Spontaneity Versus Deliberation

Today’s drawing exercise was all about cross-hatching, although to look at the first drawing I did — which is really only a fanciful doodle — you’d never know it. I used no cross-hatching whatsoever as I created this fun little design of hearts.

Most likely you can tell that this wasn’t very well planned. I ran off the page with my lines getting caught up in the spiral rings of my sketchbook. Too bad. I would have really liked this simple black-and-white heart doodle if I’d spaced it out on the page! Of course, I still like it just as it is, but maybe with a little planning … then again, maybe not. This was truly something spontaneous and for me, that gives it a sort of rambunctious energy. It’s like a mischievous child who’s not paying much attention to the boundaries.

So now, let me back up a minute before we move forward. Cross-hatching in art is a technique most often used with ink drawing. It can also be used for shading in graphite drawings, but usually when we think of cross-hatching, we think first of ink.

Drawing with ink was the preferred method of Giorgio Morandi, an Italian artist known primarily for the tonal values of his still life art. Here is one example of his work:

Still Life with Very Fine Hatching 1933 Giorgio Morandi 1890-1964 Presented to the Tate by Senor and Senora Jose Luis Plaza 1979

This etching, as described above, is in a collection at the Tate Museum and is available for viewing by appointment. The Tate says this about the still life:

From a very early stage, Morandi committed himself to still life subjects. He used a stock of bottles, jugs, tins and boxes that he kept in his studio and worked from over a period of almost fifty years. The way light objects press up against dark in Still Life with Very Fine Hatching is emphasised by the close-up viewpoint. All distractions are excluded. The everyday container becomes an object of contemplation, a vessel for the viewer’s own imagination.

Now, how did I get from this illustration of fine hatching to my spontaneous doodle of hearts? Well, for me, one thing leads to another, and not necessarily always in a straight line — no pun intended there, folks.

I was reading about Morandi in Keys to Drawinglearning about his masterful use of cross-hatching, and the amount of control required to complete each drawing he made. Author Bert Dodson explains:

“Hatching is the handwriting of a deliberate, methodical temperament. A drawing like Morandi’s would take several hours, perhaps days.”

Those were not words I really wanted to hear this morning. Rather than copy the step-by-step techniques shown in Dodson’s book or “trace over” the methodical lines of Morandi’s still life ink drawing, I focused my attention on the media itself.

When I first learned to draw, the mere thought of drawing in ink sent shudders through my body. Ink? No way, no how! I knew I would make too many mistakes. And when I enrolled in an ink drawing course — determined to learn all I could about drawing — I quickly changed my mind and stopped following the lessons. Ink was too hard for me. Ink demanded confidence. It also required patience. I had neither.

My feelings about ink drawing have changed considerably over the years. I now love drawing with ink — at least as far as quick little drawings go. When I doodle, I doodle in ink. When I do quick sketches or gesture drawings, I always choose ink. Maybe it’s because I can’t spend time erasing and re-drawing. It’s just “do it and move on.”

Now, there’s a bit of a contradiction here, don’t you think? Ink is essentially a “controlled” media, yet it can also be used in a spontaneous way. And this is the point Bert Dodson focuses on in this entire chapter — there’s a difference between carefully controlled mark-making and loose, spontaneous marks. As artists, we each have our preferences, yet we need to understand how to be both spontaneous and deliberate at different times for different purposes.

Recently I shared an article about Micron pens and how to use them. As part of my drawing lesson today, I went back to that article and reviewed it, making note especially of this advice: “Try to draw using shorter linework.” This advice was offered by Bert Dodson, as well, in explaining Morandi’s cross-hatching: “These strokes are short, rarely more than an inch long, in order to maintain control for evenness of tone.”

Ah, yes, there it is again. Control.

Once more, I find myself getting caught up in a lot of personal art contradictions. As a rule, my drawing attempts feel stiff and rigid. I hold my pencil in a death grip, determined to control each movement. I’m only now learning to loosen up, to be more spontaneous in my drawings. Yet, put an ink pen in my hand, and the last thing I want is to control the marks I’m making.

At this point in my study time, I decided I should, indeed, practice cross-hatching a bit, trying to be a little more controlled with my lines, and keeping my strokes short and even. Yeah, right. I got out my set of pens and started making cross-hatches in the corner of a page. Want to see how long that lasted?

As I was making marks — using an “005” nib — I started wondering about other nib sizes. I forgot all about exercising any control and started doodling a wavy line with my very fine nib. Then I switched to a “2.0” brush nib and let’s just say that’s when I lost all control.

I was having fun, and I wanted to play with all the pens in my set. So I cast about for ideas on something quick and easy to draw. I settled on hearts, and doodled five little hearts on the page — no real thought about where I was putting them, just having fun. I started using different pens to outline the hearts. I knew at some point my lines would begin to converge. Fine. I just shrugged and figured I’d deal with that when it happened. I just kept going, kept having fun, kept watching my spontaneous, uncontrolled little doodle design grow. And I liked it.

But, wait! I was supposed to be practicing cross-hatching, right? I was supposed to be learning more about making short, controlled strokes. All right, fine! I’ll do another little ink drawing, once again creating hearts, and this time I’ll be more careful. I’ll think about where on the page I’m placing my hearts, and I’ll use cross-hatching to create a background.

See what I was doing here? I was being deliberate, I was planning. I was taking control. And how did it all turn out? Here’s my second “doodle-drawing” of “Cross-Hatched Hearts.”

It’s all right. But it’s not my favorite. I much prefer the spontaneity of my first unplanned design. Of course, this second doodle doesn’t really show a lot of control in the mark-making. I used cross-hatching, but merely as a design element, not as a means of creating any shading or background.

A better way to practice cross-hatching would be to work with tonal values, creating a “hatched” value scale of at least four values:

  • Light
  • Middle Light
  • Middle Dark
  • Dark

Maybe later today I’ll do just that. I find it a bit humorous, though, to see this strange dichotomy: in graphite drawing, I need to loosen up more, while in ink drawing, I need to learn more control. That’s an interesting approach for me to ponder.

Going back to Bert Dodson and his Keys to Drawing, it is indeed important to know both approaches to mark-making, how to move between spontaneity and more controlled lines, why we should develop the ability to do both, and when our art is best served by each different type.

I think it’s important, too, to understand where we naturally fall on the continuum between careful control and spontaneous mark-making. This is a key element in developing our personal style. I’m not at all sure where I fit in. Sometimes I’m too controlled; sometimes I have absolutely no control at all! This, I think, will be one of my personal objectives in art over the coming months — finding where I do fit in. Mostly, I think I tend toward the looser, more spontaneous side, yet I can see that I’ve been fighting that for a long time. I’ve been trying to fit myself into a tighter “this is how to draw” box that doesn’t really suit my personal drawing style.

Sorry for rambling on here, but this is actually a bit of an epiphany for me. All of these studies about spontaneity versus deliberation have been helping me gain a greater understanding of art. It’s not a single style, a single method, a single process. It covers a wide range of styles and techniques, and we each do have a place where we belong. I think I’m getting a lot closer now to finding my place.


    1. This has been the focus of most of my art study in recent weeks, and it’s been very, very interesting. It’s helpful to know the differences, and even more helpful (for me) to learn when and where to use each type of approach.

      Liked by 1 person

I'd Love to Hear Your Thoughts!

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