A drawing a day. Intermittently posted here for your pleasure.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Dear friends,

When I began this project in August 2010, I intended to attempt drawing every day for a year. I remember how long that seemed, when I began... But like it says in the Tao Te Ching, "The thousand mile journey begins underfoot."
A day is a natural unit of time, unlike our human-made clock time. Ironically, for the last six years I've tied myself to human time, always knowing how far away midnight is. (My rule is, there has to be ink on the page by midnight.)
Over those 2281 days, I missed my deadline a total of once, towards the end of Year Three, when clock time got away on me.

For the first three years I uploaded every single drawing I made. Since August 2014 I've been only putting up the stuff I thought was good or interesting, & my work has changed a lot in that time... It's much more interesting now, to me at least. It's better to have some privacy, some space to play. To make every single thing visible to the entire Internet is a punishing schedule, & only leads to boring perfectionism.
For almost a year now I've been drawing without uploading. That state of affairs came about organically, but I decided to roll with it. It can be seen as an extension of the above idea: some private space to play. A kind of rest, not from doing the work, but from being seen.

I'm in the middle of changing the way I share my drawings. I'm looking forward to showing what I've been up to. Over the course of the last year I've been showing some older work instead, & talking about my processes. So in that spirit I thought I'd choose some of my favourite drawings of all time & say a little bit about each one. Starting at the start...

Dead magnolia II (09~09~2010, 5 p.m.)
Daily Drawing 35
I did this drawing within the first month. The magnolia is an important symbol for me because it flowers at my birthday, which has become also my drawing anniversary, my personal New Year.
Here the petals have fallen & the flower is turning towards rot. When I started the project I was interested in trying to talk about death. A lot of the drawings from the first year have to do with death, big death & the little deaths that happen every day. Transformation from one state into another.
Here I was falling in love with the brush- in the first flush of our ongoing love affair.

Whenua (16~10~2010, 11 p.m.)
Daily Drawing 80
The placenta fresh after birth. The cut cord. Some subjects are more sacred than others. The flesh, preciousness, transience. Drawn from a photo I took.
Drawing with the crow quill, a tiny nib. Hours of patient deep looking & subtle shading. I can get lost in the subtleties of tone. Deep trance. The whenua appears almost planetary to me, monumental, floating in space. The intricate sheathed double helix of the umbilical cord, the blood on the cloth. The veins radiating out like the branches of a tree. Draw exactly what you see & there's no need to think: the faithful form emerges.
I like the unfinished-ness. There's a story in it- what came first, what's most interesting. And a delicious tension between the deeply worked areas & the fine single line that delineates the outline. Like many of the very detailed drawings, it's hard to reproduce- it has to be seen in the flesh. That's another way it can be seen as protected, sacred.

The back of my head right now V (20~03~2011, 3 p.m.)
Daily Drawing 272
Of all subjects, portraiture is the most difficult. Of all portraits, self-portraiture is the most difficult. The human brain is so attuned to the features of another individual face that anyone can see, oh, this thing or that thing is wrong about the drawing. (Nevertheless, humans are my main interest, so I keep trying!) Trying to draw oneself, it's hard to even see does it have a LOOK of me, is it a bit right? So it's often hard to tell whether self-portraits are successful... I feel like I've only cracked it once or twice, out of hundreds of attempts.
So, sometimes, cunningly, I'll draw a person without drawing their face. This is fifth in the series 'The back of my head right now': my hair looked this way after swimming in the ocean, twisting it up still damp, & letting it down again to dry. So to me it holds a strong memory of my turangawaewae, Te Henga on the West Coast of Auckland, where I was living when I drew this.

Twelve glass eyes (06~08~2011, 3 p.m.)
Daily Drawing 438
Drawing this way is a kind of meditation, a measure twice, cut once way. I've compared it to walking a tightrope... There's also a feeling of an animal in harness, keeping a tight rein, bringing the attention back again & again to the minutiae of the subject at hand.
This was also a kind of meta-drawing, as a craftsperson had made these eyes, painted the glass eye very carefully to match the living eye. Why they all ended up in a velvet-lined box and not in someone's head, I couldn't say. There were about fifty or sixty & I chose twelve, one by one, giving each one close attention, laying them out systematically on the page. 
Going so deep into a drawing is like stepping into another space: everything falls away but the task at hand. Then the feeling at the end, when the drawing is finished, of stepping off the tightrope, zooming out, one looks & sees that one has done well, that's a good feeling.

