For Valentine’s Day this year I decided to do a whole new series of rough sketches of couples. One reason for that is that I have so many great shots of Kawai and Sam that I haven’t drawn yet. Another reason is, I knew it would be a challenge. Drawing couples is more than twice as hard as drawing a single figure…
…because of the relationships. Drawing is all about relationships, you know. I’m talking about how different parts of the image fit together. Everything depends on the relative position of the line you’re drawing. When you’re drawing a single figure, you get used to knowing where the hands are going to fall relative to the arm and the rest of the body, for instance. You get used to drawing a body in many different positions. All you have to concern yourself with is one body and you know about where everything is going to end up.
But when you have two figures, things suddenly get a lot more complicated. First of all, you have twice as many figures to concern yourself with. That’s not so bad, because you still know basically where each figure’s hands, feet, head, etc. are going to go. But wait a minute! Where are Sam’s hands relative to Kawai? Is Kawai’s shoulder higher up than Sam’s shoulder? Is Sam’s left foot really that far away from Kawai’s right foot? If you’re not careful, you can begin a nice drawing of two boys standing and holding hands, and then halfway through realize that those hands can’t reach each other! Soon after I began working on this couples series, something interesting started to happen. Let me see if I can explain this. It has to do with the difference between how I hold a pencil and how I hold a brush. When I draw, I usually grasp the pencil fairly low, close to its point, and rest the heel of my hand on the paper for support (this is how most of us use a pen or pencil for writing). This gives one a great deal of control over one’s line. When I paint, I tend to hold the brush farther up, and with a grip more like I would use if I picked up a stick and wanted to whack something with it. You have less control over your line this way, but if you want big, loose movements, this is a much better technique.
The interesting thing that started to happen is this: I found myself holding the pencil as if it were a brush, and drawing almost as if I were painting. I was no longer resting the heel of my hand on the paper, which meant I had less control. But I had more freedom. This was scary and exhilarating. I don’t know why it occurred to me to do this; it happened spontaneously. But with staying loose and being more free one of the major themes of my life, and with my always aiming at loosening up more and more, it’s not too surprising when this kind of thing happens. But it was still exciting! And the quality of my line changed. It became more raw, less controlled and less calculated. For some reason I found this new, rougher line more beautiful. Perhaps because it was less controlled, it seemed to me more honest.
This was a breakthrough drawing for me. The more I experimented with this new approach, the more fun I started having. I got bolder (always a good thing!). I decided to see what would happen if I also used this approach with colored pencils. The sketch you see here is the first one where I really let go with this approach. You can see the overall look is quite different. Up close the lines look crazy and out of control; but when you pull back, you can see everything works together to create an image. And because of the agitated, energetic quality of the line, it has more energy and life than a very careful, controlled series of lines would have. I like a controlled line sometimes–it can be very beautiful–but for me, now, at this point in my life, if I can be a channel for beauty that is less controlled and more influenced by ‘chance,’ that makes me feel more alive, and much happier.
For the remainder of the time I spent working on the couples series (I completed 34 sketches in a period of a couple of weeks!), I used the technique I’ve described, approaching drawing more as if it were painting. If you look at the series as a whole (S1090115 through S1090227), you can see I went back and forth between the more controlled and the more spontaneous approaches, but overall I stayed much looser, and I’m very happy with the results. From the response once the Valentine’s Day Showing went online, it seems you guys are, too!