Kind of a bad few weeks here at Castle Cakebreath. Lots of thinking happening, lots of production happening, but frustration and learning curves a-go-go have been making things particularly difficult. That’s probably not a bad thing, just a scary thing.
Anyway! To get away from all the confusion, here is a bad photograph of a ‘good’ drawing of a monkey I did today:
It’s been months since I have actually drawn anything of substance … this was quite a nice exercise. Helping me think about the different reasons you can draw. For me, drawing is partially about learning about a subject (be that an object or a concept or something in between the two), partially about explaining a subject to other people (and this can be on many different levels … the emotions associated with an artefact … how a thing exists in space in relation to other things, a diagrammatic or anatomical breakdown explaining how it is constructed, a map, a metaphor for the thing you are trying to explain, etc etc etc), partially an exercise of pure skill, partially a physical act to revel in, partially a veneer of aesthetic sensibility and a certain self-awareness in ‘product value’ if you’re talking about an illustration (particularly one you’re getting paid to do). It’s a complicated, many-splintered thing and a powerful way of expressing ideas, providing you know the language and the implications of using it. I could go on, but maybe we’re getting a bit too deep for this blog.
So back to this monkey. The drawing was from a photo I took yesterday whilst pondering my reasons for doing what I do, sitting in the natural history room of the Horniman Museum in South London. Here’s the photo:
This white-handed gibbon is one stuffed animal in a whole room stuffed with cabinets stuffed full with them. They are anatomical illustrations of animals, meant (I assume) to be superior learning aids, being more ‘real’ than photographs or illustrations. Thing is, they themselves are only really approximations of the animals they once were … doesn’t matter how well you stuff a monkey, it’s still dead. You won’t be able to evoke the emotions associated with seeing that wild animal for real. Still, a dead stuffed monkey is probably better than no monkey at all.
Of course, as soon as I take a picture of that dead monkey I am changing that information about the original live monkey again. If I draw a picture from that photo, we’re now potentially so far away from that original creature that it’s lost all of its original essence and become something unrecognisable. It’s sort of like a game of chinese whispers. Things get misread and come out in unexpected ways. You could see this as a bad thing but I guess it’s quite interesting, especially when you are aware of it and start trying to manipulate it. Thinking about the emotions and associations you want to try and retain in that drawing, and the things that you can try and diminish.
The thing that got me about that dead monkey was how sad and stiff it looked compared to the flexible, long-limbed gibbon beastie it should have been when it was in the wild about a hundred years ago. Again, the bad photo of the drawing I have shown you guys up top doesn’t actually show what it was I was trying to do whilst I was drawing, but it was an attempt at trying to show how rigid and awkward a dead monkey in a glass case is. It’s only a first attempt … but very pertinent to what I am thinking about at the moment. Particularly when you translate all this first-hand information gathering into another format like a print or an animation.
Not got to the bottom of all of this yet. Don’t think I ever will, but that’s kind of the point. Exciting, terrifying stuff.