by Rey Armenteros
How do you transport the characteristics of doodles to a painting? How do you convert the loose dynamics and sharp lines of a pen to the deliberate strokes of paint? Is it even possible? It’s the age old question concerning drawing versus painting, how a drawing is always fresher, how the ideas just roll out in the lines. A drawing is more immediate, or so it has been argued ad infinitum. I believe there are exceptions.
In my world, I don’t need to touch drawing materials to make drawings. My pen and ink drawings of recent years are actually made of brush and paint. I thin my paint to a precise degree, and I employ brush techniques that mirror a certain type of hatching. I work on “plastic paper” (acrylic paint skins that I make). If the image on this synthetic paper is successful, I adhere it to a substrate, and the painting is finished. If not successful, I white it out and start again or keep it until I can make it work later. Working on this plastic paper first in order to later adhere to a panel helps me overcome the psychological factor related to painting. The psychological factor goes like this: If I put all that time in preparing a canvas or panel (either of which happen to be more expensive than a page of a sketchbook), I had better make a worthy picture. When you skip that step for later, you are releasing that feeling of commitment, and you embrace the freedom of doing whatever you want. It gives my drawn and painted work the throwaway attributes of a doodle.
In the end, I am emulating these drawing qualities with paint. Does that mean that it is the same thing? “It is never the same” is a dictum I have carried in my art for years, because as soon as you change something, it can never be the same. In my search for emulating certain things that can look like other things, I have to remind myself, even convince myself, that they can never be the same.
The sharp pen lines I can make with a brush won’t match that inherently scratchy quality of a pen line, no matter who you can fool after scrutiny.
It is never the same because as soon as you change something in the method, it can no longer have the exact same substance. It’s like changing the main part of a recipe and hoping to get the same flavors.
Nevertheless, though my painting is not a pen and ink drawing, it is still a drawing; it is a drawing I do with paint. And my doodles in acrylics are still doodles, even if I am limited to making them in the studio. I would never haul paint containers, a jar of cleaning water, and several brushes to draw out in public. That is why at a coffeehouse, I scrawl with a marker instead.
by Rey Armenteros
In as much as I was counting the loops I made in my doodles in the interest of finding a formal system for the practice of doodling, I soon abandoned the whole idea. I really enjoyed the structure it was promising, but it was getting tedious, counting the loops and then second-guessing if I had done it properly according to my own rules. And it was forcing my doodles into a corner, which I should have seen coming since the very act of doodling disregards the idea of rules! And yet, I did learn a couple of things about how to incorporate limitations in your work, which is always a worthy endeavor; artists need to embrace restraints in a work of art. At some point later in my artistic explorations, I can see myself counting loops again as a way to locate some lost wisdom or something.
When looking at the past couple of years, I have gone through various periods in my doodles. There was one stage where I was focused on the many ways people walked. I was concentrating my viewpoint on people walking toward me, so I was drawing people from the front. It is much easier to show a figure walking from the side, so I was attempting to uncover the secrets of frontal strides because I wasn’t sure if I could do it.
Instead of drawing from a photo or other captured image, I was observing people in public. But I was not drawing from observation, not in the strict definition; actually, it was more like I would look and digest what I had just seen, and then I would draw from memory, the moment it was already gone. Of course, when watching someone’s steps, you have no chance at an observational rendering because you find it happens so quickly that you have to try to see the next step to understand what you have just seen the second before. It was a quick process: I would look, grasp the figure in my mind, and bend my head to my sheet to find the walking figure in a few loops.Everybody has a different walk. If words could represent an amble or a march or a fleet-footed shuffle, a few scrawls had the capacity to get at something almost unmentionable but far more sophisticated in expression. There was a personality behind everybody’s walk, it seemed, and I was witnessing the gestural analog of a moving fingerprint.
With each worthless scribble, I was getting at something deeper and more fundamental than just cataloguing an endless stream of idiosyncratic steps, and I knew that when you succeed in something like this, you possess a part of that thing you’re representing (even if with nothing but flimsy lines). I was expanding my collection of such information. This was information I can use. Such a thing can come out again whenever I needed it in some future project. I have been collecting such data for years, growing my personal library to its greatest dimensions yet, hoping to be able to use all this understanding whenever it was needed in a painting or some such ambition.