Thursday, August 13, 2009
On my last day in Tokyo, I went into an art supply store that happened to carry the Kuru Toga pencil, an ingenious design that rotates the pencil lead as you draw, maintaining a consistent point throughout. I first learned of it through a Lines and Colors post which mentioned they might be difficult to find outside of Japan. I bought three (one for me and two for friends).
Anxious to see the mechanism in action, I filled paper with test strokes in awe of it's consistent line (often with an audience). Once I got down to work, however, the awe turned to frustration: my touch was too delicate to advance the gears.
But that wasn't the only thing that I noticed about the way I draw. I've been using a 2 mm lead holder for some time now, loaded with 2B graphite. I rarely use my lead pointer, instead opting for sandpaper to hone the lead to a wedge. This creates a broad slope that renders a thick, soft line — almost like a small piece of charcoal — which can, in turn, be rotated to utilize the sharp edge for fine lines. (I'm not the only one who does this, by any means — Sketching and Rendering in Pencil, published in 1922, shows the exact same technique.)
The reason I bring this up is because it relates to my basic conception of draftsmanship. The chances of my first stroke enduring through the drawing process to the final composition are next to none. Why not increase my odds of "hitting the mark" by increasing the area of the stroke? I can always go back and refine later, editing my previous paths down to the one I want.
This isn't anything new. Art teachers have been telling their students (including me) to think broadly, then refine, for a long time. But it really comes down to math: a razor sharp line has only one shot at getting it right (especially if heavy-handed). A light, thick stroke lays down a haze of probability that not only has a greater chance of success, but provides the open-minded draftsman with potential inspiration. Sometimes a slow build-up of murky contrast can permit one's mind to see what isn't there, projecting form into former void.
I still use the 0.5 mm Kuru Toga pencil, but it has become my writing tool of choice, providing a uniform trail for my more repetitious strokes.
(The above sketch is from a recent trip to The Met — I always seem to come back to Degas's maquettes.)