On Experimental Drawing

By Thom Wright June 25, 2020

So much has been written about drawing – as an art form in itself, as an art practice to improve painting, and as a way to stimulate artistic creativity.  In experimental drawing even these aspects are limiting, where it can become a mixture and hybrid incorporating multiple media in an exploratory fashion.  Generally speaking, it still remains a 2-D graphic work of art that is concerned with the design elements of space, shape, color, line, tone, texture and material.  Once one starts on a personal direction, then it quickly becomes original and creative.

In my approach to experimental drawing, I “draw” upon my past experiences and trials in new approaches, including my first twenty years as a watercolor painter.  Like most other artists, early on I took classes in 2D and 3D design, watercolor painting, experimental watercolor.  Visits to modern art museums always inspired me to pursue my new discoveries.  Being left-handed, my handwriting was bad, and my drawing skills were slow to develop.  As a result, I tended towards abstraction and gestural expression, even in my representational painting. 

To illustrate some of my recent work, I will present images of three mixed media drawings that began in an experimental drawing class taken in 2009 at Coastline Community College, and discuss some of my processes and directions to complete them.

“Garden Grid #2”, 18” x 24”, Mixed Media on 90 lb. smooth bond paper,
Thom Wright, 2009 – 2020

In this first piece shown above, I began it with a graphite stick rubbing on the paper that was positioned in various places on a large plastic milk carton. I was attracted to the combination of ovals and geometric lines that made the external ribbing of the sides of the carton.  The light weight paper provides enough give to make only these structural lines and ovals to be drawn with the 4B graphite stick. Just replicating the milk carton design is too repetitive and static. I already had a vague design idea where I kept the central area of the paper empty.

Next, I added pencil grey tones and colors to some of the oval rectangular shapes using Prismacolor pencils and drawing left-handed cross-hatching. Before going too far with the pencils, I then selected torn color papers and glued them into locations in what became a mosaic grid design.  For many years I have kept all kinds of special art papers on hand to do collage.  There are handmade Japanese prints and colored papers, translucent colored papers from India, and even selected colors from various magazine pages. In addition, I really like the white US postal express envelopes with some red and blue lettering.  By carefully slicing the edge of these envelopes, they can be torn into two to three layers of translucent white.  It does take patience, but usually they rip apart into many organic shapes and show the striated fibers within the paper.

In the empty central area I had saved for a large translucent black-paper square and oriented it at a 45 degree diagonal to repeat that angle that occurred from the milk carton ribbing.  In addition, I had saved a similar sized area of white paper of about the same square shape and 45 degree orientation as the large black square.  These two large shapes together form the beginning of the movement of the smaller colored squares.  Thus, the design idea takes shape and becomes its own composition in combination with the drawn lines and turning forms.

“Garden Grid #1”, 18” x 24”, Mixed Media on 90 lb. bond paper,
Thom Wright, 2009 – 2020

In my second work shown above, the same techniques used in the first piece are repeated, but with variations.  The saved white central area is mostly visible, but here contains several movements.  One group is just a pencil rubbing and another is a darker, charcoal rubbing from the milk carton. Next, another group of squares is made with collaged color squares, and almost all organized at 45 degree diagonals.  The whole composition emphasizes diagonal movements.  The dominant color is green, both in drawn and colored areas as well as in the different green papers. By keeping most of the shapes in greens, the quite small additions of darks, reds, blues and paper-bag browns holds it all together and makes it bounce.  Just as in a spring garden, full of greens that set up the striking blues and reds of the flowers, this composition relates the parts to the whole and the movements and rhythms among the parts.

“Dragonfly Garden”, 18” x 24”, Mixed Media on 90 lb. bond paper,
Thom Wright, 2009 – 2020

In my third experimental drawing shown above, a different design space is used, having mostly the open white paper space below, and an upper horizontal pattern of octagonal pencil rubbings, taken from a plastic strip having these raised shapes.  Next, I did pencil rubbings of a dragonfly taken from several porcelain tiles that are in my tiled shower walls.  My design concept suggests dragonflies emerging from a honeycomb of octangonal cells.  I further developed the dragonfly shapes using pencil and charcoal markings.  However, there was too much white paper, empty space and random positioning of the dragonflies in it, altogether feeling incomplete and needing more structure.  Accordingly, and eleven years later after I looked at it again, I did two more pencil rubbings, one placing small circular arcs from the top of a tin can in front of the dragonflies, and two, a broken rubbing from a man-hole cover in the street of concentric circles of squares.  These two rubbings pushed the grey markings with more density, but also added complexity.  I liked the circular arcs, because they reinforce the spreading direction of the dragonflies.  From there, I shifted to collaging colored paper shapes as added wings of the dragonflies, and small bits of greens and blues into the octangonal honeycomb shapes at the top.

Adding the variety of colors to the dragonfly wings makes a big difference in emphasizing the emanating pattern of the composition.  Humans tend to see color first before light/dark values.  Both the variety of colored wing shapes and the variety of mostly cool colors, these bits of paper help to make color and shape movements within the bouquet of the grouping. 

One last addition began as I was searching my bag of colored papers for something else to fit in and be different.  I found a small, elegantly made paper of light fibers and preserved, small brown leaves.  I cut them out and moved them around the drawing, until they found places near the top at the mouth of the honeycomb.  Yes, they worked there, but now added maybe too much brown, I thought.  So, using torn pieces of a light-brown paper sack, I first did a pencil rubbing on them of parallel lines, taken from a piece of corrugated cardboard. Finally, I added these two large paper wing shapes at the middle-right edge of the drawing.  Now I had more browns for balance and also added a new large scale of a suggested half of a dragonfly on the right.  And there I stopped, because knowing when to stop before going too far is always the better choice, yet it’s always relative to the whole.

From these three experimental drawings, it is important to draw some conclusions about them.  For sure, an experimental drawing is quite unique and different from other 2D drawings and paintings.  Also, seeing the actual work has more impact than looking at their images on a computer screen.  Of course I did include some of the matting and framing in the image to assert their graphic and harmonious contribution, but there is still the intimacy and fragility of seeing the real drawing up close.  And lastly, I am pleased that I showed patience and care in evolving each work to an integrated whole, eleven years later.    

For followers and newcomers to my art website, I invite you to comment and respond to this posting.


Published by Thom Wright Art

Thom Wright has combined his passions for art, music and engineering, and all of his practices have benefited each other. In 1986, he had an epiphany, one of those moments when he realized that he had to be a better artist. His subject matter moved toward contemporary issues, including geopolitics, global environment, technology, cultural and natural processes of change, and jazz. His abstracts also migrated towards mixed media and printmaking. These interests and processes continue in his art work. Desiring to improve his skills, theory and knowledge in art, he took early retirement from the Boeing Corp. in 1999 and entered art school full time. In May, 2006, he completed the MFA program in Drawing and Painting at California State University, Long Beach.

One thought on “On Experimental Drawing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: