By Sara Dudman
Turning off the lights is a great way to entice reluctant drawers to take the plunge! It can also provide a useful warm-up for further drawing activities and help develop awareness of muscle-memory as a tool for drawing.
This post describes some ideas based on drawing in the dark, during workshops at the Thelma Hulbert Gallery in Devon. Artists worked alongside various groups ranging from a pupil referral unit to mainstream 6th form art students and a family drop-in day. The workshops explored and developed a multitude of practical approaches to responding to Flock Together, an exhibition of 2D paintings, drawings and video by Sara Dudman and Debbie Locke.
Welcoming participants to draw in public drop-in sessions can present a daunting and potentially exposing challenge. Similarly, working with a group of young people from a pupil referral unit, who have become defensive and reluctant about participation requires lots of planning, understanding and sensitivity to engage them in satisfying and meaningful participation. Such experiences can provide welcome opportunities to engage and enjoy making art.
So, the kit for the job was glow-in-the-dark tape, LED light pens and camera phones.
The exhibition comprised a series of collaborative paintings, drawings, prints and video, all interpreting and responding to patterns of behaviours, movements and relationships between a Blackdown Hills sheep-farmer, his sheep and his dogs. Inspired by the exhibition, one of the aims of the workshops was to explore ways of recording movement and reinterpreting video.
We’ve been doing a lot of work using tape as a fantastic accessible, tactile, bold and immediate drawing medium (see previous post…), so glow-in-the-dark tape was the obvious next step (thanks to Anna at Thelma Hulbert Gallery for finding this treasure)!
The immediacy and fascination of drawing with tape combined with the anticipation of seeing the drawings glowing-in-the-dark, provided just the right motivation for participants to get involved and become enthusiastic about drawing.
We began with projecting some of the raw webcam video of sheep onto the rucksack drawing boxes which participants were going to wear to make automatic drawings. Each participant ‘taped’ their drawing onto the side of their box using shapes from the projected video as a guide.
Then, with the lights off and boxes on their backs, the workshop participants moved around in the dark ‘becoming’ the flock of moving sheep whilst their glowing drawings created an array of moving shapes in the dark room.
The light from the glow-in-the-dark tape wasn’t sufficient to capture the activity on video, but slow-shutter speed photos captured the essence of the movements.
The glowing flocks of moving sheep danced in the dark while the rucksack boxes made automatic drawings from body movements.
Having captured the interest of our participants through the excitement of glow-in-the-dark tape, we also experimented with making moving drawings taped straight onto students’ faces, so they were able to take full control of shapes, drawings, movements and expression. Look at the image below and pick out the moving face!
As the workshops progressed we developed our ideas using light to include drawing with LED light pens. 6th form students from different schools explored the impact and use of ‘muscle memory’ to make drawings in the dark. Opportunities for filming and photographing the LED pens were much greater than the glow-in-the-dark tape due to the strength of the light.
Students worked together in a preliminary activity, each group spending about 10 minutes drawing directly onto wall-sized paper, working in response to one of the unedited webcam videos recorded by the farmer, with lots of sheep and activity involved.
We then turned out the lights, each student was given an LED light pen, and re-drew the shapes and patterns they’d just drawn from the video.
These drawings really express and interpret the chaotic movements of the sheep as seen by the farmer.
As always with drawing, one of the fascinating aspects was seeing how differently each group interpreted and used gestures and marks – there’s real coherence in each group of photos with characteristic movements by each student.
As the workshop progressed and students reviewed the photos they’d taken, they began to work increasingly well as groups, choreographing and co-ordinating movements and composition through body arrangement and placement in the space.
The fluency and lack of inhibition when drawing in the dark with giant full-stretch movements is so exciting – even the least confident students were enabled to ‘think big’ and the group-work aspect of reviewing photos after every shoot meant they encouraged each other to make larger, stronger, quicker gestures and movements to balance their group photos.
We moved on to using ‘light’ drawings to make videos too. During a family drop-in day participants were invited to work in groups, creating video of light pen movements inspired by the artists’ video.
Each person took the role of either a sheep, sheep-dog or the farmer and play-acted their movements using the LED light pens. This required great negotiation and team-work and was also a fantastic tool for unlocking the potential of even the most reluctant drawers and dismantling family hierarchies and dynamics to become equal collaborators in the outcome.
With thanks to: