Monday, April 30, 2012

What Is: Drawing, Painting, Photography

Recently I've been grappling with ideas about the boundary between drawing and photography.

I use photographs as preliminary or collage materials in my work, but never without a sense of conflict. I'm not a photographer, I have little understanding of the mechanics of a camera, and everything I've learned about photography has been simply from playing around with cameras. On the one hand, I feel like photography is my natural right, simply by virtue of my having been born into the age of digital cameras. I've scarcely known a world where cameras haven't been so prevalent as to exist in places where I don't even want or need them. On the other hand, I feel a responsibility to be educated about the camera and photography if I'm going to use them in my work, especially since I abhor the underresearched art student.

I found a happy medium in this struggle in the form of my printer/copier. Photocopying is a photographic process. However, the minimal history and codified "rules" of copier art relative to traditional photography make me much more comfortable using it in my practice. Photocopied drawings still resemble drawings, and other photocopied material can be reduced to resemble drawings or paintings as well. In addition, Xeroxes lend themselves to transfers, meaning the material can be taken even further from the source to become more and more drawinglike.

Lately, however, my thoughts have turned to the origin of the word "photography" and some of the earliest photographic processes. Broken down, "photography" translates to "drawing with light"--hence, early light-based tracing techniques, like the camera obscura or camera lucida, can be considered photographic. My concern is, where does this distinction end? Is a "photo-drawing", such as a camera lucida tracing, a "photograph"?  Is a lithograph made from a tracing of a camera lucida tracing a "photo-drawing", and if so, are the resultant prints  "photographs"?

This preoccupation recently collided with issues life size self-portraiture that I'd also been working on, and yielded a studio experiment that provided even more food for thought. I sat down in front of a large mirror, approximately 4' tall, and using a washable marker, traced my image in the mirror. As a left-hander, I was unable to draw my left hand in the act of drawing my left hand, so the end of the figure's right arm dissolved into specific but abstract marks. Once I'd finished tracing myself, I laid a sheet of bond paper over the mirror, traced my tracing, and cleaned the mirror for the next piece. I made about eight of these tracings without stopping much to think, then stepped back to survey what I'd done.

The first question, of course, was whether what I'd made was a drawing or photograph. If camera lucida tracings are photographs then surely what I'd made was a series of photographs. If, however, a "photo-drawing" is more drawing than photo, I'd made a body of drawings.

Another concern was the right arm--my left arm. The marks describing this arm look gestural, but they're a series of tracings-- as accurate as I could manage-- of a moving arm. Is this a gesture, or the most tedious kind of contour drawing? This question depends on the definition of gesture. If a gesture is a series of marks that create an illusion of motion, my work is a gesture. If a gesture is a mark made with an intuitive sense of body to describe the motion of a body, then my pieces were almost the exact opposite.

Another surprise was scale. When I looked in the mirror--a mirror that's taller than me when I sit down--I felt as though  I was seeing a life size image of myself. My drawings, however, all fit comfortably into an 18"x24" sheet of paper. Given that these images were direct tracings, the dissonance was strange.

Finally, on reviewing the tracings, I found that I'd inadvertently used two different techniques that yielded two different results. During the first few tracings, I'd kept one eye closed, flattening the mirror image and allowing a highly accurate likeness. In other drawings, I'd kept both eyes open and struggled with the shifting that occurred as my eyes moved and refocused. The binocular drawings were more interesting to me--they contained dead-end lines that reminded me of pentimenti and gesture. Because the image was more ambiguous when viewed through both eyes, tracing it required some measure of interpretation, which qualified these pieces--in my mind--as drawings.

I hope to discover other experiments I can do to help me get to the bottom of this struggle. I'm not looking for an authoritative answer, just the answer that's true to me-- and I hope it will give me some clue of how to proceed in my work.

Monday, April 23, 2012


When I'm stressed, I have dreams. They're not bad and they're not good but they're usually confusing and often tiring.

Last night I dreamt that I was trying to get to class, but better and more meaningful experiences kept presenting themselves. I fought it for a while, but eventually gave up on class and found myself listening to my minstrels play at a bookstore. That's got to be more important than the class I'm supposed to be attending this morning, which I dread.

In another dream, one of my professors told me that it was really important that I go to Iceland. That it would do good things for my work.

I'm jealous of dream-me. She gets all the good opportunities.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The BFA Show is the day after tomorrow. I have no idea how this happened.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Portfolio is Live

Check out my new portfolio at It's a bit incomplete right now but the highlights are there.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

                                                                 Daphne, 2012
                                                                 Oil on Board

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My Second Research Conference

Research Conference 2.0 was a very different experience than the first one. My new and improved poster looked a lot more professional and polished, and I felt more prepared and knew what to expect. I didn't get many questions, or get to strike up very many conversations. The other researchers were busy at their boards, and the faculty don't seem interested in wandering outside of their discipline to ask questions.

 I did meet two young women who had plenty of excellent questions. They weren't presenters, in fact, I'm not sure why they were there. But they were very happy to talk to me, despite professing they didn't know a lot about art.

 Well! For not knowing a lot about art, these ladies were asking some hard-hitting questions. "How does your environment affect your work? What leads you from one piece to the next? How do you know when your work is finished?" It was a challenge to answer these on the spot, as they're exactly the kind of questions I struggle with in my day-to-day studio practice. But conversations like these are gifts; it's so much easier to answer a question in discussion with another person, rather than just digging deeper and deeper into yourself.

 Moments like this remind me that art is an experience, one you can approach with little to know outside knowledge and come away from with new insights. In fact, I think every discipline should take this approach. It's akin to how we learn as kids. I didn't understand fluid dynamics at eight, but I was fascinated that water, oil, and honey would layer instead of mix in a jar. I was able to intuit some of these scientific principles by having new experiences.

 We are all researchers, and we should all be open to sharing. It doesn't require a ton of technical knowledge on the part of the listener. Just a patient explainer and a willingness to share an experience.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


The semester is wrapping up faster than I could have imagined. I'm surprised that I'm not freaking out more, but I think that's merely because it hasn't "sunk in" yet. I'll be graduating with my BFA in a month and a day.

I'm tired and uninspired. I wonder what will happen when I don't have professors to make me turn in work?