Big Ink Drawing

Some days I don’t know what I’m doing and some days I do. That’s life isn’t it? Some days when I’m making a piece of art I dive into a piece where I don’t know what I’m doing. But it’s on purpose. I’m trying to find something new. Trying to find some new tool or method of making a picture. I find that to be a good idea and I always think it’s going to be fun but it always turns out to be a chore.

It’s not easy for an artist to find his or her method or medium. Some people might dive into watercolor and find they love it right away. Others might try watercolor, not take to it, and then try it again years later and like it. That same person might also like painting people with watercolor but not landscapes. Or maybe that person likes fantasy landscape but not natural ones. Multiply that by oil paint, acrylic paint, pencils, ink, brushes, and even digital art and you have a lot of different artistic mediums to try and find your style in. It’s not always easy.

Time is a factor too. I’ve been making art since my student days back in the mid-1980s. That’s thirty-five years of making art. My techniques and tools are not the same ones I used back in 1989. Some are. I still use pencils and ink but from 1985-2000 or so I used oil paint. I switched over to acrylic paint sometime in the early 2000s. In the mid-1990s I learned to use gouache paints. Around the year 2010 I took up markers for the first time since my student days. I also went digital in 1995 and have been working on a computer ever since. Digital and analog is mixed for me.

Little Ink Drawing

I write about this topic today because this past weekend I tried something new with one of my big ink drawings. Usually they’re either very tight images made with bold brush and pen strokes or loose drawings (usually big faces) made with my busted brush technique. This time I wanted to make a cross between the two. I decided to take one of my small loose ink drawings and blow it up into a big ink drawing.

My small ink drawings are baseball card size. 2.5×3.5 inches. I haven’t made any of them in a while but I have about 300 of them from over the years. They’re spontaneous drawings. I take a brush, dip it in ink, and then get to drawing shapes and see what I can do. At least a quarter of them are terrible but that’s all part of the process. I turn the initial ink marks into figures and places.

My big ink drawings are on 22×30 inch paper. That’s a long way from 2.5×3.5 inches. The normal way I start a big ink drawing is to blow up whatever drawing I’m working with and then print it out on eight 8.5×11 inch sheets of paper that I tape together. I then tape that piece of Franken-paper on top of my big ink paper and put some graphite paper between the two. That way I can trace over the printed out drawing and the pressure of the pencil transfers a line from the graphite paper to the big ink paper.

With the small ink drawing I wasn’t sure if I could use this process. The small ink drawing was mostly made up of shapes and not precise lines. My usual drawings have precise lines. Without them I thought it might be better to draw the drawing freehand to transfer it to paper. It seemed I could skip the printout step here to save time. But in the end I suspected it might take even more time that way. If I transferred the drawing by eye I’d have to be very careful to capture the shapes and proportions. That can take time.

In the end I blew up the drawing and printed it out. When it came to transferring it to the big paper rather than trying to follow lines (that weren’t really there) I drew loosely and tried to get the gesture of the shapes. It took some doing but it was definitely faster than by eye.

As with so many other things I thought this drawing wouldn’t take me a lot of time. Most of these big ink drawings take me at least two days with some of the more complicated ones taking me three. I though this one was loose and fast and I could get it done in an afternoon. It took me nearly two days.

The main problem I had in making this drawing was figuring out my technique. The small technique wouldn’t just scale up like a line drawing will. I’d need a foot long brush to duplicate the lines and brush marks that I made on the small drawing. Instead I decided to use my busted brush technique. That’s where I draw with an old brush that is split into a dozen points. It’s all about the lack of control. Stray lines are everywhere and it’s up to me to make something out of them.

I have to do a lot of building up of shapes with this technique so that’s what I spent the first few hours doing. It took a while. I built the black shapes up more and more over the day but there was still something missing. I wasn’t getting it. There were some parts of the drawing that I liked. The two figures were okay but not spectacular. A lot of the texture and shapes in the negative spaces were not very interesting.

One of the things I’ve never used with my big ink drawings is white ink. All the white in the drawing is the white of the paper. That’s how I do it. But looking at this drawing I thought it might need to work back into it with some white ink. I resisted it though. I’ve worked back and forth on pieces with black and white paint before but somehow in this context I didn’t want to. It would ruin the purity of the drawing for me in some way. I had to get over that.

I finally went into the drawing with white ink and a busted brush. I worked on the halo around the main figure’s head and the grass on the bottom. After that I worked on the sky and the spirals. Then back to the grass and halo. Later, rinse, and repeat. I did this over and over. White then black then white again. For hours I tried to find the right balance and I’m not sure I ever did.

Usually I know when I’m done with a drawing but in this case since it was a new technique I wasn’t sure. That’s one of the problems with doing something new. If I don’t have a vision for the finished piece how do I know when it’s finished? On the second day I ended up just stopping. I had to choose a place to be finished so I did.

In the end I’m not sure if I like this piece. It’s okay but it’s so different than my other stuff I’m not sure about it. That’s the way it is with something new.