Bird architecture (20~02~2012, 11 p.m.)
Daily Drawing 657
There's something I really like about leaving space. It took me a while to learn that it's more interesting not to delineate everything. By only showing parts of the whole, there's space for the eye to play. I'm such a lover of simplicity, & also it's easy to push a thing too far and ruin it. Often when a thing looks great, I'll stop. I like finding that line of legibility: making a kind of visual riddle.
I have great admiration for the work of birds and this is my little homage... To study the way the nest is woven, to try to draw some simplicity out of such complexity. It's a good way to understand things: by drawing them I pay close attention to each tiny aspect &  notice a lot of new things. Nature study, trying to bend my mind towards scientific precision.

Face- Detail (10~09~2012, 8 p.m.)
Journal Drawing 105
The roots of my daily drawing practice are in my writing journal, & sometimes I still draw in there in addition to my daily drawing. This one comes from out of that parallel archive.
This is a drawing of an ancient wood carving, pulled from an Irish bog. The simple cuts that make the features looked like they'd been chopped in with an axe. Sometimes in the process of drawing, something unexpected emerges. It can be a process of uncovering or discovering. A human face from the stylised wood. I can see different faces. Dead/undead. Beautiful/rotten. Like the warriors in the Mabinogion called back to half-life through the Cauldron of Rebirth.
My friend came in just as I was finishing, & said "That's pure horror."

C. in striped poncho- Detail (11~03~2013, 11 p.m.)
Daily Drawing 1067
Stripes! I'm obsessed with stripes because they render mass as line. Line is my favourite thing and in the form of stripes it acts like contour lines on a map, denoting shapes in the most minimal way. 
I have a friend who's obsessed with attempting to sculpt smiling faces. This is very difficult because a smile by its nature is fleeting and changeable- if it's held past the point when it's felt, the joy goes out of it & it just looks weird. I've also read that in terms of art history, the smile is a fairly modern expression. We have good teeth now, mostly. Thank Goddess for photography, also, that moment-snatcher...
Portraiture demands an attempt at absolute fidelity. The face shows whakapapa, heritage. Some people have what I think of as ancient faces... Look, & look again, measure carefully, to get a faithful likeness. Try to honour the living flesh, & the blood of the ancestors.

E. drawing (19~05~2013,  midnight)
Daily Drawing 1137
Whenever I see someone drawing, I try to draw them. There are other activities that keep people fairly still: watching a screen, reading, sleeping. But there's something particularly great about meta-drawing: drawing about the act of drawing. It's a Russian dolls thing.
Here is my niece drawing. I'm always so envious of the free art of kids, how they draw fully immersed in the moment, involved in the act more than the result, fearlessly. My drawings in comparison are stilted, precious, bound to the visible reality. Still: I like the looseness of this drawing, done quickly with a new kind of nib, that periodically made blots in the line. The composition also worked out particularly well. I can't control the composition too much, drawing with ink- it's a roll of the dice.
My niece is so like me, that here she can stand in for the little me, freely drawing.

R. in the Solstice Storm (21~06~2013, 8 p.m.)
Daily Drawing 1170
After the worst of the big storm was past, in the morning, me & R. stepped out the front door. For some reason R. brought with him the curtain that had hung in the front bedroom: rainbow over the Ark, sitting on the mountain. God showed Noah the rainbow sign, said No more water, but fire next time... Here he hoists it above his head as the wild wind attempts to snatch it away. 
I like in this drawing that there is a good quick likeness, that there is energy in the Swanndri, the way the ink is rainy & the wind fills the hood & the sail & the face. I can see the colour in the checks: red.
R. is a muse of mine: some people are endlessly fascinating to draw. I don't know what the qualities are that make it so. It's not just about beauty, or grace, or charm, it's something else, some deep life force.

Fawn (25~08~2013, 8 p.m.)
Daily Drawing 1240
Art... A thing is dead & also alive. An animal in a drawing can inhabit both states at once. There's ambiguity. Like a mammoth on a cave wall in charcoal- is it still alive? I've never seen a fawn lying still in the grass waiting for its Mother. This is the just the skin that one used to wear. But by some transmogrification suddenly it comes alive again... As alive as lines on a page can ever be, which is to say, by a kind of sleight-of-hand trick.
The ink here is Sennelier sepia, shellac based, which means it's made of squids, & beetles. Squid ink for the colour, beetle wings for the shine. Both the cephalopod & the red deer are important animals in my personal cosmology. On a less exalted note, this ink is difficult, & gums up pens & brushes like crazy, and goes viscous. That's life.
This was just at the beginning of the fourth year, when I had decided to allow myself colour, & words, & secrecy.

