Stephen MacInnes, at Painter’s Progress, has been doing weekly experiments involving art. One of his experiments involved drawing the word “DRAW”, and then leaving it in an encyclopedia or dictionary. I liked this idea and thought that I would play along. You can read Stephen’s minimalist directions here, and you will find links to other artists who have done this in the comments.
I have no formal art training but I’ve always been interested in art. However, I’ve always felt that I couldn’t draw, that I had no talent to be nurtured in this area. But, as I’ve taken up photography recently, I’ve learned to have more confidence in my creative abilities and perspectives. Maybe I could draw, I thought. So, once I found some paper and pencils, and a chunk of time, I thought I’d give it a try.
As I doodled on paper, trying to figure out how I wanted to draw “DRAW”, I could hear my sixth-grade art teacher telling me that I wasn’t a very good artist. I remember as if it were yesterday, though nearly 40 years ago, having an assignment where we were suppose to “draw” what we heard while she played a piece of music. Having already had my confidence shattered — and not really having a clue how to interpret a piece of music into a mood, much less an image — I drew what I felt that I could depict reasonably: a sun setting over an ocean. Her comment was succinct: “A sunset? That’s something pretty, but you were suppose to draw a storm.” Why didn’t she just tell us that?
I vaguely recall another art assignment, perhaps with another teacher, that required us to draw a word, making it look like what the word represented while still being abstract. I failed at that too. I had been assigned the word “SAIL” and not knowing much about sailing, I drew anchors and, since this was the 70’s, I drew several Jonathan Livingston Seagulls. Neither of these things, my teacher, informed me, had to do with SAIL. Anchors were for the harbors, as were the birds. And that pretty much made up my formal art training. With that type of experience, why would I try?
I had to laugh, though, as I thought of these two art assignments from my childhood. I could write extensively about how wrong these were, but I think that anyone who has ever had any exposure to any sort of education can see that point. While I might have been convinced that I had no artistic talent, inept teachers never stopped me from enjoying art museums and galleries around the world. I was determined, with this experiment, that I was going to get beyond the negative “you can’t draw” barrage of memories.
Perhaps because I wanted to do this “right”, I spent a lot of time on this, redoing it three times. The first was easy to crumble into a ball of paper, but I realized my mistake and started again with a fresh piece of velum. I completed the second one, but once done, I thought of ways that I could have done it better. I simply put too much into the finished work and thought that the end result was rather cluttered, a little sloppy, and a bit pretentious in trying to drive home a “meaning”. The third piece may still be a bit cluttered, but I feel that it is more subtle and yet still accomplish all that I intended: 1) include the word, 2) include some sort of word play, 3) give homage to artists and the art world, 4) imply that all of us are part of that world, whether we are artists or not.
The design of the word “DRAW” was definitely influenced by some of the graffiti that I have photographed recently. I wanted to make it look like the word was being drawn off the edge of the paper, so I slanted the “A” and “W”. The dyslexic D was both a design consideration as well as to help underscore that “art” doesn’t have to be perfect. Some of us get things backwards at times.
In thinking about how one “tags” graffiti, I thought of incorporating names of artists, but I decided that there were too many to include to have different signatures or fonts. So, I decided to write all names (mostly surnames, except where the first name needed to be included for clarity) in lower case. In my first draft, I intentionally rotated the paper every time that I wrote another name so that the placement would be random. As I started writing names, I looked through a book I have 501 Great Artists to help jog my memory. I turned through many pages before I came upon the name of a woman. Without much thought, I picked up a different color of pencil to write the female names. As I looked through the book, I decided that I would not use the name of any artist with whom I was not familiar. But, I realized that I was mostly familiar with the men, so I included all of the women after reading their brief bios in the book. Only 10% of the 501 artists in this book were women, with most of them predominantly being 20th/21st century artists. Because I wanted to include some photographers and a few other women artists whose work I know, I added a few that were not in this book.
Originally the artists’ names were in silver (men) and gold (women), but I didn’t like the way that the colors looked on the paper. They were hard to distinguish, difficult to read. So, in my third iteration, I decided to go with the traditional blue for males, pink for females. In retrospect, I wish I had broken with convention and used blue for females, pink for males. But, the point was to make a visible difference and I think that this accomplishes that. Since many of the women were associated with better known male artists, I decided in my third version to place the male names, slightly smaller, next to the women artists that they worked with or shared influence and inspiration. (The influence, it seems was mutual, and not necessarily the better known artist mentoring or influencing the lesser known one.) Although these relationships were apparent when I added the women’s names, as I added the rest of the male artists, I used up most of the white space and the relationships are lost to the larger design.
For my word play, I played with the exhortation to DRAW SOME THING and a made up word combo of DRAW + AWESOME — “DRAWSOME”. You can see this on each of the letters of DRAW.
Lastly, to emphasize that art is for all of us, I placed the following words prominently along the perimeter of the piece: EVERYONE, US, YOU, ME, HIM, HER. Although you can’t tell in the scan, EVERYONE and US are in a flourescent orange, the other words in a deep brown that contrasts well with the blues and pinks of the artists’ names.
I’ll make a trip to the library in the next few days. I don’t think that many people use general encyclopedias these days, so I am going to look for a work on artists to slip this in between pages. Maybe it will even be a copy of 501 Great Artists. I see from looking through the comments on Stephen’s blog, that Zorgor did exactly this, finding an art encyclopedia for his DRAW work. Zorgor, I’ll be going to a different branch than you, but if the same person finds both of them, they may think that something radical is happening to our library system!
I hope that someone finds this and it makes them think. I hope, too, that it makes them smile! Here is a not so clear scanned image of my “DRAW” piece, which I have titled: Drawsome: 62 women artists and some guys.
Thanks, Stephen for this idea. I had so much fun doing this!