Pencil Points. . . by Karen Middleton

By Karen Middleton in Misc > Art Opinion

Editor’s note: Karen Middleton is one of our new writers here at EmptyEasel; please give her a warm welcome!

I wouldn’t think that falling off my stool at the age of 5, when placed against my first easel, had anything whatsoever to do with me choosing pencils as my preferred medium. Given their relative safety, however (compared to a 2 foot high pre-school furnishing, that is) I can presume it was an appeal I couldn’t ignore.

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My high school art teachers tried hard to interest me in other mediums, and I tried hard to connect accordingly, but I seemed to associate them rather negatively with getting messy—what with all the clay, charcoal, pastels, ink, printing, a myriad of knives, brushes, and paints that were involved. The stools were higher, too, but I managed to stay in place.

At art college I undertook a Foundation Year where students were given assignments in all aspects of art and design, including fine art, printing and 3 Dimensional Design, before deciding where they’d like to specialise.

I chose Graphic Design and Illustration.

Not for me were the joys and delights of getting carried away with the mess and mischief of “real art,” or the excitement of seeking out the smells, sights and sounds of new projects going on in the Fine Art or 3D rooms.

Did I feel I missed out? Yes, most definitely. But in graphics and illustration the tools were neat, the air was clean, and students from other disciplines would walk in and express how they could “eat off the floor in here!” It was tidy, controlled and safe.

Well, mostly safe. In 2004, after working for 22 hours every day for 20 days to meet a deadline, I had to rush myself to hospital at 2:30am one Saturday morning, with a suspected DVT (blood clot) because my calves had increased alarmingly in size.

Apparently the stool (yes, the stool, again) that I was using at my drawing board played a significant part in physically restricting my blood flow. Consequently it was replaced with a more appropriate designer’s chair.

But that didn’t end my love of pencils. I love pencils for the control one can achieve, the detail, and for the sheer pleasure that using my electronic sharpener gives me.

Yet every time I carefully clear some pencil dust away from my finished artwork and accidently spray fixative towards my face instead of the paper, I find myself eyeing the work and practices of digital artists with increasing interest.

Could I swap the apparently clean, controlled medium that is the pencil, for the even cleaner, more controllable tablet or mouse?

Certainly as I type, in the comfort (and safety) of my cushioned, gas-lift height-adjustable, computer chair with padded arms and a standard headrest, the thought both appeals to, and intrigues me.

And further, it makes me ask. . . how far removed can digital art be from what we deem “real” art?

Is it only art if it involves letting go, getting enjoyably dirty, using tools and mediums that intrigue the senses? Or are we ALL artists who just exhibit it in different ways?

And what is it that pulls or influences us into choosing the medium we do? Can we ever really know? Do you?

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