In Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Invitation to a Beheading, the pencil is described as the “enlightened descendant of the index finger.”
Clouds by Donna Levinstone, pastel painting.
That sounds about right, especially considering the pride of place that artists often afford their pens, brushes, and pencils. For many artists, however, the jumping-off point for creativity can also be the surface on which a subject is rendered.
Canvas, linen, panel, and paper—each has its own unique appeal. All have distinctive textures and appearances, and they respond differently depending on what is applied to them. Oil painter Sonya Sklaroff swears by birch plywood and Masonite panels. “I love a smooth, slick surface,” she says. “Even a bit of give drives me crazy. Panels allow me to apply paint vigorously, juicily.”
But sometimes it isn’t the qualities of the surface itself that ignite artistic visions, but the mutability of the material. In that context, paper is leading the charge. This would make sense given its affordability and accessibility, but many artists find it appealing because it can be so easily transformed.
Paper can be cut, painted, torn, burned, inked, shredded, built up into sculptures, and pared down to intimately sized silhouettes. Even if an artist works with drawing basics and in traditional media, paper manipulation can be an intriguing prospect. It offers the opportunity to think about process and how treating or layering paper can affect a final artwork before ever making a mark. Also, painting and drawing on paper can result in so many different art objects: collages, books, prints, dioramas, sculpture, puppets and dolls, and even sets for the theater. This knowledge makes me remember that all art forms talk to one another, and that snippets and ideas from one form can be translated and incorporated by artists who work in other media, or take on different subject matter.
Are you drawn to one particular surface when you paint or sketch? Do you manipulate it to achieve certain effects? I’d love to hear about it, and I’m sure other ArtistDaily.com members would, too. Leave a comment and let us know. If you are interested in exploring the intersections between drawing of all kinds and in various genres and formats, a subscription to Drawing magazine makes good sense. You'll hear directly from working artists and instructors on new techniques and Old-Master methods that can propel your work in new directions and inspire you to get into the studio. Enjoy!