I started a project inspired by the early cabinets of curiosities / wonder rooms and experiencing object/s using shells that I had collected and drawing by touch, blind contour drawings, etc… techniques. Here are the first of my preliminary drawings.
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My interest in cabinets of curiosities centres around the human need for collecting, categorising, making sense of the world around us and story telling. Objects collected were often acquired from ‘faraway lands’ and may not have been encountered the visitors to a canbinet of curiosities before. The design of earlier cabinets of curiosities: wonder-rooms ‘allowed [these] objects to be removed by visitors who were encouraged to handle the objects and discuss what they could see and feel’ (Hebblewhite, 2022). The experience of these new and unknown objects (by looking, handling them and drawing on what they already knew and their own and others’ imagination), stimulated wonder, ideas and stories by those interacting with them.
I wanted to approach some objects in the similar way as the visitors to the early cabinets of curiosities perhaps experienced, as if I was experiencing them for the first time. I decided that starting with drawing by touch without looking at the object or the paper / sketchbook I was drawing on would be the best place to start. Then I would try drawing by touch by allowing myself to look at the paper, followed by some blind contour drawings, seen continous contour drawing and observation sketches. I hoped that this phenomenological style approach would really start to draw out the essence of the experience of the object or objects in my drawings. I decided to choose shells and fossils to start off with. Partly because I have a good selection of them and many of them are in a shoe box that I’ve not looked into for a while – perfect for some slightly unknown drawing by touch. Adapting Stanyer and Rosenberg (2003) definition of ‘gesture’ in drawing terms, drawing by touch without looking at the object/s or paper could be viewed as the action of the hand and drawing tool as they follow the movement / touch of the part of the body in contact with the object / s (in my case non-drawing fingers and hand), as they hold, move and touch the object searching for meaning. Gestural drawings in general certainly form an important part of my preparatory work. They allow you to loosen up, experiment and play while also allowing the essence, the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of the subject matter (which determines its character), to shine through in your drawing. But I personally I haven’t done any pure blind drawing by touch before… So I was excited to see the results.
I selected a shell or fossil from the shoe box with my eyes closed and then hid it behind my back as I made my way back to my sketchbook. The obejct would hopefully be a surprise and I could draw my initial response to it. I knew that selecting an object from the box couldn’t be a complete surprise, as I knew it would be a shell, fossil, etc… so I tried not to have pre-assumptions. There was some surprises, even with the shells I recognised just by their touch. The first object was a Zebra Murex shell, which I was not expecting. If it wasn’t for the cold feel I would have initially thought it was a pine cone or something similar and placed it back in the box.
I then moved onto a limpet shell. I have to admit as soon as I selected this from the shoe box I knew what it was, however, I was surprised by what I could feel and how I interpreted this through the drawings. Inside the shell was not quite as smooth as I thought and it had smooth ripples… As I drew I realised I was combining the direction and movement of my thumb touching the inner part of the shell with my actual blind drawing by touch – both not looking at the object or the paper I was drawing on.
I then moved onto the outer part of the limpet shell and completed a blind drawing by touch and then a drawing by touch looking only at what I was drawing…
I then selected another shell which, by it’s distinct flat disc shape, was familiar to me. I was a bit disappointed and thought about putting it back in the shoe box and selecting out another but I decided not to cheat and continued. Again like the inner part of the Limpet shell I was suprised at how much more texture I could feel (going against what I thought I knew) and again how the direction of the fingers touching the shell influenced the actual drawing. Most noted in the top right drawing….
The resulting drawings have certainly shown how interesting drawing by touch can be, I think they have captured something unique.
Hebblewhite, G. (2022) What is a Cabinet of Curiosities? [online] Available: https://gillianhebblewhite.com/2022/07/09/an-introduction-to-cabinets-of-curiosities/ (accessed 27.02.2023)
Stanyer, P., Rosenberg, T. (2003) A Foundation Course in Drawing. Arcturus Publishing Limited: London