Working Process

“Working process, or approach, is another important issue for artists, and the balance of preplanning and spontaneity is something to consider. Some artists know what the outcome will be before beginning their drawings and other artists make most of their decisions during the process of drawing. Visualizing the working process and preparing for it are extremely important, but there can be a vital role for discovery and creative accident once the work has begun. Qualities of marks such as degree of expressiveness or refinement in a finished drawing can reveal a sense of the artist’s process, but more than mark-making must be considered in determining the artist’s balance of planned or spontaneous process.


In looking at a drawing, ask yourself some questions about its formation. Is the drawing a spontaneous first response to a visual or mental stimulus, or does it seem to be the result of numerous sketches and much prior planning of compositional ideas? Did the artist develop the piece intuitively, feeling his or her way as the drawing involved, taking the lead from the act of making the drawing itself? Or did the artist work more deductively and deliberately, controlling the outcome from the beginning? What is the balance between rational thought and spontaneous action? Think about your own inclinations and drawing.”

Frank Auerbach, Head of E.O.W, 1959-1960

Artists may work in a variety of modes from the purely spontaneous to the purely systematic. In our site-specific work, we will be systematic in our research, seeking out information about artists whose drawings relate to spaces and information about the site (its uses and purposes, it's location in time and space, etc.). Based upon research, we will identify materials and imagery that are relevant to the process of drawing into the space itself.


Consider this description of the process by the British artist Frank Auerbach. The content (or meaning) of his work is derived from both his choice of subject matter (human portraits) and his drawing process.


“…the viewer immediately senses an intuitive, passionate process that was not preplanned. As he developed the drawing, Auerbach responded to the subject and to the marks building up on the paper. Art critic and writer Robert Hughes described his experience of sitting for a portrait: ‘The work of drawing begins. Auerbach has a sheet of paper, or rather two sheets glued together, ready on the easel. The paper is stout rag, almost as thick as elephant hide, resistant to the incessant rubbing out that will go on for days and weeks. As he scribbles and saws at the paper the sticks of willow charcoal snap; they make cracking sounds like a tooth breaking on a bone. When he scrubs the paper with a rag, clouds of black dust fly. An hour into the sitting, the sitter blows his nose and finds his snot is black. The studio is like a colliery; the drawings easel is black and exquisitely glossy from years of carbon dust mixed with hand grease. Auerbach works on the balls of his feet, balance like a welterweight boxer, darting in and out… Through the next 12 sittings… this creature will mutate, becoming dense and troll-like one day and dissolving in furioso another, eye contact almost obliterated in a third as the mass of the face is lost in a welter of hooking lines and zigzag white scribbles of the eraser.’


“As Auerbach pulled the image out of the paper, his real subject was the drawing process: the relationship of marks to marks, marks to tone, tones to tones, and so on. Certainly, tones and marks refer to the head’s structure but simultaneously they are records of process: a cycle of drawing, erasing, drawing, rubbing, creating layers of tones and slashing energetic marks; all built, torn away and rebuilt. In other words the drawing is an active expression tied to observation and the marks have a dual role to play: one in their description of the subject, and the other as a record of the gesture of Auerbach's hand. The sense of frenzied, responsive process helps determine the drawing’s meaning. Requiring up to 40 settings from his portrait subjects, Auerbach said, "I can do something that looks like one of my drawings in half an hour – but I find it unsatisfactory; it never seems specific enough for me, it never seems to be new enough. So I find myself going on… And as I go on I find the problem more and more impossible, and because, I suppose, of my temperament I find myself behaving in an excessive way in order to solve the problem." He also said, "to do something predicted doesn't seem to be worth doing at all… But to do something both unforeseen and true to a specific fact seems to me to be very exciting."


“After working on a drawing for days, Auerbach arrived at a drawing that revealed his raw and searching process. It is a process that he believed in as he create the portraits with an intuitive, unplanned approach: slashes, tones and marks work together, added and deleted, moving from chaos to image.”



Drury, Fritz, and Joanne Stryker. Drawing: Structure and Vision. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009. 335-336.