Depth – or Not

K. Kauffman, Autumn Changes II, 20”x16”, ink

I love to draw with ink, any kind, from ordinary ballpoint pens to soft paintbrushes that I dip in rainbow colors. When I start, I use black or blue ink, making free-form energetic scribbles. As I stare at the abstract field of looping lines, I envision a design. To emphasize this image, I cut away extraneous areas with scissors, making the landscape, tree or person more clear. Finally, I add colored ink washes. As I apply liquid hues, I imagine them soaking deep into the thick paper that I work with. 

Throughout this process, I often talk to my drawings. Oh, you’re a beauty. Do you want to be bright and bold? That’s what Autumn Changes II wants, so scarlet leaves pop out. Sometimes, the drawing goes another direction and I ask, Do you want to be shy and subtle? If I sense that the answer is Yes, I apply muted pastel colors. As I work with them, the drawings appear to take on distinct personalities. I become attached to them. By the time we finally arrive at a beautiful and vital solution together, I’ve fallen in love. Along the way, I’ve learned patience or gained insight.  For instance, when I finished Autumn Changes II, I was stunned to recognize the beautiful maple tree at my childhood home in Seattle. I hadn’t consciously set out to create it. During the artistic process, it simply appeared, like an old friend coming to visit.

One day, in my studio, a stray piece of double-stick tape accidentally attached itself to the upper right-hand area of my finished drawing, Autumn Changes II. After cursing my stupid mistake – leaving a piece of double-stick tape loose in my studio – I comforted myself with the thought that the inch-long piece of tape might not do much damage. I assumed the wet inks I’d initially applied had saturated the paper below the surface, so the original colors would be present in the lower levels of the paper. 

I gently peeled off the top layer of pigments stuck to the tape. Much to my shock, the tape took all the color off with it, leaving a white blotch, about one inch square. The inks hadn’t stained the inner parts of paper at all. The colors only covered the top surface. Was my experience of depth in a drawing an illusion? 

 I re-drew the damaged area, luckily making a complete repair. However, discovering the extreme thinness and frailty of Autumn Changes II shocked me. After several weeks, I relaxed and accepted this new reality, even though I didn’t like it: my drawings perched atop the surface of the paper separated from the absorbent cotton rag below by a top layer of starchy sizing. 

I still love my drawings, which evolve through a long process of profound change in both of us. I make repairs when needed and our bond remains strong, much like the relationships I enjoy with the people closest to me.