Look with your eyes, not with your hands! Another study in Form

It's time for another dip into Graham Collier's Form, Space & Vision, published by Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1963


Visual and tactile senses are interrelated, as looking and touching are to ‘feeling’ and object imaginatively with one’s fingertips, merely by looking hard at it.


Strongly contrasting textures have considerable power to arouse a strong aesthetic response—attraction or repulsion.  Think of a smooth stone half-covered by a soft growth of moss; or an apple smooth & shiny on top but soft, rotten and fungus-covered on the bottom; or the skin of a woman’s face against the texture of a fur collar; or silk stockings in contrast to woolen ones; or finally, imagine drinking cold milk from a fur-lined bottle.  Contrasting textures act as contrasting colors:  they complement each other or heighten our awareness of their differing quality.

How effective is an artificially contrived texture when compared with the natural texture of a material?

When the surface treatment of a material disguises the true nature of the material, the aesthetic possibilities of the surface are reduced rather than enhanced.

    For the first part of this work you will need a large, soft drawing pencil or a large, black grease crayon, together with some small sheets of tracing paper.  (Any reasonably strong semi-transparent paper will do.)  For the next hour or so, attune your eye toward a sensitivity for surfaces, both indoors and out:  wood, metal, plastic, concrete, textiles, bricks, rocks, leaves, skins—any surface that excites the eye and imaginatively activates the touch sense.  From each surface take a rubbing of a small area (about 8cm square); use the tracing paper and the soft lead or grease pencil, so that you produce a graphic simulation of the surface quality of the material.  When you have about thirty of these, trim the edges and mount them all together on a large sheet of paper.

The second part of the experiment is to select three of these mounted rubbings in order of visual dominance—that is, select the texture that stands out from the rest by virtue of its intensity of black and vitality of surface.  Then choose a texture that is neither very dominant nor very weak—a middle distance texture.  Finally, pick out the most unobtrusive texture, the surface that recedes more than any other in the collection.


Reproduce the three textures in a drawing, remembering the means by which a variety of drawing marks was produced in [Chapter 2.]  In order to put the textures ‘in their place,’ make a rectangle approximately 23cm x 15cm, and divide it by means of three lines into four areas.  Let this division be freely executed, the lines forming a natural, twig like skeletal structure.  This will give you space division of a irregular, curvilinear quality like the rectangle-enclosed skeletal drawings of Form I. especially if the dividing lines are not of equal weight.  In that division of the rectangle that appears most frontal, reproduce the dominant texture just selected, using any means.  The texture should completely fill the area.  Follow this by reproducing the moderately strong texture in the middle distance division of the rectangle, and then draw the meekest texture in any other division of the rectangle.  For purposes of contrast, one area in the rectangle will be empty, both texturally and spatially.  Black drawing ink is the best medium to use, with pen, wood, dry rush, piece of sponge or any other effective instrument.

Finally, as an imaginative exercise, let us see what strange and mysterious effects are produced when a familiar form is given an unfamiliar texture.  Make a series of small drawings of objects with which you are reasonably well acquainted—things like apples, faces, fish or eggs—and invest them with a new and alien surface quality.  The results appear incongruous and, on the whole, repulsive because now they possess a surrealist quality.  It is the violation of the familiar that causes our repulsion, or possible attraction.  But is should be sufficient indication of the importance of surface texture in determining our attitude to an object.



[the next lesson here.]


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