Experiments with gesture and medium

Some recent experiments with layering coloured pencil, by both myself and some of my life class students (o poor lab rats...) , have yielded some interesting conclusions, and resulted in me approaching drawing in ink with a new clarity, and some interesting results.

The coloured pencil method is not my idea, nor is it new - it is borrowed from the sketching method of many traditional animators (and the old masters before them, but with different media - no grand box of faber castells, you see).  Essentially a paler colour is laid down first to capture gesture/ design, followed by darker pencil(s) to clarify form and find the final contour.  It is often done in blue by animators, but I tried it with warmer colours, because I like the richness and fleshiness of traditional sanguine chalk drawing.  It is surprising just how much the act of changing colour helps to "shift gear" as it were, so that the movement of the gesture marks at the beginning can be allowed to be very free because accuracy is not their aim.  At the subsequent stages, the gesture, pale though it is, peeks through, a constant reminder of the central flow of the figure as a whole.  And these subsequent marks are easier to rein into control and greater accuracy, because a physical shift has occurred.  A further layer allows  another chance to make the contour work, to balance these forces.




Cream, sienna, umber coloured pencils


It occurred to me that rather than using ink wash on a pen drawing as a final application of tone to model the form, if the wash was done first as a gestural summary of the figure, it would still be possible to draw over the wash with the pen.  That would mean that the wash could, like the pale coloured pencil, be free to emphasise movement, without being held back by accuracy.  Fluidity and movement are elements that a chinese drawing brush seems to be made for - it turns them into a static expression of energy.  With the pigment unevenly distributed through the brush stroke, and the dry brushing effect of the end of the stroke,  there is a quality that can’t quite be controlled, only guided by the energy of the intention.  The pen marks that go down next interact with the wash in unexpected ways (at least for me) - sometimes ruining the image, sometimes creating magic.  It seems that while drawing this way the whole crux of what painting is is being glimpsed - the chance discoveries of brushstroke and design, manifested by the process, that sometimes speak about subject more eloquently than the most fastidious detail.









I have been using ink with a dip pen and brush for some years now, but this investigation has clarified how this medium can be used to emphasise gesture in a powerful and directed way.  There is a lot that can be done with this idea I think.

It remains an open question to me as to how to organise the process when the purpose is more about light than gesture.  And can the two, light and gesture, be combined in a satisfying way? Is there a balance that can be struck? Or should the sense of light be left to the oils, with gesture and form as the focus of the pen and wash?  I have some ideas, so stay tuned.