Artist Masterclass: Scale

Sara Bloem Sketchbook Page

Artist Masterclass is a series of conversations between myself and visual artist Sara Bloem

SB:  I actually wanted to ask your advice about something. Typically the drawings I’ve made before are very big. I think I would like these drawings to be much smaller and more intimate. What are your thoughts on smaller work versus bigger work?

CL:  I think the scale of a work is very important, it determines a lot about our physical interaction with the work. For example, once something is bigger than we are, that changes the dynamics.  I also see work all the time that is big, just to be big, which I think is ridiculous.  I once went to an artist lecture where the artist blatantly admitted that he made the work big because he didn’t know what else to do. People interact with small work very differently, and I think you’re right that it automatically becomes more intimate. I do think that small work is tougher to pull off in some ways though. Unfortunately small work can sometimes come across as convenient and manageable, as if there’s less ambition in the work because of the small scale. Just make sure that you’re making the work that size for a good reason. Will it be hard to work in charcoal at that scale?  I always think about charcoal as being such a blunt instrument.

SB:  I think that’s my main fear. I don’t want to get precious with tiny charcoal pencils. I think the main reason why smaller feels right in this instance is that the project is about trying to understand a cultural legacy. One of the main access points to 1940’s Indonesia are old photo albums – of this place that once existed, and now no longer does. So these drawings would almost be like me making my own photographs, and because my medium (charcoal) is black and white, and these photos are all black and white, it feels especially appropriate.

CL: I think working small will be a good challenge for you. In large work, there is so much wiggle room.  In small work, it’s like every square inch matters. So how close do you think you are to commencing the final drawings?

Sara Bloem Sketchbook Page

SB: Maybe 2 weeks. I think I want to give myself one week to create 12 compositions, then one week to revise. As a general statement, I feel frustrated myself for this project taking so long.

CL:  This is definitely not a long time by any means.  I think you’re still functioning on art school time!  One of my colleagues works on his projects for about 5 years at a time. Compared to him, I feel like I rush through my work carelessly. My colleague has so much patience.  I wish I could be like that. My current project is definitely testing my patience.

SB: How are you feeling about your project right now?

CL:  It’s gotten pretty bad.  I really feel like something should have emerged by now, and I’ve run through such an incredible number of bad ideas.

SB:  Of course when you have a deadline is when you start feeling extremely and unusually stuck.

CL: The problem I’m having right now is that I feel like I’m not being aggressive enough, like I’m waiting around for lightning to strike, when I know that’s not how it works! Then those crazy thoughts start circling in your head that it’s your fault that the idea hasn’t emerged yet. I’ve been spending too much time sitting around feeling sorry for myself.

SB:  I feel like I’ve been doing that too. Like I’ll think to myself, “Wow, so annoying that this project isn’t moving faster”, as I sit at work, exhausted, and not intending to work on the project during my break when I have time or something.

CL: I’ve scrapped and rescrapped everything so many times that I don’t know where I am anymore. Then you start thinking about really eliminating everything which is truly a frightening thought.

SB:  It’s just so easy to get trapped in your own head. I think the dual selves theme that you’re working with now is especially tricky, because it’s a very powerful and clear idea, but somewhat hard to convey visually without being cheesy.

CL: You have no idea how many terrible, cliche ideas I’ve run through… I’ve even thought about the idea of having a “secret identity”.  You know… the Incredible Hulk, being a werewolf… just awful!

SB:  It’s also complicated because what you’re trying to show is something invisible. I’ve thought about this because my recent projects have had to do with time, the relationship between the past and the future, and there’s almost no way to really dictate that explicitly (unless you want to put a clock in the composition) Instead, it’s like you have to convey a mood.

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