in our artist’s books or lying around the studio), words, images, ideas, dreams, and inspirations are laid out in graphite. Mark making is an essential component for artistic creation, for regardless of how we interact with our chosen mediums, the simple pencil drawing always betrays our fundamental aesthetic sensibilities. It’s for this reason we’ve asked each of this issue’s artists to share a page from their sketchbook for insight into the pan-artistic importance of drawing in pencil. 

I’ve asked Studio Art interns Lexi Campbell and Will Bryant, and senior majors Andoni Georgiou, Winnie Yoe, and Julian MacMillan to explain the way drawing in pencil interacts with their work. As you compare each sketch to the finished product, see if you can find the through line, the consistency in each artist’s mark-making decisions. 

Lexi Campbell '13/Photography Concentration

Ephemerality and lightness of touch seem to be key components of your work. What is it about a mark being barely perceptible that attracts you?

I like to play with what can be seen and what cannot be. How much the viewer is able to interact with and how much the artist retains for themselves. The delicacy of both the photographs and drawings definitely relate to that idea. Additionally, there is something spectacular about a soft grey tone. It's nearly a silver, but still retains an earth-like tone that grounds it back. I think that my attraction to that tone certainly influences the photographs.

The forms in the sketch are definitely anthropomorphic. How does that tie in with your portrait work, especially now that you're doing self-portraits? Do you tend towards biological forms over less naturalistic forms? And how does the grid, which clearly isn't a part of the sketch, interact with your forms? 

I am definitely partial to biological forms. I think I relate easier to organic and anthropomorphic images because I have always been attracted to the human figure as a subject matter. The grid is an attempt to organize the photographic imagery— I relate to the small images as psychological places and moments in time, which is then ordered somewhat by the grid. I think too much order (like a grid) would distract me from the creative process that I so enjoy in my sketches. I enjoy the lack of rules when I am drawing.

I can see some correlation between my sketches and photographs, but my sketches are much less thought out. I tend to work into my photographic pieces much more and really labor over their form and meaning. The sketch is a moment of freedom and pure reaction to the mark—something to get me going. 

Andoni Georgiou '14/Sculpture Concentration

How does the process of working pencil/charcoal to paper relate to the act of making marks with metal? 

The processes relate in that they are both quite forgiving: pencil I can rub out, make multiple lines and still sketch what I want, in the same way that with my steel, the way I work with it, I can heat it, re-heat it to adjust, re weld something, remove a part…

Do you see a correlation between your forms in the different mediums? 

I see more of a correlation in the process than in the forms themselves.  I guess the forms at times can be similar in that they are quite harsh, almost chaotic-looking. But when I actually work with the metal there is a lot more calculation and thought that goes into creating the form than there is with the sketching - the sketching is just a rough guide for me in a way, so it doesn't need to be as precise.

The freeness of your mark in the sketch strikes me as being related to the forms in your sculptures, but very different in that your sculptures are especially angular and rigid. Why do you think that is? 

The freeness you mention is interesting, and I think that comes from the fact that both my sketches and sculptures reference ideas and concepts, so they aren't detailed, working products that need to be 100% accurate for someone to use them. For example, I am not building a bridge that needs to be structurally sound while taking into account the elements and whatever else— so I have the ability to be a little more carefree.  The rigidity in the metal is also simply a product of the fabrication techniques that we have available to us here: we have a limited array of tools, so at times physically creating softer, flowy pieces of steel can just be difficult and hard to achieve. I would rather stay away from it if I don't think it will turn out successful.

Do you often/ever sketch your sculptures out before you create them, or are your sketches totally divorced from that process?  

No, I do often sketch them out, then I will usually build little small-scale models just to get a 3D visualization of it. The sketches are generally just the idea in its earliest form, though— just a reminder or something for me to reference; and usually the piece will take me somewhere different.  However, I am now starting to build some more carefully thought out pieces that require a bit more of a design process, so my sketching has become a bit more technical and something that accompanies the build throughout as it tells me the exact height of an element, the width, its angle etc.

Will Bryant '13/Painting Concentration

How does the process of sketching fit into your life as an artist?

Mostly I see sketching as a way of note taking for the paintings. I use the sketching to work out basic ideas of composition and to help me to remember ideas. 

The heaviness of your mark strikes me, as does the flatness of form in both images. Even in the painting you only suggest depth with rough tonal changes, not with the actual rendering of the forms. What can you say about how both the sketch and the painting function in that way?

I believe that this comes my influences from Southern Folk art and artist like Basquiat and Chris Oflili, all of whom paint much flatter than most artists today. Also, this art focuses much more on the emotion and expressivity of painting instead of the more technical aspects of it.  