Cow skull at Mahalski's ossuarium (24~03~2014, 2 p.m.)
Daily Drawing 1456
Generally, I find it hard to knuckle down & actually begin... That's one reason I gave myself this daily deadline in the first place. Pretty often I stretch it out, waiting til the last minute, 11 p.m., or midnight, then when there's really no choice any more I have to choose subject matter, & begin. This is one of those rare moments I felt inspired in the day, drawing in the charnel house next door, with the sun on my back & buzzing flies and Talking Heads or The Smiths on the stereo, & industrious silent companionship of another artist working. (I'm usually a secretive lone wolf, & I especially hate it when people try to look over my shoulder while I work, or talk to me- it's literally impossible to talk & draw at the same time...)
I like how the skull is still a face looking back. I've held a human skull in my hand & it's just the same: an individual face, still. It feels like cupping someone's living head in your hand to kiss them.
And I like how when you throw a few inkwash shadows down, the thing pops suddenly into three-dimensionality.

Past full moons that I COULD see (15~04~2014, 10 p.m.)
Daily Drawing 1478
It must have been a supermoon, or something, a moon that I was anticipating more than usual. There's a pissy tone to that title. Drawing about the hidden moon by letting other full moons from the archives stand in for it.
Ink lends itself to certain allusions, certain associations, for instance Japanese and Chinese brush painting, or in this case, comix art. I love the narrative implied just by putting things in boxes: somehow containing an image changes its meaning. It's a quite different kind of listing than the gridding of like objects (As in the glass eyes, above...) I think because it implies time as well as space. Inside a small box, things have to be simplified. Because it's a small box, it's easy to fill it with dense strokes quickly and make interesting juxtapositions of texture. Also, a circle inside a square is an interesting compositional proposition.
Looking now, I see something elemental unconsciously woven in: That's me doubled in the top panel, looking like a Rapa Nui head (Human, made of Earth.) In the second panel, the moon rises over my neighbourhood and throws its light on the sea (Water). In the third, a person stands by a fire to keep warm in the Winter night (Fire). And lastly, Marama herself hangs floating in space (Air).

Sleeping dogs lie (01~09~2014, 8 p.m.)
Daily Drawing 1619
When a thing has to be quick it has to be simple... There's no knowing how long a sleeper will sleep, especially an animal, who has an inbuilt unease of being stared at, so there's a particular feeling of precious urgency, focused like light through a prism, looking hard, drawing fast, praying noone will come and disturb us. Almost forgetting to breathe. The world narrows down. Nothing seems more important than the moment.
Then when you have it quickly down before he gets up & stretches & wanders off... Sweet grace of timing. That's drawing distilled to its hard core, the single mind, the victory over time & space.

E. at the Bunker (29~10~2014, midnight)
Daily Drawing 1677
Usually I'm very shy about being watched while I draw. There are two reasons: when I'm drawing, I'm not really present, I'm in a trance, almost. It just happens that way. So I feel shy about people looking at me while I can't be properly aware of them in return. Secondly, there's a superstitious feeling- the balancing act is so precarious, that even someone else's energy directed at my work while I'm doing it, can make me feel like the whole thing could tip over. Fear of fucking up, I guess.
But sometimes, once in a while, it's possible to pull off the party trick, to sit down then & there and bust out something almost perfect, to catch a piece of someone in a few quick lines on a page. It feels kind of like pulling a kicking baby rabbit out of my sleeve. Can you see that her hair is green?

Windfall persimmon (03~05~2015, 9 p.m.)
Daily Drawing 1869
Marcus Aurelius says: "When bread is baked some parts are split at the surface, & these parts which thus open, & have a certain fashion contrary to the purpose of the baker's art, are beautiful in a manner, & in a peculiar way excite a desire for eating. And again, figs, when they are quite ripe, gape open; & in the ripe olives the very circumstance of their being near to rottenness adds a peculiar beauty to the fruit..."
There was a persimmon tree, & they were the old-fashioned kind of persimmon, that turns your mouth inside out with astringency until they're so ripe as to be nearly rotten. But the birds seemed to be immune to that, & the whole tree was a bird city, alive with feasting & noise. I spent a lot of time watching them. This fruit is the key to that whole tree full of birds. They're all inside there.
I like the line here: it's a living line, quick & variable.

