MARGOT KASK: Drawing as Observation, Writing and Building

Drawing as Observation, Writing and Building

In the Germanic languages, zeichnen is the word for “to draw”, which is etymologically derived from the word for stroke (der Streich). When explaining drawing as a process, it is emphasised that the first necessary thing is movement, the trajectory or trace of the movement and the surface that forms the base for the latter, i.e. a background that seems immovable. However, the base is not always material and each trace is not permanent. The movement may also occur via the movement of the viewer. Sometimes it is actually the viewer that creates the trace … or the surface on which the trace develops.
The speed and controllability of the movement is affected, among other things, by the friction, the resistance of the material. This contact, connection to the material creates a creative dialogue, provides feedback, sharpens one’s attention and opens new possibilities. The artist holds onto one end (the pencil or brush) and the picture to the other.
A drawing can be like a point – a starting point, the end of a path. How little is needed for an image to form in the viewer’s eye or consciousness? Paul Klee has said, “A drawing is simply a line going for a walk.” The movement described by Klee occurred without a specific aim, objective for the movement. Based thereon, every drawing expresses a freedom of movement. A joy of possibilities! A fresh, lively line that expresses movement and the rhythm of life!

A drawing can be groundbreaking, relating to observation and recording. To the recording of significant discoveries. Substantially, a rambling, exploratory and experimental drawing is the trace of looking or the imitation of observation and thinking.
To trace… to observe, follow, imitate. Observing as well as tracing represents investigation; succession and the imitation of observance, fusion and identification. In Estonian, two verb that sound similar are associated with traces: jäljendama (imitate) and järele aimama (emulate). The first defines a physical and expressive activity related to copying; the other an aspiration to empathically adapt. The drawer’s attention is directed by and follows thought, the hand imitates that movement, the viewer observes and anticipates or emulates.
The drawing embodies time. Firstly, the time already accommodated therein, the time spent with it – the dedication, persistence, introspection, searching and experimentation, as well as the human dimension. Secondly an opportunity to look, think, comprehend. A fleeting or sparse drawing accommodates time slightly differently than the more time-consuming ones. The density is different; it can be revealed by the lack of information, by silence, the unsaid. The sparser the image, the more important that which is unseen.
Looking at a drawing, one can feel as if at a crossroads. Moving one way, one could arrive at the first point of contact with the paper; going the other way, with something dense and opulent, maybe with a precise illusion. In order to arrive at the depicted object, the viewer must conceptually move through the paper, by discontinuing its surface tension, or the depicted object emerges from the surface of the paper, becoming three-dimensional, revealing itself. One way or another, the paper under, inside or behind the drawing disappears.

The equivalent of the Italian term chiaroscuoro in Estonian is light-darkness. A transition – breaking or bending – from black into white, from black to white. Transferred from external phenomena to internal ones, chiaroscuoro arrives at the act of consciousness through the ability to contrast, distinguish and isolate. More narrowly within the context of image creation, a black-and-white solution marks the narrowing of possibilities, as well as clarity. The opposite is grey as the vagueness of the intermediary. The ability to distinguish shades of gray, to notice the slightly lighter or darker presumes an attentiveness that could be called sensory clarity. The abundance of perceivable shades makes the experienced picture more colourful.
Empathy and sympathy accompany sensitivity, and based thereon all kinds of contrasts, contradictions, and differences become tolerable. This means that with the help of retuning we become more flexible, adaptable and changeable. Thereby transitions in surface and space lead to transitions in time.

Black needs white, and white needs black. As a counterbalance. It’s as if they were sitting on a long swing. Depending on their location in regard to the conceptual centre, to the support point, their weights can have a different effect. Usually, the whole is slanted in some direction. The slant seems to point in some direction, and the shift that the viewer makes by moving in that direction, leaves a trace in him or her.
Before electricity came into use, illustrated books were said to be illuminated. The first insertions into the black text were red. But on the first drawings, which were made in the ground or on the side of a hill, the dark lines may have been on the lighter background, as is also more common today, since the surface revealed by scraping and the line of the fissure was darker due to the shadow or moisture.

Drawing can be simultaneously reproductive and searching, just like writing. When learning to write, one first learns to recognise and then depict the letters one by one. According to the phenomenologist Tim Ingold, the latter resembles drawing, since one’s attention is focused on executing the visible. That is, when writing one is actually drawing the letters one by one. This may occur imperceptibly but in some sense it is still drawing. It only becomes writing when the goal becomes to communicate the meaning behind the characters.
In Old Estonian, the word kirjamine (mottling) is used to define the organisation of a surface with visual rhythms and colours. Kirjamine is related to knitting, embroidering and crocheting – all kinds of interlacing. Ingold calls fabric the historical equivalent of drawings, since from time to time the threads emerge from the surface and then disappear again; always existing, but, it turn becoming visible and then disappearing again. When weaving fabric, the warp and woof is differentiated, i.e. one forms the basis in the vertical direction and the other is horizontally woven into in a zigzag pattern. Ingold grouped these meanings more generally as outlines and gridlines as well as structural lines, for instance, as the main line or fundamental line of narration. Alexander Rodchenko, the Russian constructivist from the early 20th century divided the lines of a drawing more exactly into outlines and structural lines, also calling the latter constructive lines, and named the skeleton as an example, among other things. In the context of academic drawing, the main line of a structure is called the axis, and in the case of a figure, the main axis in the spine. Textural lines that depict the pattern of the surface are also structural lines.
In Estonian there is an interesting world juhtlõng (lead thread) the meaning of which may have become blurred in time and by shifting between fields of activity. For example, Adriadne’s thread may be depicted as a fine thread, but it indicates the main path through a labyrinth, and in the context of space, is a solutional main line. A story thread also indicates continuity, but characteristically it resembles a weave of fabric fibres that go here and there. The warp is often neutral and almost colourless, and the woven part twists around it giving it character. In Latin, the word for line is linea, and besides being defined as a line or connection, its other meanings include flax, or more generally fibre, which is the strong core of this seemingly delicate plant that can be made into a durable fabric. Linen fabric is always somewhat transparent, so that its fibres can be differentiated, and it wears thin rather than consolidating into felt. Therefore, it is always a lineated rather than a solid surface. Both Adriane’s thread and a plant’s veins combine the characteristics of fibre and a pathway, both of which are the historical basis of the line.

In Dutch the word for drawing is tekening, which is derived from the Greek word techne and is associated with knowledge acquired by practice. The derivatives of the same source word in the Romance languages (Italian disegno, Spanish dibujo, French dessin and Portuguese desenho) are related to construction, optimization and moulding in the design context.

On the other hand, drawings allows initially unrealised ideas to become visible – hanging gardens, floating houses, which may someday – in seconds or centuries – turn out to be executable.

In conclusion, structural lines are internal and boundaries are external; both form the structural basis for a composition at the conceptual level. In more laconic drawings, the whole develops from these lines, however, in the richer ones they are overshadowed by the networks of line depicting various surfaces. Therefore, a simplifying, “unfinished”, open and immediate drawing that leaves the train of thought visible is, in some sense, an intellectual concession to the viewer. Unlike a drawing densely shaded with structural lines or a text, in a fabric all the fibres are immediately perceivable like the rhythms and divisions that are the basis of a musical composition. The weave of a fabric and musical rhythm are characteristically abstract and clear. In the case of a dense visual, finding and following the most general structure, principle or main task can become more complicated. Therefore, a simplifying, unfinished, open and immediate drawing that leaves the train of thought visible is, in some sense, an intellectual concession to the viewer.

Margot Kask