Claude Heath’s Head (Drawing 137) (1995) was drawn blindfolded, looking at neither object nor drawing until the work was finished. The white mark at the top of the head shows how the tip of the pencil was located in relation to plaster cast head under scrutiny. The artist writes:
“The drawing of my half-brother’s head is made from a plaster life-cast. While blindfolded, I used the fingers of my left hand to find my way around the features and general shapes of his head, while simultaneously drawing with my right hand. There was a small piece of Blu-tak at the top of the cast and a corresponding on on the paper too, for me to use as a starting point. I did not look at the drawing until afterwards.”
In January I wrote about twelve drawings of kiwi fruit I made blindfolded, holding the object in one hand and tracing its form, while drawing with the other hand. I wrote:
“I tried to observe the kiwi carefully with my left hand as I drew with my right, manoeuvring my palm and thumb and fingers around its surface both to gauge the surface detail and to plot its size by the length of time it took my thumb to move all the way around its lateral circumference. I was aiming to move my thumb at a steady speed so that the time it took would work as a measuring device I could carry across to my drawing hand in real time. Time was relevant to this process of drawing in a way that it usually is not. As you can see from the images, more often than not the timing was out, presumably because either the thumb or the drawing hand didn’t maintain a steady pace around the oblong shape. Nevertheless it was satisfying, and quite novel, to try to match up the movement of one hand against the other, with one breathing the object in and the other breathing it out.”
The Blu-tak trick I didn’t try. But later on in a couple of life-drawing classes I looked for other strategies for getting the object and its representation to correspond while looking at the model but never the page. One strategy involved an apparatus of string plumb lines as in the picture below:
Another strategy involved no apparatus at all, just continuous contact with the page. Below are some reflection on this ‘half-blind’ process:
“I have found half-blind drawing satisfying because it admits a degree of immediacy between object and page that seems to me lacking in some traditional approaches to observational drawing—approaches based on using a handheld measure like the length of a pencil to gauge a set of relative distances between landmarks identified about the object, then translating and plotting this network of points onto the page for elaborating and thickening into a composed and proportioned image that should resemble to the eye just what the eye sees of the object before it. Such approaches mean constructing, prior to the finished drawing, an invisible apparatus of sight-lines articulating the gap between the object and the eye, and secondarily between the eye and the hand and the page: an apparatus that hardens the network of landmarked points and the features between them, extracts them, shifts them through the air and delivers them onto the paper. What I find unsatisfying is that the apparatus seems to get in the way, or seems to thicken the air and makes that get in the way, with the effect that the object and drawing are bridged by the very same lines of sight that hold them apart. Inhabiting the gap, the pencil darts about in the air like a scalpel or a beak, pecking at the paper rather than burrowing into it the sensitive and spontaneous excavations that for me make drawing with a pencil a compelling thing to do.” (Read more..)
I gave a talk on this subject at the Drawing Room the following October as part of the gallery’s inaugural Study Forum event. An outline of the talk is online here; you can watch an audio recording and slideshow of the talk here.