Mark Reep: The Nightingale’s Garden

Once or twice a year I do a series of blogposts with in-progress scans and comments about the development of a drawing.   Here’s a look at a 2009 drawing called The Nightingale’s Garden.


I don’t post works in progress much. Don’t take the time to make in-progress scans, usually; and of course on those occasions when I say hey look what I’m working on, it’s gonna be so freaking cool and then the next day I mess up and trash it and people say guy what happened, it’s embarrassing. But spring’s in the air- admittedly, that’s a statement of faith, but I’m sticking to it- and today I’m feeling emboldened.

No Planning

The drawing went well last night. Hadn’t planned on the pool, or getting all vertical, or much of anything else that happened. Never do, really. Planning’s overrated. If there were a universally recognized symbol for planning I’d get a T-shirt made, a big red slashed-circle NO PLANNING.

What I had thought might happen, sorta, was more of a ruin, emerging from still water, mist. Seemed a good way to go. But I guess I’ve gone there enough for now, because that seemed old news, safe, no fun. And why make art unless it’s fun.

Sure, saleable is good- And for some of us, necessary. But trying to hit that mark… If you’ve got those kinds of chops, that’s a good thing. Me, I’ve learned to draw what I love, and then think about sales. Because if my heart’s not in it… Well, that’s really all we have to offer, isn’t it: Ourselves, and our best.

For me, a lot of that’s about pushing aside preconceptions, refusing that intellectual overlay- mmn, this element doesn’t really make sense, how can I make it work with the others, that kind of overthinking- that often clouds rather than clears. Usually, if I leave well enough alone, the drawing will move forward in a way that’s satisfying and efficient. So far, so good.

So only a couple things, or at least their beginnings- not a lot, compared to the epic revisings some drawings have suffered- went the way of the Mayans. Who probably didn’t build any of this, even the oldest parts, not their style. You never know though. Maybe some rebellious Mayan princess went rogue on ‘em, blew her inheritance on a second year art student full of revolutionary new ideas, and this got half-built before the money ran out.

Half-hearted sucks. Half-built, though- That’s good. Leaves room for all kinds of possibilities.

Abandoned Flights

Not a lot to show for last night’s drawing time. Tried some things that went nowhere, but at least took awhile- Long day, or maybe I just wasn’t ready. Sometimes you know you’ve approached a new edge, something new, something. You don’t know what, exactly. A half-glimpsed dream you reach after, can’t grasp: The pools at the bottom of this drawing dissolving into a shuffle of architect’s sketches, layered transparencies, possibilities. Fragmented notes you intuit rather than read: Unresolved arcs. No conjoined returns. Eventually, you resign yourself that none of those will happen tonight, you don’t have the energy, clarity to allow them, and you clean up their thinning traces, contrails of those abandoned flights.

Quick & Dirty

Last night, more cleanup: Brightly lit surfaces, reflections, mist, fades smoothed with graphite pencils, kneaded erasers; and a quick-and-dirty tree roughed in with one of my most indispensible tools, a Sanford Tuff Stuff Eraser Stick. I sharpen the point with a utility knife, emery board or sandpaper to draw out fine lines or refine highlights. If you work in charcoal or graphite, you need one.

Where The Fun Waits

Last night I began with the remaining unfinished area above the middle pool, developing detail, bringing values into line. In these sessions when I’m resuming work on a drawing in progress, I look for the obvious, the first thing I see that clearly needs doing. A way of warming up, maybe: Small decisions before bigger.

The top pool was also unplanned. I’d do a few obvious, then see about the tree– Next thing I knew, there was another pool, and getting bigger, and and.

As usual, there are elements I’m not satisfied with- maybe never will be, not entirely, but I need to remember to leave well enough alone, sometimes- and that’s just what I can see, what seems obvious. What I can’t see yet, though, that’s where the fun waits.

Contrast & Consistency

A brief session, with more values brought into line. I look for distractions, too-brights, too-darks, make adjustments with erasers, graphite pencils, Q-Tips. Get carried away, and softly-lit becomes muddy. I’m always looking for that ideal balance between contrast and consistency. Elusive, that one.

The Nightingale’s Garden

The Nightingale’s Garden
Charcoal, Graphite; 5” x 9”

No scanner handy over the weekend, so this scan represents two sessions, about eight hours’ work. Trying to follow, flesh out the bones of the trees I’d sketched earlier seemed an almost certainly dissatisfying path: I wanted to get out of their way and my own, let these trees to be a product of this session, today’s energy and direction. So I began again, fast and loose– Q-Tips loaded with soft charcoal dust, initial shapes and highlights lifted out with kneaded erasers. Details developed with 6B charcoal pencils, softened & sharpened with more kneaded eraser, Dixon Ticonderoga graphite pencils, grades 1-4.

The last session was a Fussing Day– Cleaning up, smoothing out background and mist with a gazillion or minute adjustments. Kneaded erasers shaped to a very fine point, and a Staedtler Mars Lumograph 6H graphite pencil. The Nightingale’s Garden was done in several sessions over 12 days; total working time was about 22 hours.


3 Responses to Mark Reep: The Nightingale’s Garden

  1. Bill Boland says:

    Fascinating tale. You are walking catalog for what this blog and blogs like it can contribute to us all.

  2. […] few weeks ago on West End Talk I posted a series of in-progress scans and comments about my drawing The Nightingale’s Garden.  Here’s another making-of for the upcoming Process show at […]

  3. Meg says:

    Wow Mark! Thank you so much for sharing your process and progress! Loved every moment of it!

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