When I make art I generally like to keep things simple. Over the years I’ve learned to be pretty good at simple but it’s not easy. Simple is usually hard. Simple is stripping things down to the basics. If a form can be defined with just one line than use that one line. The problem is finding that one line (that’s the story of art). It can’t be wrong in any way. After all there is only one of them. If I’m going to draw a form with all sorts of shading and hatching then I might use hundreds of lines. If some of them are off you can’t even notice. That’s the advantage of plenty. One or two mistakes are easily hidden in a haystack.

Another of my art philosophies is that complexity is simplicity multiplied. By this I mean both are achieved in the same way. With complexity there is more room for error but you’re still putting one line on the paper at a time and you want to make that line nice. So to draw one face on a page can be simple but start to add more simple faces and things get complex.

You can strip down one face into the basics but as soon as you put another face next to it the two faces start to relate to each other in new ways. That has to be take into account. For example if two faces are next to each other you generally don’t want them to be identical. So you need two sets of solutions for how to draw a simple set of eyes. And a third and a fourth face and you need more simple solutions. That can get complicated.

I bring up this topic because I just finished a complicated big ink drawing (20×28 inches). As a matter of fact I just finished two complicated big ink drawings in a row. I wanted that second one to be simple but missed the mark by a mile. The first one I knew was going to be complicated. That’s how I planned it. I picked a complicated sketch, made a complicated drawing from it, and then made a complicated big ink drawing from that. It was what I was in the mood for but it took a lot out of me. Complicated can be physically demanding because there are so many lines to draw. So after that one I decided to get simple.

Complicated my be physically demanding but simple is more observationally demanding. You really have to look at things and puzzle them out. Often the preliminary drawing of a simple subject takes more time than a complex one. With simple everything has to be figured out in advance but with complicated you can leave some stuff for later. I know I’m going to need half a dozen textures in certain areas but there is no need to lock them all down early. With simple I have to lock things down early. I don’t want any surprises at full size.

Simple can get away from me sometimes. That’s what happened with the second complex drawing. I had decided that I wanted to draw a giant face and that’s usually simple but I overlooked things in this case. I overlooked a lot of things. I picked a sketch to work on that had a giant face in it but the face was really a monster mask. Plus there were another half a dozen faces in the drawing. I tried to keep all the faces simple but I was somehow in denial about how complex a drawing I actually picked.

As I blew up the drawing and transferred it to the large paper I began to see how much work there was to it. I started to draw it in ink with a simple line. I often start these big drawings with the simplest lines first and then get complex with them. By simple line I mean with a marker and a straight edge or French curve. These are simple lines that I later go into with a brush and ink. The marker part is usually pretty easy. I follow the pencil lines. There isn’t a lot to think about because these aren’t the finished lines. But as I put more and more of those lines in I began to notice how many decisions I would have to make later on down the line. This drawing was a lot more complicated than I initially thought it was.

To begin with the space in the drawing is bizarre. It isn’t a face with a background behind it. The top of the drawing had some clouds and the bottom some mountains as it if was a normal background but everything else was filled with faces and shapes like a modernist painting. That and the main face was a positive shape but it had another face in its neck that created a negative space within the positive space. It was strange, complex, and would not work properly until I figured it out. The problem was that figuring out the space meant figuring out about nine other things first.

I did it all a little bit at a time. I put down all my simple lines and then concentrated on one area. The eye in the bottom right corner, the clouds on top, the face under the chin, or anything else. I approached it one piece at a time. The hardest part was that I knew nothing was going to be finished until all of it was near completion. I would add textures and shapes to one area, then a second, then a third, and then I had to go back to revisit the first area. No place would be finished until it was all finished. That can be a frustrating way to work and takes a lot of trust in the process.

In the end this turned out to be one of my most complicated big ink drawings. I count seven small faces, one big face, a faceless figure, and a lone eye. Plus there are about seven different background textures. I like the way it came out but I don’t know how in the world I ever thought this would be a simple drawing. I can really fool myself some days.