6 February 2013

On drawing.

It has been two years this month since I picked up a paint brush. 

 For two years or more before that I had been finding oil painting increasingly confusing.   Nothing pleased me.  At times the multiplicity of choices - brush, colour, tone, surface, subject and so on - had, without exaggeration, begun to make me feel schizophrenic.  It's very hard to renounce something one has loved and practised for so long, something so bound to one's identity but it gets to the point where if you can't stop it, it will.  I just could not complete a painting. 

Possibly the only really useful piece of advice I was given at art school was along the lines of; when you get stuck, draw! But draw intelligently.  And so I cleared all the canvases and paints out of the studio and started to draw and draw, and draw.  It turned out to be completely magical and rather healing.  Carrying so much less expectation than painting, burdened by fewer choices - there is only the black of the charcoal and the white of the paper - to just draw is a massive relief.

And I found this fragment from John Berger which sums it all up:

"Image-making begins with interrogating appearances and making marks.  Every artist discovers that drawing - when it is an urgent activity - is a two-way process.  To draw is not only to measure and put down, it is also to receive.  When the intensity of looking reaches an intensity of a certain degree, one becomes aware of an equally intense energy coming towards one, through the appearance of whatever it is one is scrutinising.  Giacometti's life's work is a demonstration of this.

The encounter of these two energies, their dialogue, does not have the form of question and answer.  It is a ferocious and unarticulated dialogue.  To sustain it requires faith.  It is like burrowing in the dark, a burrowing under the apparent. The great images occur when the two tunnels meet and join perfectly.  Sometimes when the dialogue is swift, almost instantaneous, it is like something thrown and caught.

I offer no explanation for this experience.  I simply believe very few artist will deny it.  It's a professional secret.

John Berger 1987

Charcoal sketch of a dead wren. Sarah Gillespie 2012


  1. Your post came at just the right moment! I have stopped painting and am 'stuck', so what you have to say is so pertinent. Thank you! Jane

  2. and what beautiful drawings Sarah,

  3. Dear Sarah,
    Thank you for sharing this process, which is so delicate and accurate.
    John Berger's citation is beautiful.
    You might like to read and perhaps download an essay I wrote about the spiritual and emotional of art materials in the process of making art. As an artist and therapist I am always looking for texts on this subject, as they are rare. http://nonaorbach.com/eng.html

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  5. Hi Sarah,
    I have been admiring your charcoal drawings online at the Beaux Arts site (I also have some work hanging there at present). They are extrordinary as far as I can tell on the screen.
    It is like you say quite a sacrifice to caste out the paints but the discipline has obviously given you the necessary focus to achieve great things.
    Drawing is the way in and in my view a necessary part of the process of any artist producing visual work. It is many things including the way by which we test out our ideas to see what works and what fails. It's a way to get close to a subject and close to an understanding of that subject.
    Then again the same can be said about painting and I do know a very accomplished painter who insists he never sketches.
    Like you also say, it's all very confusing.

  6. Thank you Jane, Sarah, Nona, Wieczora and Chris for your thoughtful comments. This post was a hard one to write, so very grateful for such feedback. Sarah.


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