Since I’m too busy getting my classes up and running to work in the studio right now, I like to take this time to think about future plans for “Wading” by critically considering the work I completed in the past year and where I want it to go. The drawings I completed last year were composed of only three to seven figures in each image; the next series of drawings I work on will focus on gigantic crowds of up to one hundred figures. I’ll also take a major leap in terms of increasing the scale of the drawings, and shift to a tall, vertical format in order to focus on the reflections in the water on an exaggerated scale.
The other visual element that needs to be emphasized more in these drawings is layering. In looking at the drawings from last year, my main critique in terms of the composition was that the layering of the figures on top of each other was too harmonious and looked too planned out. After spending some time at Walden Pond shooting reference photographs a few weeks ago, it seemed like the overlapping of figures should seem more random and chaotic if they’re truly going to represent the presence of a crowd. At the time, I worked to create compositions that “worked” so that individual figures could be seen with clarity. Now that I’ve been able to get some distance from these drawings, I’ve taken the opposite view: the idea of some figures overlapping to the degree that some of them are visually lost within the crowd represents even more the idea of feeling unseen in a crowd.
I’ve been shooting reference photos every summer for this project for the past three years. Although I’m used to shooting my own reference images, this is the first time that I’ve continued to shoot the same kinds of images over a long period of time. The fact that the images are of wading figures dictates that I have to allow long periods of time in between shoots. At first, this seemed like a huge inconvenience in the sense that when summer comes to an end, I have to wait until next summer to be able to shoot more images. However, this being my third round of photographs, what’s been interesting is that my method and motivation for the photographs has changed each time I shoot.
I’ve kept Walden Pond as the reference site for the past three years, which has helped establish one consistency in shooting these photographs. On the first round of photographs, I didn’t know what I was looking for since it was the beginning of the project, and it was simply a matter of acquiring images. The second time around, I had been working on drawings for about a year, so I had a much clearer sense of the visual effects that I needed to get in the reference photographs to help the drawings: dramatic reflections in the water, and subtlety in the figure gestures. This third time, I found myself looking at the ways the figures overlapped in front of each other to create a sense of depth, and the way figures grouped in the water. I was also significantly more conscious of the level of the water: was a figure fully immersed, or simply sitting in a few inches of shallow water? Another major difference is that I was able to purchase a telephoto lense this year, allowing me to shoot figures that were far away in the distance with greater resolution.
I’ve been simultaneously making new compositional sketches everyday while revising older ones. Getting the distance of a few days can be effective in terms of obtaining an objective point of view on each sketch. The biggest challenge I’ve encountered is that in my efforts to overlap figures more, I’m finding it difficult to create compositions that don’t feel too cluttered or overcrowded. At the same time, I’ve been pushing myself towards compositions with large amounts of figures so it’s a very delicate balance. The figures that tend to overlap more easily are the ones that are bending over; the ones that stand straight up don’t tend to offer as many options.
Today I’ve been focusing on immersing the figures more deeply in the water. It’s easily achieved since most of the figure sculptures I made are nearly full figures, allowing me to simply erase out the lower portions of the figure. This creates quite a different visual effect in that only portions of the figures are shown, allowing for the use of more figures without taking up as much space.
I was reading Smithsonian Magazine and came across this article about contemporary photographer Richard Misrach. He’s been working on a project, “On the Beach” where he spent four years shooting photographs from a high-rise hotel in Hawaii. The photographs are 6′ x 10′, and were shot on 8″ x 10″ negatives which allow for astounding resolution in the final pieces.
I found his work really interesting in that his work explores similar themes of isolation and figure groupings within the same context of figures wading in water. At the same time, the visual look of his works could not be more different than mine. The thematic similarities of his work combined with a completely different visual approach makes his work an excellent reference for me to look at.
There is a traveling exhibition of this series that started at the Art Institute of Chicago and was until recently at the National Gallery of Art.
I’m working out methods to plan these multiple figure compositions. The multiple layers of Dura-Lar create an interesting and unique challenge: I have to do each drawing individually, but at the same time relate it back to what’s going on in the other layers. One thing I do know is that I won’t be able to work spontaneously in terms of composition. I’ll need to have well considered compositional sketches which lay everything out in advance.
I worked a quick sketch with four sheets of matte Dura-Lar, depicting a group of immersed heads. The heads are a good starting point because of their simplicity. The purpose here is to experiment with how to relate the layers to each other in the process.
