Whenever I go to the doctor and get my finger pricked, I’m always surprised at how much it hurts–at how sensitive the tips of our fingers are. Yet at the same time, they are so utilitarian. Judith Ann Braun’s work uses both these qualities of fingers–their sensitivity and their strength–in her latest large-scale drawings, in which she creates symmetrical, abstract patterns with charcoal smudges made with her fingertips.
With that description alone you might imagine something messy and “hand-crafted” in a not-so-great way. But Braun’s works actually have a lot of precision to them, as she darts her hands across a pristine white (or black) wall to create nimbuses, whorls, and scrolls. When I saw the drawings in person and realized that the oval marks were actually the artist’s fingerprints in charcoal, I felt like I was being held in the artist’s hand; enveloped by the work and the artist’s presence even though she was nowhere near.
After seeing photos of Braun’s process, I started to recognize what I could learn from her as a draftsman: the power of putting your whole body into a work of art. There is a fluidity to Braun’s marks that wouldn’t be achievable if she were sitting behind a desk or at an easel. Her motions, as she makes her marks, involve her fingers and hands but also her arms, shoulders, back, and really her entire body. That serves as a reminder to me about how stiff and still I can become when working on a drawing. Sometimes when I move, I’ll ache because I’ve been frozen in place for so long. Braun’s drawings have taught me to step back and really allow my whole body and the forces of motion of all my limbs to come into play.
I enjoy Braun’s works because they are decorative and ornamental, but if I were choosing to create a more realistic drawing, I probably would not use my fingertips, no matter how deft I thought my touch could be. Instead, I’d reach for a pencil–and the control such an implement gives me–and probably the 2016 Drawing-A-Day Collection, which covers how to draw realistically with pencil, charcoal, and more. This resource kit gives the artist a compendium of drawing techniques and sketching lessons that are as inspiring as Braun’s drawings–but with a bit more realistic appeal. Enjoy!