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A sense of scale

This is a post from the weareoca.com archive. Information contained within it may now be out of date.
I wanted to share with you a strange experience I had this month involving scale. I think it might be the most extreme scaled drawing I have come across in my work, although it was a collaborative process – I’m not sure I could have got there by myself. Phase one was a 22 metre collaborative drawing that I did with a friend of mine, the artist Jess Ramm. We wrapped a room in paper and drew our hearts’ out for a day. The experience was celebratory and empowering for some reason. I did take a few images in with me to draw from but much was drawn from memory or invented. The drawing was part of a project in which I was required to collaborate and that made me think about instances of female collaboration. I had been asked to make a piece for a specific room and that added to my musings about female shared labour and brought me to tapestry. I thought about how tapestry was used as a narrative pictorial device, but also thought about the conversations that would have taken place potentially amongst the sewers. We decided as artists to make a tapestry scaled drawing whist discussing our art practices and using imagery from all aspects of our lives, public and private, art and non art.

Unbeknown to me, phase two started to happen after we finished the drawing and held a short viewing. Another artist, Tomoko Tabuchi, saw the drawing and liked it. Tomoko is a photographer and book maker amongst other things and makes very quiet graceful work. About a week after the drawing had been taken down, Tomoko came into my studio with a tiny gift. When I opened the matchbox sized object I saw that it was a miniature book made from our drawing! I wish that the drawing had still been up so that we could have documented the two of them together. I tried when I wrote the level 2 Drawing course (Investigating Drawing) to emphasise the creative potential of scale and hopefully assessors will start to see the fruits of more students doing large (and small) scale drawing in the future, but these two art works seem illustrate the point in quite an extreme way. I still find students by and large are not all that inventive with scale and it is a shame, especially since I know that a lot of students look at things on a grand scale – they just don’t take it forward into their work. I was very touched by my little art book gift and it is certainly a much more portable means of documentation than the 22 metre roll of paper currently taking up space in my studio!

Posted by author: Emma Drye
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14 thoughts on “A sense of scale

  • Thank you Emma for this insight into both collaboration and the possibilities of working at vastly different scale in drawing. I have been looking at Ugo Rondinone’s forrest scenes in ink on a huge scale. I would love to see them for real. They must look majestic. I can see the possibilities of drawing tiny detailed natural objects in fine pen and then translating them into A3 or 2 compositions in a wild and free style and a highly coloured medium. I’m on Part 2 of Drawing Skills. Everything I read raises new images!

  • Hi Emma,
    This sounds like a very affirming experience.
    There are two important ideas that you raise:
    Firstly – Collaboration is wonderful and brings a sense of connectedness as well as opening us up to new ideas. I just did a drawing workshop yesterday where we worked on each other’s drawings to try to understand how other people make marks – by mimicking the new marks we encountered. It really helped me to add more variety into my drawing, and my final pieces owe much to the collaborative atmosphere.
    Secondly – In terms of scale I agree it would be good to have more exploration – personally I love working very large. Having heard from several students now ( I’m running research) this is also a desire for other people – especially at level 2 and 3. One of the things that holds people back is the need to mail everything to tutors and assessors. People feel it stifles creativity on a larger scale.
    I wonder how we can build both collaboration and scale puposefully into our OCA learning experience?

    • Hi Carol, I’m working with colleagues just now to set up a group event with a collaborative drawing as part of it for OCA students so I suppose watch this space for that one. Once we get it finalised I imagine the OCA will advertise. I see the student association as a vital tool for setting up structures where students can develop working relationships that will lead to collaborations in the higher levels, on top of the study visits and crit events.
      There are lots of issues around mailing work versus looking at it on the pc and I think it is something that needs to be agreed between student and tutor. Things tend to look sharper and clearer in a photo, but flatter, so poor drawing is masked but good texture is lost. Personally I find the answer is a mixture. Send enough real work so that I can get a good idea of what is happening and then send a film or pdf of images of larger work or installation which can’t be sent by post. The method follows the artist though so what works for one student might not work for another. As long as the reasons are sound and seriously about the work I think people need to be clever and do what works best.

        • Yes Carol, I think you would really get a lot out of it. It was good to meet you at the recent study trip. It was this workshop I was talking to you about.

  • I’m sure that looking at online images and reproductions of art so much is making us less rather than more aware of scale. As I’ve been doing background and context research, several times, after studying reproductions before seeing the original, it’s the scale that’s then really struck me. For lots of reproductions online you’re not even given details of the size of the original, though when you are, I do now stop and measure it out to see what it ‘really’ must look like.

    • that is a very good point Jennifer. If you are interested in this idea you might like to read Walter Benjamin ‘the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction’ which is freely available as a pdf on google ironically.

  • Hi Emma
    I concur with Carol.
    I would love to scale my work up, but am constrained by the need to fit the assessment criteria of fitting it onto A1 card!
    If assessors could relax that for Level 3, it would be wonderful, although I would still need to find a way to transport large paintings across the country and those outside the UK would probably find this impossible.

  • Hello Amanda, Please do feel free to explore scale and pursue your own art objectives as fully as possible. The assessment portfolio guidelines represent a sensible professional approach and are useful as a starting point but they are not designed to stifle creativity and so should not stand in the way of your own goals at level 3. I can assure you that assessors are not using whether or not a piece of work fits onto a sheet of A1 card as any sort of criteria for success. The people responsible for unpacking and laying out your work have to be able to do their job without damaging the work or getting confused by scrappy presentation but that can be considered at the end. How you present your work for assessment can be discussed with your tutor and it is an important part of the process – similar to hanging a degree show. Options like maquettes, video, photobooks have all been used by students whose work does not naturally suit mounting on A1 card at level 3.

  • Emma, I like the reference to tapestry and women working together, stiching and talking. Do you know about the Great Tapestry of Scotland? http://www.scotlandtapestry.com The brainchild of writer Alexander McCall Smith, designed by artist Andrew Crummy and stitched by hundreds of people (mostly, but not all, women), it is a collaborative tapestry depicting the history of Scotland from prehistory to modern times. My ten year old daughter was fortunate to be able to take part stiching one of the panels. This is what she said afterwards. ‘It was such fun. I learned a new stich. I really liked sitting around stiching and chatting to everyone in a relaxed atmosphere.’ The tapestry will go on display in August of this year.

  • Hi Emma – I’m really glad to hear about your large scale work and I really hope OCA will begin to accept larger pieces (or at least photographs) for assessment. I prefer doing large pieces (A3 at the minimum) as the physicality of it is so appealing to me (I was a modern dancer in my youth.) Doing small pieces (A5, for example) has absolutely no appeal. One of the challenges I’ve found in my drawing 1 course is that many of the exercises require work on a small scale and then the final work on a A2 or A1. Frankly, I believe strongly that we develop muscle memory as we draw. When we’ve practiced drawing at one size and then need to scale up, we haven’t actually created the muscle memory for that larger size. Any comments?

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