IN PROGRESS : THE HISTORY OF 'THE DESCENT'

Even before it was begun, I knew I wanted to create a drawing with ink on paper and also how large it was going to be. It was not clear though whether I would finish it in black and white, or whether I would add watercolour or, eventually, digital colour to it.
Still, there are some fixed elements in my process:

First of all: the paper.
My favourite paper is Arches Watercolour hot pressed 300 g-140lb. I use this paper for pencil, pen and watercolour and it has never caused any problems. Its main drawback is that the 56x76cm sheets have oversized watermarks on either long side, limiting the workable surface far too much. It also exists in blocks of various sizes and in rolls. The blocks do not have watermarks but are limited in size, and the rolls must be flattened for months before the paper can be used, or it must be glued to some support like masonite.
Because I have the habit to decide before I begin how large something is going to be, and the decided size was 605 x 440 mm, I knew a sheet would be ok.

Next: the ink.
I have always used Rotring Rapidograph .13mm pens. For larger sizes, Isographs and Staedtler pens are best ok, but the Rapidograph nib has a retractable wire which, in the case of the .13mm, takes care that the ink does not dry in the tube. Yet:
Whilst working, I experienced once again problems with the pens, a tendency to be irregular in flow and also the risk of blobs - I was very lucky to be able to avoid a blob twice. Because being forced to be constantly on my guard interferes with the creative process, I decided to try out somefine-liners, noy yet on this work, but just to test them..

The first thing I do is draw the rectangle I want the work to grow in. I do this with the same pen I will be drawing with. No plan has been made, and in this case I haven't got the slightest idea what is going to come, but whatever it may be, it is welcome. So I begin by drawing lines. This is a very intense phase because I may not consciously interfere with what is happening. In fact, I may not be really conscious about what happens because the moment I would recognise something or 'see' something in what is done, I might begin to suggest it, or remember it, and the flow would be disturbed. Still, I have to be consciously inside the drawing process. As you can observe in the detail I a do not draw uninterrupted lines like one would with, say, a pencil. All lines are stippled or are made up of short lines. (see ill 1: enlarged detail)
The reason is a technical one: when I begin the shading, an uninterrupted line would be a hard contour line. To break it, I would be forced to go to absolute black. I will very probably go to absolute black, but this must happen near the end, when and where I have decided for it. But this may not be forced upon me from the very first start. I prefer to begin with as soft outlines as possible and later on , by making some sharper, add local clarity. Rounder shapes should get more blurred outlines, sharper angles need sharper ones. This makes the result more realistic, whatever the subject, by giving the impression two eyes are used instead of one.

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This first lines phase can take several days. It depends on the natural rhythm of the process that manifests itself so as it were through me. In this work, I use only pen. When, with some other work, I need more recognisable shapes like, say, a human being, a face,... anything more recognisable...I do tend to start with a sketching and pencil lines. But for as far as the energy patterns are concerned, pen is sufficient. Whilst drawing the lines, the desire rises in me to start 'drawing', to be a more active part in what is happening. Usually I do not completely fill the surface with lines and leave certain areas open. This is not in the first place because I grow too impatient but because it adds to the tension. On the lower side of this specific work, you can observe a larger part that is left untouched untill the very end phase. It will be left it in this state untill the work has become more visible to me, untill I have an idea about lights and darks and the general balance of the result. Untill the, so as to say, crystalisation process has progressed much further.

Whilst detailing and shading, I first have to choose where the light comes from and add shadow to every shape with respecting the direction of the light. It also becomes clear to me that this will normally stay in black and white. How do I know? Well, there are two main indications:

1/ when I want to add colour, watercolour, I may not go to zones of greys as dark as I do here, because the dark grey would/will interfere too much with the colour and deaden it, and
2/ when I want to colour, it is better to leave more structure and not go as deep into refining the gradient as I do here.

Of course there is always another option, and that is to use really subdued colours that make use of the already present darks. You can also observe that I do not 'knit'. 'Knitting' in drawing-speak means beginning in, say, the top left corner and finishing at the bottom right. The crystallisation process happens a bit everywhere, which happens in finding the right balance between lights and dark, and also between the fineness of local shapes and texture. In every local detail, the global work must be kept in mind, not as how it must become, but how it can possibly evolve.

I like to consider myself a kind of visual composer - for this kind of work, Giacinto Scelsi comes to mind - starting with a theme, then a second one, a third one and so on, and some of these themes grow together an start to form what ultimately becomes a complex work. To go deeper into the comparison with music, most pen drawings can be compared to harpsichord music in that there is little or no variation in the linework - loudness of the instrument. I try to use pen more like a piano and use softer transitions. Not by lines that are less dark than others, or that are thicker or thinner, but by the way shapes are built up by intricate but chaotic networks of fine lines.

Due to technical problems with my studio lights, the photographs are unevenly lit. My apologies.

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The way it looks at this stage is chaotic and unfocused. To me, this is normal and I am used to it. Now I can begin guiding the attention and work on the aesthetic aspect. This is done by concentrating the light. As it is not possible to make anything brighter than the off-white of the paper, I have to darken where I don't want to focus on. I call this 'putting out the lights'

This time, instead of using the usual Rotring Rapidograph .13, I used fine liners. I tried a few brands before taking the risk and the ones that harmonise best with my Arches Watercolour Hot Pressed paper are the UniPin Fine Line series by Mitsubishi Pencil. Mind: I am only speaking for myself here! You, of course, have to make your own choice. The Winsor and Newtons were also good but felt a bit awkward in my hands, and the Staedlers were at once a bit translucent and the ink spill a bit too enthusiastic for my way of working with this paper. So I chose UniPins because they fit well into my hands and seem to be water and fade proof. The ones I use are 0.10, 0.05 and 0.03. The 0.10 is a bit thicker than the Rotring .13 but is good to put dark accents, the 0..5 is the main one that replaces the Rotring perfectly, and the 0.03 is even finer and perfectly fit for super fine details and also for smaller works. In case you're interested in trying them yourself: do take into account that I already had to take a second 0.05 one for this size of drawing, so do get a few in reserve.

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After that previous phase, the work had to rest a while because I needed a more distant view of it before I could continue. How long this rest takes is not fixed. The moment comes I look at it and feel the desire to continue because I see this local grey or that detail that I want to improve. Once this last step has been taken, I tend not to wait and bring it to my site. The reason is that once it is publicly visible, I can also see it as an onlooker and find some last details I could change.

At this moment, I consider the black and white work done. I added five larger than life details to the work's page in Gallery VII. I still muse on adding some colour, butI am not shure when, or what.

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