For several years I ran a “Movement Drawing” class at Minerva Durham’s Spring Studio. It was like a life drawing class except we didn’t want the models to keep still. Most of the models were dancers or performers. Of course it’s very difficult to draw someone who’s dancing around at full speed, so we had several adaptations that helped us try to see and capture the movement we saw. We had sets of extremely slow movement – different models had quite different interpretations of what constituted “extremely slow”! We had sets of repeated movement: the same gesture or movement phrase repeated over and over for five minutes at a time. And we did “stop and go” sessions, in which the models moved freely and the artists could call for the action to freeze for a short time.
This was great practice because the only way to get anything was to draw as quickly as possible. I experimented with crayons, graphite, and ink. Using a brush with ink really seemed to have the right fluidity and responsiveness for the task, but ink brush drawing in a sketchbook doesn’t work so well as it takes too long to dry and the pages get stuck together. So I had the idea of using scrolls. I did many small scrolls about 6 feet (2 meters) long, usually vertical. But I also made a few big scrolls, and that’s what I’m showing in this post. All the scrolls shown here are 36″ or 91 cm across their short dimension, and 20 to 30 feet (6 to 10 meters) long.
Looking at the scroll above, it’s interesting how the style changes at different levels. At the beginning (the top) the drawing is realistic, separate figures. I’m drawing with a fan brush, which holds ink well and makes a single line when applied on its edge or a multiple line if used flat. At the next level down the figures become denser and begin to overlap more. Then they disintegrate a bit, becoming more abstract. Perhaps the model’s movement was getting a bit faster here. At this level there’s a fiery quality to the drawing. Realism returns, with two large figures that have hair and even faces, but the more abstract and fragmented figures return and the scroll ends with a jumble of overlapping body parts and hands. The last part of the scroll was done with a round brush, not the fan brush.
The remaining scrolls are horizontal, so you’ll have to scroll to the right to see them in full.
This one, and the others in this post, were drawn vertically from left to right. This one’s also done with the fan brush, but the style and density is more uniform than in the vertical scroll. If you look at it as a sequence it has the feeling of a dance.
The movement drawing classes attracted two very distinct types of artists. There were the loose and flowy artists who didn’t really care about capturing the figure so much as picking up on the energy of the situation, and there were the animators, who tended to make series of small, crisply drawn figures like animation keyframes. My own approach probably fell between those extremes.
This one was done with the round brush and a more precise, sculptural line. It’s possible this one (immediately above) was done with still poses (stop and go session) and the previous one (the male figure scroll) with slow movement, but I don’t really remember. The model for the one immediately above was Lauren, and the strength and variety of the poses you can see in this scroll is a great example of what a really superior model brings to their craft.
These last two examples were, I believe, both drawn on the same day. These are reproduced at a smaller scale so you can see more of the figures at once:
For a while I had a studio in the mezzanine of Gary Lai’s Physical Arts Center in Brooklyn. This was a large studio, workshop space and performance venue for gymnastics, martial arts, dance and aerial (trapeze) work. It was the only place I ever had enough room to exhibit these large scrolls, along with many of the smaller ones. You can see an image of the mezzanine space filled with such scrolls here.
In that huge space it was possible to get back and see these scrolls from a distance, something that couldn’t even be done when they were being made at Spring Studio or in my own small studio. The dense clusters of figures can be seen as writhing torrents of multiple bodies, like Dante’s whirlwind of lovers from the Inferno, or sequentially, as phases of movement through time, which is how I tend to see them since that’s how they were made. To me they are also reminiscent of the storms of bison and stags seen in Paleolithic cave murals.
The form of the scroll also suggests a momentum that will not be bounded by the tight frame of the regular page. Perhaps the most famous modern-day work done in the form of a scroll is Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, typed on a long roll of paper as though stopping to change paper was out of the question for such a barrelling headlong memoir.