I started drawing on the computer in 2005. Previous to that, most of my work had been about finding lines in nature; the contours of leaves, the ripples on rivers, the edges of overlapping hills. Although I was using traditional art materials, I prepared the canvases with slicker and slicker surfaces so that the lines wouldn’t soak into the background but sit on top, preserving the nuances of my hand. I thought of the drawings as photographic, in the diaristic sense of recording moments of time. I enjoyed the easy correspondence of the endless novelty of line in these natural forms and the endless variety of line created by my hand. I couldn’t draw the same leaf twice so my subject and process were well matched.
I had the idea to draw every leaf of a tree, but I struggled with the scale and complexity of the subject. How does one bring a tree indoors? How can one see the whole tree and its individual parts simultaneously? I tried traditional strategies and materials but the results were unsatisfactory. I wondered if it would be possible to make the drawing on a computer. Since everything… music, photos, movies & books were being digitized, what about drawing? I wasn’t interested in computer graphics per se, but sought to “dumb down” the computer and use it as a repository for simple line drawings. In the program I use, Adobe Illustrator, lines are called “paths”… an apt name since the line exists at no set scale or color. Only later do I assign the attributes of color and thickness.
Taking my laptop outdoors, I drew my first tree “en plein air.” Using a digital tablet and pen, I drew simple contours of the leaves and branches. Having these drawings remain in digital form rather than in physical form, opened up interesting possibilities and enabled me to tackle the complexity of a tree in intriguing ways. My lines were free and separate from the background and from each other. I drew the branches individually and then later, I could cobble them together to reconstitute the whole tree. On the screen, I could zoom in and out and draw at different scales simultaneously. I could zoom out to draw a simple contour of the entire trunk and then zoom in to draw the smallest leaf with equal effort. I drew in layers so that as the drawings accumulated I could turn layers “off” so that they wouldn’t obscure subsequent layers. These two novelties, drawing at different scales simultaneously and making parts of the drawing invisible to allow for work on top or behind previous drawings, allowed for the accumulation of hundreds of simple outlines to create a dizzying visual complexity.
Subsequent trees I drew from photographs. I would take hundreds of close-ups of a tree from a single point of view and then stitch all of these close ups together on the computer. Sometimes I photographed the same tree in the summer and then in the fall after it lost its leaves. This allowed me to see and draw all of the branches and limbs unadorned and unobscured. I would draw the tree twice, with and without leaves, merging the two drawings into one document. In this way, the drawings comprise and compress great spans of looking over vast time frames and seemingly contradictory close-up and distant points of view.
My digital drawings have been outputted in different ways… mostly as photographs printed directly from the digital file or as an archival inkjet print. The results defy easy categorization. Is it a drawing, or a print? (Or camera-less photography?) The digital drawings liken to traditional drawings since they are drawn by hand, but also to prints for their reproducibility. They share photographic qualities in their delay between their creation and appearance in a physical form.
I tend to work and think in dialectic, pitching opposites to heighten effect…. the natural and the made, the traditional and the novel, the digital and the analogue. My last show of roses, entitled “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,” after Gertrude Stein’s quote, plays with the idea of the hackneyed and the precious, the generalized and the specific. The flowers are not scrutinized more than the stems; my gaze does not linger in the center more than the periphery, or even the front of the plant more than the back. My artistic practice attempts to conflate the mindfulness of looking with the unemotional nature of digital information; a flickering between the unblinking digital eye and the heart.