Hendriks' Computer-Aided Contour Drawing

21 June, 2006

drawing machine

Although it may be hard to tell from the above picture, contemporary artist Jochem Hendricks practices a drawing technique originally advanced by New York Art Students' League instructor Kimon Nicolaides in the 1920s.

Near the beginning of his posthumously-published philosophy-summarizing work, The Natural Way to Draw, Nicolaides introduces the practice of contour drawing this way:

Sit close to the model or object which you intend to draw and lean forward in your chair. Focus your eyes on some point -- any point will do -- along the contour of the model. (The contour approximates what is usually spoken of as the outline or edge.) Place the point of your pencil on the paper. Imagine that your pencil point is touching the model instead of the paper. Without taking your eyes off the model, wait until you are convinced that the pencil is touching that point on the model upon which your eyes are fastened.

Then move your eye slowly along the contour of the model and move the pencil slowly along the paper. As you do this, keep the conviction that the pencil point is actually touching the contour. Be guided more by the sense of touch than by sight. This means that you must draw without looking at the paper, continuously looking at the model.

Contour drawing is about touch. Nicolaides directs the student to make his eye into the vehicle by which his pencil comes into contact with the object, to convince himself that his "pencil point is touching the model instead of the paper". The classical goal of keeping the proportions of the drawing 'correct', of ensuring that it corresponds to the appearance of the model, is forgotten. In fact, the student is explicitly prohibited from looking at the developing drawing in order to ensure these proportions. The goal here is a different kind of accuracy, tactile, physical, and direct rather than graphical or illustrative. And these are exactly the qualities towards which Hendriks' works strives.

hendriks' hand drawing

Hendricks makes digitally-aided contour drawings. He uses a head-mounted scanner to track the movements of his eyes while he looks at his subjects. His final drawings constitute printouts, reports of the history of these movements. Through this system, Hendricks achieves a kind of bionic version of Nicolaides' proposed unity of pencil and eye. Rather than mediating his vision via classical draughtsmanly craft, he uses the contemporary sources of objectivity: digital sensors, computer-aided image processing, and high-resolution laser printing.

hendriks' desk drawing

The results are similar in meaning and general appearance to Nicolaides' examples and those of his students (look here for a typical example), though they diverge in texture and breadth of subject matter. They have a kind of visible digital 'grain', or roughness and their groping-quality, which they share with traditional contour drawings, is sharper, more angular.

Finally, because of the nature of his drawing tools, Hendriks is able to make contour drawings of 'internal' subjects not traditionally visible.

Light:

light

and its after-image:

after-image

(I first found Hendriks' work via David Ross's 010101: Art in Technological Times)

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