As an artistic practice, drawing is often the preliminary step in how an idea begins. As Michael Taussig notes, drawings can be read as an action and afterthought (xi). When sketching, the hand reacts often before one can justify the significance of the mark, meaning, or connection. Furthermore, drawing is a form of visual communication that does not require words or sound to be understood. John Ruskin describes the practice of sketching as marks "set down clearly and usefully, records of such things as cannot be described in words, either to assist your own memory of them, or to convey distinct ideas to other people" (Gumpert 47). Often, I find that I need to draw in order to better articulate my thinking. Taussig argues that this extends to the importance of sketchbooks as research sites, as they are documents of these initial impulses stimulated by a sensorial event. He states, “a fieldwork diary is like a scrapbook that you read and reread in different ways, finding unexpected meanings and pairings as well as blind alleys and dead ends” (Taussig 47). Just as artists react to a physical environment through sketching, the same practice and gesture can be implemented through digital media.
Thoughts on Drawing
Drawing utilizes different brain pathways, activating alternative knowledge practices and perspectives. Described in Betty Edward’s workbook, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, drawing is the release of systematic reasoning shifting to visual problem solving and the act of understanding how we see. Although Edward’s split-brain research was deemed problematic and unsupported by scientific studies, the drawing activities she presents aid in the development of drawing (Schiferl 68). It remains true; the draftsperson must shift their thinking about an object in 3D space to how that object can exist on a 2D plane. This swap requires a separation from what the object is to how it is seen in relation to its surroundings and light source. For example, when drawing from a still life, the objects are differentiated from one another by their relationship in space and their boundaries are created by highlights and shadows. Drawing relinquishes the contextual meaning of an object/subject and reveals how it is in relation to its surroundings and situated in space. In doing so, it allows the artist to remove their predetermined scope of understanding to promote new meanings and context around the subject.
Using drawing as a lens, I recognize that my interactions within physical and digital spaces are extensions of my sketchbook. Thus, my research takes the form of digital sketches, collages, websites, social media feeds, geotagging, mapping applications, walking, and conversations. I record all these interactions in my sketchbook, as well as in bookmarks, folders and screen captures. I constantly return to these records and find new meaning and connections that lie between the things I am thinking about and researching. Likewise, I see my camera roll as a tool to also create sketches that can be referred to later as a method to develop of my ideas. I snap photos of things that catch my eye before I can understand what they are connected to or how they will resurface in my work. Through this process I begin to see how these elements filter into and feed off one another to expose new narratives.
Space is treated differently in a sketchbook because it is understood as in-progress, reactionary and quick. This allows for ideas to be responsive to one another without considering their direct relation, composition, perspective, or meanings. The marks, images, clippings and writings are connected by time and can therefore share the same ground without the necessary elements of a unified image. This same space exists on my devices. As I navigate web pages and feeds, their meanings although not directly connected, follow the same stream of thought back to the moment of interaction or search input.
Drawing is tactile, produced with digits and palms; an explorative visualization tool I use to make sense of my surroundings. I am interested in this and its connection to data infrastructures and systems, via smartphone applications and social media practices. Digital technologies are somatic. Technology is changing to be more tactile and portable like sketchbooks and notepads. It’s worth noting Christopher Grubb’s remarks on dated technology, where he states that, digital drawing will never be the same as pencil and paper sketching because of the wiggling of the mouse. He further argues, the stationary nature inherent in a digital set-up is incomparable to the tactility, pocketsize, and personal nature of the sketchbook (97). Grubb’s argument is no longer valid, as we now have digital devices that are personalized, portable and completely operated by our ‘digits’.
Doris Rohr outlines “drawing helps me to understand the relationship between perceived self and others, inanimate or animate, inter-subjective or inter-objective, leading on to Ruskin’s concept of sympathy” (Rohr 25). One of the aspects of drawing, compared to other visual mediums as described by Rohr, is that you can see the artist’s hand; in other words, the original lines and marks that went into the work are still visible to the viewer. It is not unusual to see the preliminary marks of a drawing in a final work. Therefore, drawing is also the act of looking at looking; where the product is the proof of the artist’s time spent in observation. That the viewer can understand what they are viewing is evidence of this, as they are seeing through the lens of how the artist observed their subject. Drawing is not just an object, but a verb describing the gesture that is indicative of the artist.