I started drawing on the computer in 2005. Previous to that, most of my work had been about corresponding my hand to lines in nature; the contours of leaves, the ripples on rivers, the edges of overlapping hills. Although I was using traditional art materials, I prepared the canvases with slicker and slicker surfaces so that the lines wouldn't soak into the background but sit on top, preserving the nuances of my hand. I thought of the drawings as photographic, in the diaristic sense of recording moments. I enjoyed the easy correspondence of the endless novelty of line in these natural forms and the endless variety of lines created by my hand. I couldn't draw the same leaf twice so my subject and process were well matched.
In 2005, I had the idea to draw every leaf of a tree, but I struggled with the scale and complexity of the subject. How does one bring a tree indoors? How can one see the whole tree and its parts simultaneously? I tried traditional strategies and materials but the results were unsatisfactory. I wondered if it would be possible to make the drawing on a computer. Since everything... music, photos, movies & books were being digitized, what about drawing? I wasn't interested in computer graphics per se... emulating watercolor or virtual Sumi ink, but sought to "dumb down" the computer and use it as a repository for simple line drawings. In the program I use, Adobe Illustrator, lines are called "paths"... an apt name since the line’s shape remains independent of their attributes of color or thickness.
Taking my laptop outdoors, I drew my first tree "en plein air." Using a digital tablet and pen, I drew simple contours of the leaves and branches. Having these drawings remain in digital form rather than in physical form, opened up interesting possibilities and tackled the complexity of a tree in intriguing ways. My lines were free and separate from the background and each other. I drew the branches individually and then later, I could cobble them together to reconstitute the whole tree. On the screen, I could zoom in and out and draw at different scales simultaneously. I could zoom out to draw a simple contour of the entire trunk and then zoom in to draw the smallest leaf with equal effort. I drew in layers so that as the drawings accumulated I could turn layers "off" so that they wouldn't obscure subsequent layers. These two novelties, drawing at different scales simultaneously and making parts of the drawing invisible to allow for work on top or behind previous drawings, allowed for the accumulation of hundreds of simple outlines to create a dizzying visual complexity.
The first tree I drew from life, but subsequent trees I drew from photographs. I would take hundreds of close-ups of a tree from a single point of view and then stitch all of these close-ups together on the computer. Sometimes I photographed a tree in the summer and then in the fall leafless, allowing me to see and draw all of the branches and limbs unadorned and unobscured. I would draw the tree twice, with and without leaves, merging the two drawings into one document. In this way, the drawings comprise and compress great spans of looking over vast time frames and seemingly contradictory close up and distant points of view.
I have been drawing a perennial garden in Colorado "perennially" adding a few plants to the document year after year. The forms of art are a modest subset of those in the natural world. Standing within the garden’s chaotic tangled mass of emerald illuminated forms, I was awe-struck by the endless variety of lines. The plants are a mass of form but not of weight. The whole garden could fit into a trashcan, but the lines of its circuitous contours would extend for miles if unfurled.