Do you often/ever sketch your paintings out before you create them, or are your sketches totally divorced from that process?

I think that it is roughly 50/50 in terms of the numbers of the paintings that I just start vs. the ones that come from sketches.

Winnie Yoe '14/Sculpture Concentration

How does the process of sketching fit into your life as an artist?

Sometimes I see sketching as a way to generate ideas and to help me to find my language and aesthetic in art. However, more recently I stop seeing my sketches as sketches, but as drawings. I think a lot of people overlooked and underestimated my drawings.

And how does the process of working pencil/charcoal to paper relate to the act of designing a sculpture like A Protest?

I think drawing with vine charcoal is especially closely related to sculptures because the act of drawing with vine charcoal is very physical due to the brittle nature of the charcoal... which I think explains why I, who primarily work sculpturally, enjoy using vine charcoal to draw. 

Do you see a correlation between the forms?

Sometimes I do, but often I think it is not explicit, or perhaps in another word, not that literal to me. I think that aesthetically, my drawings and my sculptural work do share the same language. Sometimes I subconsciously draw with sculptural forms; at those times my drawings do closely correlate with sculptures.

Do you often/ever sketch your sculptures out before you create them, or are your sketches totally divorced from that process?

I did a lot of that while I was in a sculpture class, but usually my sketches are divorced from the process of sculpting. However, while I don't sketch exactly what I intend to make, I think certain qualities are translated in my sculptures, especially with my welding. I sometimes see it as a drawing/sketching exercise. 

To me the forms in this sketch look like mini enclosures themselves--is the enclosure something that resonates with you for some reason? Why does it keep coming up? 

I did this sketch very quickly and intuitively, as in the case with my other sketches/drawings. That’s a really interesting observation actually, because I realized I have been exploring a lot about the barrier in interpersonal relationships with my other works, which is an important theme for someone who is very introverted like me.

Do you see any other correlations between the sketch and the finished piece?

I think as an artist all of your work, be it sketches or final pieces, all correlate with each other. However, it takes time to discover your own language, aesthetic and system. But once you begin to understand that, you'll slowly begin to draw a thread among all the work you do, even if you're adopting a hybrid practice.

Julian MacMillan '14/Painting Concentration

How does the process of sketching fit into your life as an artist?

It’s the basis of everything I do. I carry a sketchbook everywhere and use it constantly - to quickly test out ideas, to mindlessly doodle (most often), to brainstorm, to write down quotes or lists or names of artists I've discovered. It’s all in there. 

How does the process of working pencil/pen to paper relate to the act of making marks with paint?

As my work is very graphic, the relation is pretty literal. I start every painting with a charcoal under-drawing, and the paint is used more to fill these charcoal outlines. The outline is usually heavy in my work – I like the way a hard outline flattens out even an image with considerable volume – and this comes from practicing line drawing in my sketchbook.

Do you see a correlation between your forms in the different mediums?

Like I said my work is very graphic, so pencil or ink or sharpie drawings are often the basis for larger works. Ideally this drawing would be made directly from life, but more often at least elements of the drawing come from my sketchbook. Always figures. 

Clearly, hands fit pretty prominently in to your artistic process--why is that? I also notice the flatness of the sketched hand (you even imply shadow and depth with more flat lines), versus the painting where the hands are modeled and read with clear intentional dimensionality. What's the correlation there--do you often work from two dimensions to three?

I love playing with flatness and dimensionality, and my favorite works employ both at once. At times I like to emphasize the flatness of the surface I'm working on, because even my paintings really are drawings, and then in other places I suggest spatial depth. I find this distorts the image but keeps the viewer looking longer. 

I also notice a particularly choppy, graphic quality to the sketch that then becomes smoothed out a great deal in the finished figure, but retained in the markings on the board. What is it about the roughness juxtaposed with the smoothness that makes the painting work do you think? How does the dichotomy function in the finished work? 

This piece is about motherhood (the board is egg shaped). You're right, juxtaposition is crucial here—for me its all about the purity of the young mother, expressed through her skin, which is at odds with the agony and anxiety she'll soon feel, and the "dirty work" that mother's must do. It’s about the simultaneous joy and fear that I imagine comes with having children. My cousin Seneca was pregnant with her second child, Lena, while I was working on this piece.

Noah Smith '15/Photography Concentration

And as for my practice, the process of creation, of moving from sketchbook to final piece, is the transformation of the textual to the visual. The piles of Moleskines that make up my sketch collection are filled almost entirely with conceptual ideas, aesthetic goals, and itemized to-do lists. For the artist who works exclusively with machines, the sketchbook functions as a kind of receipt of a day’s stimuli, of inspirations to be moved from the realm of the theoretical to that of the tangible—to be moved from writing in pencil to showing at a gallery.