My grand-niece recently had her two of her drawings receive Grand Champion ribbons at the Yamhill County Fair in Oregon, and her excellent work deserves this reward! I wondered what advice I might give her for becoming an artist, and remembered the best advice I ever received, while teaching at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. I asked Ron Shuebrook, the Head of the Studio Division at the College, and he replied, “Just don’t stop.” Seemed short and to the point…maybe a bit too easy. Now, forty-one years later, “just don’t stop” is an answer full of wisdom, complexity and plain hard work.
Yes, keep drawing your beautiful horses, but draw everything. Twigs and dried weeds are wonderful subjects for seeing shadows and multiple dimensions. Just don’t stop seeing drawings everywhere.
Try making a drawing using only one line that moves continuously…dark, light, subtle, strong. If it goes out to create a shape, maybe it next flows back and forth to make a shadow before moving into the next area of paper, like dancing with your pencil.
An even more dramatic way of drawing with a continuous line is called “blind contour.” You don’t look at the paper at all but move your hand in sync with your eye as it slowly travels around your subject. No peeking! And just don’t stop. Not only is this way of drawing lots of fun, but I find that the “energy” of the drawing is more intense. There is less of me trying to draw something, and more of the subject showing me what to draw.
We often think a drawing is dark marks on white paper…but what feelings happen when we reverse this? Try covering a paper with pencil, or charcoal is even better, and then “drawing” with an eraser by lifting out the light areas . This might be a very dramatic way to show the power of a horse!
Sometimes a new material completely changes how we make a drawing. This drawing of a stone on Yupo paper started out with lines, but when I added water, the ink sort of floated around on the surface, because this “paper” is made of plastic! So it was the paper that made these wonderful textures and shadows, and not my hand. So just don’t stop exploring.
Every drawing tells a story. Not just about the subject we choose, but also about how we are looking, and what we are thinking, and whether or not we are successful in what we are trying to do. But no drawing ever “fails.” Find old drawings and rework them; let each show its history as part of its story. A great sense of mystery enters the drawing this way.
We usually think a drawing belongs in the middle of the paper, but why? How we use the space around a drawing can be as interesting as the marks we make, and can change the emotions we feel from the image.
But I don’t think Ron was talking about all these ways of “just don’t stop.” I think he meant it literally. Just don’t stop drawing, don’t stop making art–where ever you find yourself–across the years in schools and relationships and careers and families and travels.
Just don’t stop.
I have taken that advice almost every day.
It’s the only way to end up an old artist like your grand Auntie Kris.