What to Consider When Doing Your Imagination Drawing Assignment
Seeking Inspiration on Your Imagination Drawing
The Crocodile from a twelfth century bestiary. University Library, Cambridge
Drawing is by no means such a simple matter as filling a million sheets of good-quality paper with black lead; it is more a matter of exploring the inner world. And, of course, this is bound up with attitude. One of the most pertinent of experiments you can make at this stage is to find out whether you draw best from imagination or from life. As I have said, imagination and life are compounded together, too tangled in the basic fabric of our nature to be neatly severed, yet if we leave metaphysics aside, we do find two worlds interpenetrating- the world outside, and the world inside. Visual examples will demonstrate what I mean; we may take the nude by Stevens (plate 48) as representing a study of the outer world, and the drawing of Grosz (plate 79) as representing a study of the inner world.
Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893) illustrations to Byron's poem The Prisoner of Chillon wood engraving. The British Museum
A good example of the artist who would rely on the outside world for his inspiration was Ford Madox Brown, who never drew anything without a careful study of models. He is reputed to have spent three days in a morgue, studying the decomposition of bodies in order to achieve greater veracity in his one dead man in the illustration to Byron's poem The Prisoner of Chillon (plate 89). The thing about this picture is not that the dead man is more horrific, or even more realistically 'dead' than other drawings of dead people - those of Goya, for instance - but that Madox Brown felt the need to study from life in this way. He needed the outlet of reality, the contact of the outer world as a prop for his work. Again, he made his studies for his famous painting, The Last of England out of doors on a severely cold day in winter so that his models (poor things) would have 'the blue appearance that flesh assumes under such conditions'.
Tenniel, his contemporary, also illustrated poetry, yet he never worked from a model in his life. He drew purely on his own imagination, even for realistic details, since he no more needed to look at the life around him, he boasted, 'than a mathematician would need a multiplication table to work out some problem! Perhaps a fairer comparison for Tenniel's 'imaginative work' is with Arthur Rackham, as they both illustrated the same scenes from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. While Tenniel worked from imagina- tion, consulting a photograph of Alice Liddell (the original Alice) only on the insistence of Lewis Carroll, Rackham felt compelled to work from life in great detail. He actually hired a little girl to pose for his Alice throughout the whole series, and for one particular scene a long table was set up on the lawn of his Hampstead house, the table being set with cutlery from Rackham's own kitchen. His model remembered sitting in a particularly large chair, which was carefully reproduced in the illustration, and she also remembered asking Rackham if he was going to break a cup when he illustrated the scene where the Duchess throws crockery around.
Canaletto (1697-1768) The Lower Reaches of the Grand Canal, Venice pen and ink. Royal Collection, Windsor Castle. By gracious permission of H.M. the Queen
Rackham replied that he had already broken a few, and therefore knew what they looked like! Tenniel arrived at his illustration by way of imagination, while Rackham arrived at his by way of a detailed analysis and reliance on life - yet there was no fundamental difference between the two illustrations. This only goes to show that it does not matter greatly which of the two worlds you prefer to live in- the worlds of imagination and of reality point very often to the one end.
Be Specific On the Areas You Want To Cover
Obviously, the best way to find which of the two worlds is more suited to your own temperament is to try both. The main requirement for this experiment is that you should like the subject you choose to draw - it might be a plant, a car, or a busy street scene, but you must feel some real urge to draw it. Use a pen and draw quickly, working directly from the model. Try to finish the drawing in a couple of hours, involving yourself with the feeling of the scene or subject you have chosen, in the way that Canaletto caught the feeling of the Grand Canal (plate 90). Next you must forget altogether about drawing from life, and you must work from imagination. The subject must be the same as the one you drew from life, but here the connection ends.
Fred Gettings, card print of simple shape
If you drew a landscape before, then you must try to imagine a very exotic landscape now - perhaps a landscape which is little better than an organic structure (plate 91), or one which is filled with flying dragons, and so on. Perhaps your street scene would be transformed into an imaginative reconstruction' like the pen illustration by Robin Laurie (plate 93): it doesn't matter how far removed from reality your imaginative drawing is, provided that it springs entirely from your imagination.
The measure by which we are going to judge the experiment we have just conducted is not the drawings themselves - these may be thrown away if you feel so inclined. The measure is the degree to which you enjoyed doing the different kinds of drawing. Did you feel happier drawing directly from life, with the visual stimuli as a crutch for your work, in the manner of Madox Brown, or did you feel happier drawing directly from imagination, without that unfortunate interference of reality, in the spirit of Tenniel? Only you can decide for yourself, and your decision will determine the direction which your work will take.
Robin Laurie Street Scene 1968, pen and ink. Author's collection
It is clear that we should conduct one or two practical experiments with the idea of looking into our own imagination. We have already seen something of the difficulty we face in trying to create something new; in trying to produce something exciting purely from ourselves, and our earlier experiments with calligraphy confirmed this. There are only two real ways to deal with this problem: one is to attempt to develop an innocence of vision, so that your drawings seem to flow directly from your subconscious, with almost no interference from the conscious mind; the other way is to accept the weakness of the imagination and to take some crutch to help you along.
Looking For Help to Aid Imagination
There are many devices which one may use to aid the imagination. In the discussion on inventing calligraphic forms on page 12 is a series of abstract symbols (plate 10) which had been made as part of an experiment. These were drawn with the aid of a graphic crutch. First of all I designed a single abstract shape as a card print (plate 92). Then I drew a circle on a sheet of tracing paper and lined a diameter through it. Into one of the semicircles I then traced a portion of the abstract shape. I completed the other half of the circle in a similar manner, using a quite different area of the basic form, and then I painted in the areas with a brush. You may trace the sources of the five graphic calligraphic forms which I evolved by examining this single abstract form. As a practical exercise you might try to evolve five or six such abstract graphics in a similar manner preferably having invented your own basic graphic first.
Fred Gettings, three graphic experiments, 1968, pen, pencil and collage
One other device for evolving abstract figures is to cut up magazines and select interesting areas where the scissors have sliced into the typography or pictures, as in the three reproductions in plate 94. The pen and pencil drawings were interpretative tracings of the accidental patterns left on the word James cut from a woman's magazine. I had drawn the five letters on one side of the magazine, and then cut them out so that the images and shapes on the other side were made entirely at random. When these random shapes were stuck down, the five letters were, of course, reversed, yet they revealed an exciting conglomeration of patterns, textures and details. On one of the letters (the reversed a) you can see the hair and eyes of a young woman, on another (the reversed J) the fragments of a word. If you compare the areas of the collage with the drawn interpretation, which is tied down to an oblong structure, you will see how useful this method is for 'inventing' abstract forms. These designs were used as the basis for lithographic and card prints.
More independent graphic exercises can be set by examining some relatively uncommon object, and drawing a reasonably free interpretation of it. The abstract structure in plate 91, which was partly an exercise in free pen work, and partly an attempt to construct a form which was a 'living landscape', was based on a seventeenth century print of part of an insect's body. You could try similar experiments by constructing an organic form based on photographic enlargements of micro-organisms from manuals on the micro- scope or on biology. Your work should not be a slavish copy, but a free graphic parallel, which succeeds in uniting the actual technique of drawing with the flow of strange forms in order to catch the sense of 'presence' or 'life' in the object itself. The attitude behind this form of drawing is summed up in the Chinese image, 'a single brush stroke covers a thousand miles'.