I’m bringing these 18″ x 8″ Dura-Lar drawing to a close in anticipation of transitioning to a larger scale with multiple figure compositions. I worked on one final drawing of an immersed head to complete these drawings. I think something went awry with scale in this drawing; the head seems like it could be 50 feet tall.
I also completed another drawing which I had started a week ago.
The rest of the day was spent doing experiments with new materials. I purchased some .005 mil Dura-Lar last week (the above drawings are on .015 mil, significantly thicker) so I was eager to work a multiple figure composition on this surface. Additionally, I had some plexiglass scraps that I wanted to try out to see if it was a viable option for going onto a monumental scale. It was here than I ran into a host of technical problems with my materials: the .005 mil Dura-Lar was far too thin, so as a consequence, sanding that surface didn’t give me the necessary coarseness and texture. Although I knew I wouldn’t be using this material in the future, I threw together a very quick sketch just to play with layers more.
The plexiglass sanded fine, but when I drew on it with crayon, the crayon wouldn’t adhere evenly to the surface, making for unpredictable and unflattering marks. The .015 mil Dura-Lar seems to produce the best results, but the issue is that you can’t purchase it on a big scale. The largest I’ve been able to find is 18″ x 24″. I’m considering patching together multiple sheets of it in layers as an option.
I worked on a new drawing and revisited a previous one today. I think because I have a short attention span that it’s rare for me to go back and rework a drawing. Today I was thinking a lot about making a stronger transition from the water into the open space in the upper section of these drawings. The transition in this drawing seemed too abrupt, so I worked on making it more gradual and atmospheric.
In the new drawing I started thinking about the water as almost having an allergic reaction to the presence of the figure. There’s a sense of the water boiling where the figure makes physical contact with the water, as well as the water dissipating as it moves upwards. I think this is an odd mixture of images, considering that the gesture of the figure indicates their discomfort from being too cold.
I experimented today with another different way of articulating the water. The look of the water was more graphic to begin with, and relied less on subtleties in the darks. I think there are definitely moments where the surface goes back and forth between being liquid and solid, which brings up the idea that the substance the figures are wading in as undefined. I like the idea of a “substance” rather than being so clearly defined as only being water.
The figure in this study was challenging; the point of view I chose was awkward to begin with, especially with the head peeking out behind the bent arm. I’ve been working to keep the figures more implied and suggested, rather than concretely articulated. In this case I think the articulation is somewhat overworked.
I worked more on sculpting the larger sculpture study of the figure bending over today. I got much more involved in sculpting details like the hands and fingers, which I’d like to bring into some of the other studies. In my experience, the sculpting process tends to be more meditative and consistent for me. I find that time has almost no meaning when I’m sculpting, and I’m able to let go of my brain a lot more. Drawing for me is almost entirely the opposite experience; when I draw, I have to be fully alert and engaged to get anything accomplished. If I let myself go for even a minute in the drawing process there are usually consequences that I have to pay for later.
One thought that occurred to me today was the idea of allowing the scale of the sculptures to grow along with the scale of the drawings. I had originally conceived of the sculpture studies to get no larger than they are right now, and to continue using the same sculptures for large scale drawings. It seems that in order for the figures in the large drawings to effectively create a sense of monumental presence and form that I will need to reciprocate with larger sculptures. I haven’t fully embraced this idea yet, especially when I consider how this will create exponentially more work, but I already have an itch in my head telling me that it will be the way to go.
The very beginning of a drawing study from the sculpture I worked on today.
I sculpted several figures today and worked on two drawings. After my trip to Walden Pond, I really wanted to sculpt some immersed heads. The pond always seemed to be full of these heads just barely peeking out of the water. I also sculpted a large figure which is bending down with one hand in the water. This was another gesture I observed very frequently at the pond, people either bending down to pick something up that had fallen into the water, or just to touch the water.
I’m very close to moving into larger scale, layered drawings with multiple figures. I’m working to complete 15 of these single figure compositions as a means of becoming more acquainted with my drawing technique and process. The first drawing I did today suffered from my overuse of black, probably because I haven’t drawn for a few days. I also experimented with a different approach to the water, giving it a different kind of variation in shape and directional movement.
The drawing on its own on the left, on the right with another drawing layered underneath.
A deeply immersed head.