This could easily be technology vs real material. I imagine there is a strong argument for the iPad being a real thing but I am not blogging to talk about the meaning of words. I am wanting to express the joy of working in pencil after using an iPad to draw with and discuss what J described technology as being removed or distancing factor for human engagement.
I go life drawing each week and have been using pencils for the past couple of years. I occasionally paint or use charcoal but my most enjoyable medium recently has been pencil. The reason I have used an iPad is due to my involvement with Prof Mark Blythe who is working on a digital technology research project looking at authorship and unique editions of works produced in the digital domain. My part of that as I see it is to produce work, feedback and ideas within this brief. I have produced quite a few abstract works and have had some interesting engagement with the process though last week was my first attempt to do life drawing with an iPad. I felt very frustrated with the device , much more so than doing abstract work. There was the problem of equipment mastery ie how slow I am to get the right size brush or opaqueness of mark compared with using traditional media where my control of those is more sophisticated. In essence I was struggling with the unfamiliar. I did a 10 min portrait of H who stood in as the model was a bit late. It looks quite unlike her and was such a stumbling clumsy process.
I guess there is a believable shaped head but I could not achieve the subtlety I am used to with the control of a pencil. You can zoom in on the iPad but there is still the problem of your finger being in the way of the emerging mark. With pencil there is a slight masking of the pencil tip but not to the degree you have with the Pad. I have tried using a stylus but they are harder than using your finger ( slower to respond and clumpy)
The life drawing session kicked off with a series of short 5 minutes poses. I did some quickly painted backgrounds and worked into them with a light coloured pencil. This is all digital stuff I am describing! You could call them virtual pencils or paint. There was a freedom to be able to use so much diverse equipment from such a small device. If I had to try and organise and carry all that media I would be coming in a removal van.
Next we did a 20 minute pose and feel I gained a little more control of the iPad with this. This felt like my work. I know that sounds odd but there is a feeling that because it is done on a machine that it could be anyone’s work. This issue seems to link into the research project and is an interesting phenomena that as yet I cannot resolve but there is a feeling that I am divorced from the process more with using the technology.
After a cup of tea we did one more 20 minute pose and that was the last of the session. There were moments where I felt I was getting to grips with this but my overall feeling of the session was frustration. The lack of control I have talked about but the size of the pad is a strange feeling of restriction. Also the physical sensation of rubbing my finger around a pane of glass for over an hour felt devoid of something. Pawing at a window into another world.
A week later I am back at the life drawing session and in making the decision to use pencils there is a great sense of relief and anticipation coupled with the notion that I nearly didn’t make it breathed a freshness into the arena. What happened to me was a feeling of re-unification with something I could relate to. An old friend perhaps or a collection of fond memories, the thwack of leather upon willow. There was a joyous feeling and my spider sense can only attribute that to the media ( the pencil and paper). The feel of the graphite as it slides and bites over the surface of the paper. How that releases me into the world of looking that is wondrously exploratory. That means my mind was freed to find out and document the fruits of this journey without the baggage of the technology in the way. This does not mean I couldn’t achieve the same state with the i pad but my doubts and suspicions are highly raised.
The next drawing was 10 minutes and again not brilliant but I enjoyed beginning to capture a likeness of the models face and the struggle that is capturing an awkward pose. The enjoyment of the struggle with pencil drawing seemed different to the the struggle with the iPad. Maybe there was some light at the end of the tunnel with the pencil and as yet I cannot see the point of the i pad and its use to me or anyone else.
So the next pose would be nearly an hour. A cup of tea was served at the beginning and one after 40 minutes to give the model a break. We usually have a break and natter for about 20 mins. This can get in the way of a good involvement with a piece of work but it is an important part of what goes on in the group.
The time flew by and I do not seem to have done much in the time but I still had the feeling of being at home and in the zone. Life drawing is always difficult and sometimes a pose can escape you completely. There have to be so many factors going in your favour or skills gathered together effectively. This drawing again is not the best. The left foot is too small the hand clumpy, not much form on the body but I was moving somewhere and that mattered.
Returning to a thread picked up earlier, is the action of drawing with a pencil on paper a more direct engagement with the outside world than the iPad or is the iPad a more distancing tool, bringing into question the disconnection of intimacy as a result of our clever toys. From this small experiment with materials I would say the pencil offered me more and the iPad distanced me. I will pick up on this argument and add to it over time but for now I am blissfully re-united with my tradition and raison d’être.