Provocation 4: How materials and tools hide from view.

Last week’s constellation session made me more aware of how the way I create my work is shaped and changed by the tools I use. In order to analyse this further I created two drawings using my two favourite implements of the moment; a regular pencil on paper, and an Apple Pencil in tandem with Adobe Draw on iPad Pro.

A regular pencil as you might expect is softer and looser, you can shade and create a sense of depth but it can be incredibly limiting especially if you’re drawing on a small scale. I increase pressure when I want something to be darker, adjust my wrist to make marks with the very tip of the pencil if I want something to be more precise, use the very edge of the graphite if I want to create shade; these tiny micro-movements come incredibly naturally without thought as my body works in tandem with the pencil as if it’s an extension of my hand. As Bateson acknowledges this “self-corrective (i.e., mental) process is brought about by a total system…” in this case; paper-eyes-brain-muscles-pencil-mark. (Or even as my practice involves another unsung tool; paper-glasses-eyes-brain-muscles-pencil-mark). The only time I become aware there’s a pencil there making the mark is when it’s blunt and can no longer be depended on to make the marks I rely on it to make (similarly I only notice my glasses are there when they need cleaning or it rains), it then requires sharpening so the system can resume. The fact we only appreciate a tools function when it can no longer perform it is only further evidence that tools are essentially an extension of the body, we notice how much our muscles move when we pull one, we notice how often we turn our head when we wake up with a bad neck; “When an axe of sheath knife is being used, the skilled user does not think of the hand and the tool as different and detached entities: the tool has grown to be a part of the hand.”, (Pallassmaa, 2009) and the same rings true for drawing implements.

The Apple Pencil is an incredible feat of technology in the sense it can function so much like a regular pencil or pen in the way it can digitally translate those micro movements of the hand and wrist. However the work I produce with the Apple Pencil is a world away from the work I produce with an ordinary pencil. There is a wealth of programmes and applications that work in tandem with the Apple Pencil to create a dramatic range of styles an effects. In that way the thing we’re drawing onto is much more heavily involved than pencil on paper. Imagine if paper came alive and asked you if you wanted to change the colour of the pencil or change it to ink or watercolour or charcoal or zoom in to create greater detail. I could very easily use the Apple Pencil with all the settings that allow it to function as an ordinary pencil, but because it can do so much more I choose not to. I zoom my drawings right in to create depth and detail, I keep my lines clean and graphic in a ways it’s hard to do with non-digital tools. The possibilities of the tool I’m using shapes the aesthetic choices I make. And this is all just as true when I pick up a paintbrush and canvas.

 

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