How do I know when a drawing I’ve been working on is finished? The simplest answer: when there are no more problems to solve. But that’s not saying too much. What kinds of problems are there to solve? Of course, there are as many answers to this question as there are people who draw. And then there are the time-honored - some would say anachronistic - principles of academic drawing to consider. It happens that, of the many varieties of drawing extant in contemporary practice, mine is based on traditional academic training. This is second nature to me and since I think in these terms, all technical discussions will take advantage of the traditional lexicon.
The Road Map
So – back to those problems. As evident in my drawing - and bucking what seems to me a huge trend currently favoring line - I am much more interested in exploiting tone for expression. Charcoal and/or graphite are the most responsive mediums I’ve found for working extensively with tone. Very soft to hard sticks and pencils in charcoal give the widest range of tonal values over the largest surface. Consequently, toward the end of a work, my main problems have to do with properly balancing the exact range of tones I’m after. This takes a good eye and some patience. It requires stepping back and carefully studying the drawing as a whole. It also takes workable fixatif (usually Krylon) to allow continuing buildup for the darkest darks and a lot of different erasers (Pink Pearl, sticks in holders, grey ink erasers and soft white vinyls) to pick out the lights. Whether I’m working from life or from one of my own photographs, all of the information I need to interpret form is right in front of me. I assess this information much the way a driver might read a road map. The final days I’m working, there comes a point where the “road map” is no longer an aid but a hindrance.
All of the relative shapes and values have been placed and are now ready for “tweaking.” I put the original reference aside and stop looking to it altogether. The time has come to assess the drawing as an independent thing entirely apart from its derivative source. This is when I remind myself that no one will be comparing the drawing with the original subject. They will only be looking at the drawing. I’m now asking myself the following questions: Are some areas too dark? Too light? Do any areas call too much attention to themselves to the detriment of the overall effect? Do all parts of the drawing work with every other part? What effect/mood/impact am I really hoping for? Does the drawing need more drama – or perhaps less? (I want more in these rope pieces than less.)
I’m aiming to maximize whatever potential this piece has to affect a viewer. I don’t want someone to just stroll by; It needs to “read” from across a room. Nothing is overlooked. At the same time, I am careful not to touch or overwork any areas I am satisfied with. I call this process "tweakology” - just my silly name for resolving any lingering problems. No major changes will occur at this point because all the critical decisions were made before the drawing even began. Believe it or not, that has not completely squelched a certain degree of spontaneity in the mark-making. You will see it in most of my drawings if you look. While working, I am always cognizant of balancing both harmony and variety in the markmaking. That is probably the most difficult challenge from beginning to end. In this drawing, there is so much repetition in the large woven area of the rope, I found it very challenging to render those many similar shapes without creating too much monotony. I hope I mostly succeeded.
More questions: Do I want to direct the viewer to any particular area? In the case of this drawing “Tempest” the answer is “yes.” It’s an area in the lower third where the weaving of the rope both tightens and changes direction. It is, in fact, the area that originally drew me to this motif. All other aspects of the drawing are meant to contrast with or serve as foils for this single area. Executed with this in mind, no one will be able to view the drawing without quickly focusing on this area. Few viewers will realize that this is happening, let alone why it is so.
I decide to clean up the central interlocking form’s edges here in particular – and most importantly, to make this the area of greatest light/dark contrast. Both adjustments – crisper edges and higher contrast compared with all other areas - help strengthen a viewer’s attraction to this point. Suddenly, like some demented witch, I almost feel like cackling out loud! Not only am I “tweaking” the drawing, I’m also “tweaking” the viewer! Here perhaps, is the one and only place in my life where I actually have some power to benevolently (– or maybe not so …) affect a few moments of someone else’s inner life; A small reward for the umpteen hours of study and practice that have culminated in my current practice. From my perspective - worth every minute.