Now you may be asking what long-form drawing is. It’s a term I sort of borrowed from the world of journalism, wherein long-form writing refers to any article from 1,000 to 20,000 words. I think of some of my drawings as long-form drawings.
This is a drawing I recently did of my son, Isaac. I don’t exactly think it qualifies as a “sketch,” even if it is just graphite, since it entails nearly sixty hours of drawing time.
I started doing more detailed drawings when I was in grad school. I remember doing this whole set of costume designs for The Tempest all in graphite. The professor always had us pin up all our work on the walls for our weekly critique. When he came to my drawings he looked for a few moments, and finally said disdainfully that he couldn’t think of anything he wanted to say, as if they weren’t worthy of even a comment, and he moved on to the next student. I would say I was devastated, but this was merely one week out of two years of brutal criticism from this man that took decades to overcome.
This is another recent drawing, this time of my husband. I’ve drawn him many times over the years, in many different ways. He’s rather unique, and I appreciate that about him. I envisioned him as sort of the man in the moon, waning just a bit, set in a starry cosmos.
Both of these drawings took weeks to complete. I spent twenty hours alone on the starry background surrounding my husband. That’s not always easy because it’s repetitive and not particularly challenging, so I try to turn it around and think of it as meditative, and then suddenly you realize you’ve been drawing swirls and hours have passed in silence, but you’ve done lots of thinking and processing, so it’s OK.
It’s hard for some people, I think, to imagine spending so much time on a drawing. Our world is so compressed and condensed, it’s only a matter of time before overnight delivery becomes agonizingly slow, and that time is possibly at hand, as Amazon can now deliver certain things in only a couple of hours, so I think it’s harder for people to relate to a work that takes weeks to accomplish.
I recently participated in an artist’s studio tour, where all these artists open their studios to the public so they can come in and watch you work. It’s a little like being a lab rat, but I did meet some lovely people in the process. Both these drawings were on display in my studio for the tour, and I watched as people interacted with them. While they did not elicit a lot of comment, they were at least not met with the same disdain I received from my professor decades before. And to be honest, I cared considerably less about the approbation of the viewers than I would have in the past.
So is a 40 hour commitment to a piece really all that long? What about 60 hours? What about 6 months? How long do you actually want to spend on a piece? It’s a challenging question. However, as I get older, I am less inclined to care, and more inclined to press against the envelope of drawing time, size, and detail, investing more of me in each subsequent work. In the end, I don’t really mind.
I guess that’s progress.