Student work: Natasha Davy, Working BIG. - The Open College of the Arts
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Student work: Natasha Davy, Working BIG.

A Fine Art student completing Drawing Two: Investigating Drawing reflects on how the difficulties and opportunities of working large impacted on her practice.

Natasha Davy has just completed Drawing Two: Investigating Drawing. The work made for her Parallel Project grew larger and larger over time and provided some interesting problems. In this short interview her tutor Bryan Eccleshall asks her how she has dealt with those problems and, by engaging with them, where they might lead.

Your work is big. Can you track how that happened?

At first, I thought A3 was working pretty big, but then my tutor suggested that I scale up. I hadn’t considered this before, so I ventured into working on A2 and bizarrely I became much more aware of the paper borders. It felt unnatural and confined, so I scaled up some more wanting more space. Each time I tried a bigger paper size, it kept feeling that it wasn’t right. On reflection I realise it was my drawing energy and gestures that didn’t fit it, especially as I wanted to balance my work with the white of the paper to create some calm amongst the mark making.

Tell me about the materials you use: the paper and the charcoal. You make your own charcoal, I think.

I made my own charcoal blocks and cut my own bamboo for canes from my garden, initially to save money, but I found I made a stronger natural and raw connection when working with the homemade products. To save money, I also used basic DIY lining paper instead of expensive sheets or rolls. This made my work much more experimental, as I felt I could afford to make mistakes (and learn from them).

What does working on a large sheet offer you that smaller didn’t?

It’s very personal. The format and size of paper I chose suited my needs. I’m very interested in human form, so using a long roll of paper really suited the size and shape this subject matter. Working large gives me the freedom and choice of movement and space to place my energy. I have found that I can use my arms fully, work with sticks as extended arms, and so on, especially when working with emotional responses. Working small, for example at A3, is useful when on location though as I can make visual annotations and textures that I find interesting.

The Parallel Project has resolved into a series of large figure drawings. You’ve spent some time considering how these might be shown.

My human form work started getting to about the same size as myself, and each single piece seemed to rely on the other ones – like a family or gathering. I had about ten drawings in total, which ended up being a collection or body of work which I then had to display. I struggled at home for space, and the drawings ended up being rolled up and left in the corner of my room. I would put off looking at them as they were too big to open out.

My initial plan was to paper my studio walls then draw human form imagery directly onto them in a mural style. However, I realised that drawing vertically was an alien method to me. Inspired by the Norfolk landscape I grew up in, I usually draw with the paper flat on the floor, so when working upright failed, I had to unroll the previous life study work for inspiration and rethink everything. I researched other large-scale artists such as Anselm Kiefer and Julie Mehretu but I didn’t have their levels of space or money. In the end I looked at other inexpensive methods and decided to hang the pieces from wire, almost like outfits or washing on a line. For me, this method actually added to the context of my work and has encouraged me to think more sculpturally about presenting pieces in the future.

Can you explain some of the obstacles you’ve overcome in making and displaying this work?

Big work demands bigger tools, bigger energy, bigger expense, bigger risk taking and bigger space. I found the work both making, logistics and presenting, physically and emotionally demanding. I have found out that I have a lot of stamina and energy! Initially when hanging the work for my final Parallel Project submission – paper becomes heavy, especially at such large sizes – it wasn’t supported enough and it flopped with gravity, so I used my bamboo canes to support the end widths when hanging, but this offered a positive relationship in using the working tools to present the pieces too, with the work coming full circle.

Finishing a unit can be a strange moment of resolution tinged with regret that ‘if only I’d known then what I know now’. Almost as if you could now do it all again, but properly. So, what’s next? Does this feel like the beginning or the end of something?

This project felt like a win because I’d managed to resolve so many unexpected issues. I don’t feel that it has ended though. I still want to draw more pieces like this, however now I will have the benefit of thinking about how to finish before I start. Next projects? I’m interested in how artists make large scale work on location. I’m thinking of challenging the large-scale format, and taking it into the landscape, so I can work directly, nature to nature. Norfolk is flat, so I think it can be my floor to work on – so long as it’s a nice day! How will I display this? Well, yes – that’s already been planned too, and it won’t be flat against a wall!

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Posted by author: Bryan
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11 thoughts on “Student work: Natasha Davy, Working BIG.

  • Really lovely work undertaken on an amazing scale. Great solution to displaying work. Really helpful to see your write up, and how you have written about the challenges. Good luck with your way forward, making large scale work on location, sounds exciting.

  • I really love this work, Natasha, particularly the way you have displayed it. Hanging the drawings like a washing line is powerful and they look great. I can relate to what you say about the gestural aspect of ‘big’ work but seem to draw back from it, always thinking about the difficulties associated with it. But I love that you take those difficulties head on and move forward with it, rather than drawing back from it and working smaller. This is an inspiring post… thank you and to Brian.

  • Thank you for sharing this – I’m about to organise my parallel project and working out ways to assemble the pieces – so interesting to learn about how you have worked though the challenges. I really like that you have made your own drawing materials
    Good luck

  • This is so interesting to read about, Natasha, there is something very powerful about such big definite work. It makes me think of a photographic exhibition I saw recently by Carla Van de Puttelaar of huge, exquisitely printed female nudes.

    I have an ongoing project making photograms of lace and net underwear – by definition life-sized – and there is something just so uncompromising and assertive about refusing to do the work smaller. I also found that deciding to “go large” rippled out across so many other decisions, from new paper, to needing the darkroom set up adjusted, to storage of the finished work. Definitely worth it though.

  • Thank you all for your encouraging and insightful words. Your support and acknowledgement really helps build confidence, and that was also one of the big psychological hurdles I found I had to leap over, when scaling up.
    Good luck with your projects – and enjoying working big! N x

  • Ah – this resonates… your thinking-through-approach …I began to encounter this thing where I required more space, expression and consideration of ‘open’ space on the surface-how to cover space on the surface … how to allow uncover.

  • I also love working on huge pieces of paper (well A2 or A1). It demands large gestural marks, and you can use different media (like though huge charcoal and graphite blocks). I find it more physical and therefore also more engaged.

  • great work and I love how the drawings are presented. reminds me of Xia Xiaowan’s “Man and Woman”, though his work is on layers of glass.

    • makes me wonder if another version could be scans/prints of the drawings on paper printed or etched onto plastic sheets or glass

  • Thanks Natasha (& Bryan) for posting, this is a striking series of figure drawings. The way you have pursued your need to work bigger by responding inventively to the challenges is very inspiring & has obviously reaped a satisfying reward.
    I live on a farm & am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to upscale – using industrial materials & a shed wall as the support for an installation. It is not easy but when it works it is a great confidence-booster.
    Finding a passion & then working out a way to fulfil it can be frustrating but also very satisfying.
    Good luck with your next project.

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