L. poses (30~06~2015, 9 p.m.)
Daily Drawing 1936
I reckon this is a good example of my modern style, the wave I'm still riding now. As a counterpoint to my early obsession with precision, liking then the very fine point of a brand new brush, I became suddenly addicted to my oldest, most fucked brush, the end of which was basically a big blunt instrument. No fine detail possible. One's forced to stylise to the extreme. I've noticed in the work of other 'daily' artists (For instance James Kochalka, American Elf) that as time passes the style gets stripped back and simplified, pared down to the essential elements. I like this process... It's paradoxical, but it's actually more difficult to draw this way, a roll of the dice, pure speed. I can pretty much always tell as soon as I begin whether it's going to work out, but there's always potential for a ruinous mistake, too.
This one is from my 'men & boys' period. I like to draw men, it's a female gaze thing. (Draw me, he said, & took this Odalisque pose!) A man drawing a woman is a dead idea, done to death, but a woman drawing a man is very interesting to me.

On the rag (04~09~2015, 1 p.m.)
Daily Drawing 2001
I was watching the documentary movie about Robert Crumb as I drew this, & it's both an homage and a riposte. Technically it's a kind of attempt to riff off his real chunky hatching style. Ideologically, a response to his imagery about women's bodies (from the outside). I really dig much of his work, he's basically worshipping the Goddess. But there's this thing where when one is a woman, a whole lot of culture is kind of- alienating. Hard to relate to, male gaze & all that. (See above about drawing men & the female gaze...) It's interesting to inhabit a women's body... It makes the art I make political by default, especially work about my body.
I find it interesting too how the signifier of blood is 'red'- so that when, as here, blood is rendered in black and white, it changes the effect.
Taboo protects power. Something so commonplace, so familiar to womankind, yet even in our times, still vested with such shock value, such magickal force.

Eel whisperer (10~10~2015,  3 p.m.)
Daily Drawing 2038
Empty space is a beautiful thing. I like things to be spacious, minimal... Here the space stands for water, but the eels could equally well be swimming in (& the person be standing on a bridge over) the void.
I'm a big eel fan, they appear in my dreams very often. They're such otherwordly creatures, Underwordly even, carrion-eaters, slimy, snake-shaped, electrosensory, dark water dwellers. But so graceful and beautiful.
Daily drawing means drawing every day, but it also means drawing ABOUT my day. I often try to draw something I saw, or something that happened that day. That feels the most satisfying to me, to tell a story about my day. Sometimes it can seem like a frame from a film, or a panel from a comic... A fragment of narrative that hopefully conveys something of the whole.

A hand (26~10~2015, 10 p.m.)
Daily Drawing 2054
That mighty instrument, the human hand!
In all joking seriousness... Thank you, ancestors, for my body. Thank you, Goddess, for my hand & for my eye. Thank you, Mum, for the art supplies. Thank you to all my teachers, alive & dead. Thank you to all the people who let me draw them, & to all the people who encouraged me on my path. Thank you to all my artist friends, who understand what it is to pull something out of nothing.


Nineteen drawings out of more than 2000! There were many more I could have chosen, many more things I could have talked about... The drawings that I personally like the most are often the most technically accomplished ones- the ones that I think are 'perfect': but those might not be the ones that are most interesting to other people. (Still, as I sometimes remind myself, this is my project & I can do whatever I want with it! If you want to see the ones I didn't choose, the rest of my drawings best-of can be found here:

Sometimes I think of my daily practice as a spine, a backbone to my life: everything else can fall away or change, but I know that this is the thing I do every day. In pain, in love, quickly & impatiently, or deeply & lovingly, today & today & today in an unbroken chain. And yet: it's a little thing, a little piece of work every day, maybe half an hour on average. In this way I take small bites. It's not an exaggeration to say that this practice has changed my life and has changed me in totally magickal & unforeseeable ways. The way I think, the way I see, the way I identify, are all bound up in it.

The naturalist John Burroughs put it this way: "The lesson which life repeats & constantly enforces is LOOK UNDERFOOT. You are always nearer the divine & the true sources of your power than you think. The lure of the distant & the difficult is deceptive. The great opportunity is where you are. Do not despise your own place & hour. Every place is under the stars, every place is the centre of the world."