I’ve been drawing in the garden lately. Most days I make one drawing, other days two and of course some days none at all. I wander about the garden and without thinking too much about it, find a spot to draw. Today’s spot had a lot to do with the location of the shade. Subjects have included plants and trees as well as the Imagination Stations. One day a plastic hobby horse found its way into a drawing. I don’t think too much about how to approach these things either, beyond my decision to use pencils on a big block of swanky Arches hot-pressed watercolour paper (I love hot-pressed paper). I just sit down and draw. The closer I can get to “drawing is thinking” the better.
When I say pencils, I mean basic pencils, some harder and some softer. I’m going to digress for a moment to talk about pencils. I’m sure there are generations of kids who have rarely used one. Ever wonder what HB means? First, everybody refers to “pencil leads” but they are not made of lead at all. They’re made of graphite with a clay binder. Curiously though, when the first huge graphite deposit was discovered in Britain, it was actually thought to be lead. Pencils are graded using a European system which describes the ratio of graphite to clay. The more clay, the harder the pencil. The H in HB stands for Hardtmuth and the B for Budweis. The higher the H value, the harder the pencil and the higher the B value, the softer. You may have noticed that some pencils are labelled F. F is arbitrary and an F pencil is halfway between H and HB. The hardest pencils you can get are 9H and they are mighty hard indeed. The softest are 9B. In my drawings, I’m using a 2H, an H, a 2B, a 4B and an 8B.
Back in the early 80s, my friend John McCartney and I had an opportunity to work on a Saul LeWitt wall drawing. One of the features of this huge drawing was a 9H pencil grid. I was working away on the pencil grid one day when LeWitt’s studio assistant came along and dressed me down because I was not twirling the 9H pencil while making the grid lines. He said my lines were never going to be uniform. One day, just for fun, get yourself a 9H pencil and explore its dynamics. A 9H pencil is so hard it barely makes a mark at all. At the time, I though LeWitt’s assistant was a bit over-jealous (I may have been more direct back then). Now, all these years later, it seems kind of adorable.
Prior to the recent Long Branch garden tour, our friend Jacob Yerex dropped off two big bags of what I’m going to call sculptural ideas for our garden. Some of these ideas are quite resolved, finished sculptures – others less so. We’ve got them all over the place. There are some in the Imagination Stations, some in among the plants. A few have found their way into the bird community housing developments out back. One is hanging in the camo-netting. Today I sat down in the shadiest spot in the garden, and there in front of me was one of the Yerexes, demanding to be drawn. If truth be known, it’s been calling to me for a few days now, and I’ve been resisting.
For years, Tuffy P and I, along with Ronald Bloore and Tim Noonan and Ardis Breeze, did what we called Sunday painting. We would go for a drive until we found a good spot (I can’t tell you just what a good spot entailed) to draw and paint. We always had a picnic lunch, and Bloore usually brought Retsina. We did this for years, until Ron’s health made it impossible for him to participate. Somehow or another, Bloore was the glue that kept it together. We have some of the drawings Ron did back then hanging in our house and I’ve been thinking of those days lately. Ron used to do his drawings with pencil on hot-pressed paper and I suppose my decision to use those materials was kind of a tribute to him.
It’s been a long time since I drew the landscape (or the gardens, as I’m doing now) regularly. It’s unique challenge. You have to deal with changing light conditions, weather that is too hot or too cold or too windy or too something else. Sometimes you can see a storm approach and you know you only have a short time to finish. The result reflects all those things and more. What do you draw, or perhaps as important, what don’t you draw? I recall when we used to go out drawing and painting with Bloore, we would often look for broad vistas, and he would sit down and draw the forest at his feet.
I’m not sure why I need to go back to drawing at this time, except that after making 6 encaustic paintings, I strongly felt as if I finished something. For a painter, being at the end of series of work can be very difficult, because you’re faced with the question, what next? Sometimes I look at my work and shake my head and think, how the heck did I come up with this? How did I get here? I don’t know what these drawings will lead to, I just know I need to do them.