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08-11-2019 image

writing drawings

"People should be drawing their drawings instead of writing them."

I caught my dad mumbling this sentence in the atelier after a full day of him teaching sketching.

This piqued my interest. Here I was sitting and thinking that I had been drawing all day and now he was telling me that I might have been writing all along. It also sparked some fear - after spending years in college writing essays I felt like spending some time away from my usually writing saturated and symbol cluttered life. Maybe my dad's drawing class wasn't as clean of an escape as I had hoped it would be.

It did introduce me, however, to a way of thinking about drawing which helped explain why I find it so hard to draw with computers.

Symbol Literacy Impacts our Understanding of the Visual World

People who write their drawings are heavily biased by their experience of being part of a literate culture - their style, technique, and way of approaching drawing is visibly influenced by them being literate.

Individuals who are new to drawing are usually not new to the tools used for drawing. Most likely they use pens and pencils on a daily basis. They too have, probably, lived a life engaging with a visual world.

When I first started drawing with pencils I had hundreds of hours of experience with using pencinls for writing, and I largely depended on this experience when I produced my drawings. For example, I would hold the pencil close to its tip and build up my drawing like I would letters, words, and sentences - by making single, discrete, strokes with the pencil. Because I heavily relied on my knowledge of writing to produce drawings one can say that I wrote my drawings.

The problem with this is that drawing isn't writing - the techniques used for writing do not work well for drawing. For example, different drawing techniques are used to allow the practitioner to use visual feedback - for example by gradually approximating the right location or flow of a line by layering several strokes on top of each other.

By appropriating writing techniques for drawing we fail to appreciate how drawing is of a completely different nature than writing. Writing is grounded in symbol manipulation - whereas the symbols we are manipulating do have visual form those forms are scaffolds which allow us to engage with the knowledge attached to the symbols.

Drawing is more purely visual. When we draw we often seek to capture things such as visual volume, depth, flow, or perspective. Though these things could be present in writing they have often been compressed away in the flat symbol oriented literate culture. Drawers use specific methods to capture the different visual dimensions. Two such methods are constructive and line-rhytmical drawing - two methods one of which excels at capturing volume and the other the flow of a subject.

The Plurality of Drawing Methods

Constructive drawing excels at creating highly accurate and sense of volume - This is achieved through building up a motive with straight lines forming shapes. One can say that motives are constructed from simple shapes such as lines, angles, triangles, and rectangles. This approach to drawing does share many aspects with the writing-drawings. However, the big thing that is different is constructive drawings concern with capturing volume and depth. This is something literary culture does not do - at its core it is more graphical and flat.

Line-rhytmical drawing captures the movement and energy-flow of a motive - by using free curved lines over and over again to gradually create shapes out of dozens of overlapping lines.

When done well line-rhytmical drawings can feel almost hyperactive. For example a line-rhytmical study of a stick I did almost becomes so alive that it ceases to be a stick and starts being something animated. With its playing down of accuracy and focus on the rhytmical and relational this kind of drawing is almost opposite of writing.

I love how I can combine these methods to capture the different dimensions of a subject. The plurality of methods suggests that there is no one way of capturing the different dimensions of visual subjects. When people write drawings they inevitably fail to capture the depth and flow of visual subjects bacause they use a method, based on writing, which inherently compresses visual subjects in a way which squash the dimensions which make drawings come alive - the dimensions which have not mattered in symbol recognition and manipulation traditionally.

Breaking Free of Literate Biases

Now how does this relate to computers? The thing is, I feel like on the computer I am being coerced into writing my drawings. I have experienced no plurality of drawing methods on the computer. Whereas there are many ways of sketching with the computer I feel like the vast number of them have a strong literate bias baked into them.

Looking ahead I hope to experiment with creating drawing tools for the computer which free themselves from the literate basis on which our computer technologies are built. I hope to find ways of more fully engaging in the feedback-based drawing I know from the physical world.