Make It Bigger

As part of the art education at the college where I teach, students in their third year go through a process called Junior Review. Three to five faculty members are encouraged to volunteer to be on a panel. Together, we look at the work of four to five students, one at a time, asking questions, giving comments. I've happily participated for many years and have met faculty I wouldn't normally meet and seen student work from all majors. Sometimes I have knowledge of the medium, sometimes not. On one of the first panels I sat, I was baffled by the responses of my colleagues. It seemed that no matter how technically proficient the work was, how interesting the concepts, this group kept saying, "Make it bigger!" (Yes, I know, it sounds like a junk email.)

If you want to be a gallery artist, bigger is better. You can get more money for your work. The galleries usually have high white walls, well-suited for large effects. But being a gallery artist is not everyone's goal. Some of the work we saw was large already. I've always worked small and done fairly well, so it was both irritating and amusing to hear those three words.

That said, this past December I began to draw on 18" x 24" (46 cm x 61 cm) paper and restrain myself from cutting the drawings up into books, which I am naturally inclined to do. My daily walk in the Berkeley hills led me to a woman collecting lichen and moss-covered sticks that had blown down in a recent storm. "I'm going to make a wreath with them," she said, when I inquired. After I passed her, I began picking up the little sticks and moss and lichen, too. I decided to draw them. Big.

I started with a box of 12 Faber-Castell pencils: 8B, 7B, 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, 2H, 4H. The Bs are dark and get softer and darker the higher they go. The Hs are light, hard, and get more silvery as they go up, recommended for technical drawing and drafting papers. Hs are also harder to erase. I had a white plastic eraser, but a kneaded eraser is really useful, as I found a month later in this tutorial on drawing an eye. I set up one little branchlet under a desk lamp so there would be an obvious light source. Used my arm with a 2B in a big motion to get the shapes down. I liked the swinging, sweeping arcs and how it felt to keep the line going. Then found the darkest darks (8B!) and worked from there. The drawing motions got  tighter and smaller as I went along. I made sure to erase into the whites for the whitest whites. For the finish I used watercolor pencils to color it. 

Meditative, satisfying, sometimes frustrating. Although I have made drawings all of my life, I only just realized I have words to describe what used to be intuitive. And I probably got them from listening to my fellow panelists on Junior Review. The hope is that the students are also able to take what they need from the process.

I don't envision these in a gallery, but I hate to stuff them away in a drawer, so here is what I drew. The photos are slightly cropped. The irony, of course, is that on the screen they are small again, about life size.


Roberta Warshaw said…
They are lovely. There is nothing like drawing from life.
Zue said…
Hi Alisa
I love reading your posts, but lately I find it difficult to read. The first part of each new post is lost in the pattern at the top of your blog.
I just wondered if you had noticed.
Have fun
Sue x
Alisa said…
Hi Sue,
Gee, I'm sorry to hear that. It looks fine on my computer. You might try updating your browser or using a different one (Safari? Firefox?). Blogger is always changing stuff to work with newer applications so it is possible that an older version of a browser is the problem.
Hope it works soon!
Anonymous said…
I won't speak to the gallery preference, but as artist who works "big" I can offer this perspective: large movements = more body involved = less mind = more balanced, more whole, more intuitive, more free, more connective of artist's essence and that of subject, whether subject is literal as in the traditional realism of these pieces or an abstract expression. Just my 2-cents; not trying to speak for all.

Thanks for your blog.
Alisa said…
Dear Anonymous,
I absolutely agree with you about engaging the whole body when making larger works and the benefits of doing so. Thanks for reminding me about that aspect. I felt it more in the first swings of the pencil for these drawings, and feel it always when painting paper with acrylic inks. It is nice when the mind gets quiet. Your 2-cents are appreciated!
Velma Bolyard said…
alisa, funny, aimee lee and i just had a conversation about big. i moved into small accidentally, and feel very comfortable especially with books. but large is grand...i think one thing about small works is that they draw you in, invite you to examine in a different manner than large pieces.
Velma Bolyard said…
and i particularly like the last drawing, how it sweeps across the page.