4 artists, 4 questions, 4 cities

Four female artists discuss their fondness for graphite 

Name: Koak

Location: San Francisco

Koak, “Alice” Graphite, charcoal, watercolor, chalk, pastel, and casein on natural rag paper with dyed fawn inlay, 2018. 15″ x 11.25”

What do you enjoy most about working in graphite?

Graphite is an incredibly malleable tool. What I enjoy most about it is how easily it’s bastardized—how quickly it can be morphed to fit your desired effect depending on its method of application. It’s rather like a chameleon that way.

I’ve always been drawn to media that can be utilized through numerous methods, so that the end result is a texture that’s incongruous with itself. Currently I’ve been making drawings that use both crisp dark lines (that are created with a very sharp and very soft lead) and almost an etching-like shading (which is created through a process of rubbing pencil shavings onto the paper to darken it, and then sanding into the shading to lighten it). The end result is something that feels both handled and crisp.

Koak_Eden_2017_39.25x55.5_Web (1)
“Eden” Graphite and casein on rag paper, 2017. 15″ x 11.25”

How do you feel the medium choice enriches or matches the intentions for your work?

This is something that’s very different for each piece. I think there’s always the thought of the piece—the initial seed of what you’re going to make—and for me that thought is always tied to the medium that the piece will be made in, whether that’s a sculpture, a painting, or a drawing.

Graphite generally plays a role in all of these processes, even if it’s just a sketch on an underdrawing that’s erased by the time the work is finished. As far as fitting my intentions, or enriching the work, it does that by being utilitarian. There is no simpler tool for art than a pencil. If my intention is to communicate a thought, as precisely as I can through lines and shading, then I think my work is enriched by the simplicity and (as mentioned before) the malleability of  graphite.

Koak, “How to Forget” Graphite and casein on pale blue rag paper, 2018. 39.25″ x 55.25”

Is there a scale you prefer to work in or feel most comfortable with? Why?

There are elements to working at either ends of the spectrum that are both difficult and rewarding. It’s important that I create pieces that feel personal as well as those that feel monumental. Not only is the process that you undertake as an artist vastly different between making smaller and larger work—in regards to where you work or the parts of your brain and body that are accessed—but the end result is work that is experienced very differently by the viewer. A small work framed quietly on a wall is like a window to another world, whereas larger work exists in the world itself–its very size makes it a presence in our world rather than a dream about another.

What project or exhibitions do you have coming up? Where can people see your work?

I have a couple shows opening later this year, including a solo exhibition in Buenos Aires that opens May 19th with Walden gallery. I’ll also be exhibiting in Art Athina with Union Pacific gallery from London.

Koak, Installation of exhibition at UNTITLED Miami with Walden Gallery, 2017.

Name: Maria Calandra

Location: Brooklyn, New York

Yevgeniya Baras Studio, 2015 Graphite on paper 8.5 x 11 inches

What do you enjoy most about working in graphite?

Its versatility and immediacy. I linger in its historical longevity. I marvel at the ability it gives me to translate almost anything into a drawing with the use of one simple tool. I am forever bound to Graphite’s silvery seduction, lack of color, and endlessly subtle value shifts. I first fell in love with its variations in line making. Graphite and drawing itself is often overlooked as a preliminary form of art making. It is far from a starter for me. It is my beloved finisher.
How do you feel the medium choice enriches or matches the intentions for your work? And can you talk a little bit about pencil in the studio?

When I visit artists in their studios I set up a small drawing board in my lap, with a piece of paper and a pencil on top of it. I put my seldom used kneaded eraser in my pocket and my sharpener on the ground next to me. I always say to the artists that I am visiting “all I need is a chair and the day with you.” This is made possible by working in graphite. Pencil allows me to become aware of the artists’ work and process layer by layer. I am able to take the time to transform their artworks into grayscale without other materials to take up my attention or slow down my concentration. Half of the fun is in translating a painting from red, blue or yellow into the values that only a graphite pencil has to offer. You have to look long and hard to do that. Drawing in real time, along the artists in their studios, is what gives my project its life. Working while talking to my companion for the day, not only changes my experience of making, but also adds to the personality of the work. The drawings act as a record of the artist and their studio at this particular time in history. The simpleness of the pencil, is for me, what keeps the project tangible, unfussy and real.

Is there a scale you prefer to work in or feel most comfortable with? Why?

Right now I am working as small 8.5 x 11 inches and as big as 16 x 32 feet. All in graphite. Graphite can be super versatile so I am comfortable with many sizes. With the larger mural work I use graphite putty mixed with water and apply my marks with brushes. On paper I use a 5B or 4B, while sometimes making initial marks with a 2B. I am also working on large 3 x 4 feet panels combining the detailed marks of a pencil with the quicker more exploratory marks that a brush has to offer. Or, sometimes, I even use pours of graphite and water mixed together to initially activate my panel. I am really excited by this process right at the moment. I can capture the personality of a dolphin with the tip of my sharpened pencil while the liquid graphite can emphasize the physical application of the medium as it depicts the ocean that the dolphin jumps out of. In some ways I wanted to figure out a way to get painting back into my work while still keeping to the use of only graphite. Call me a purest, but graphite is my favorite.

What project or exhibitions do you have coming up? Where can people see your work?

I have a solo show of my new works on panel coming up early next year at 106 Green in Brooklyn. Pencil in the Studio is also still in motion of course. The online project is a great place to see drawings and read about current working artists in NYC. It spans over the past seven years. 

Maria Calandra, Graphite Wall Installation, 2017 Wythe Hotel

Name:  Erin Fostel

Location: Baltimore, MD

Erin Fostel, “Cargo Cranes” Charcoal and graphite on paper, 2017, 42.5” x 41”

What do you enjoy most about working in graphite/charcoal?

I greatly value technique and craft. Early on in my undergraduate degree I realized that I did not have the technical proficiency at drawing that many of my peers acquired in high school. So immediately I felt that I had to work to overcome what I perceived to be an obstacle. I made a conscious decision to adopt a medium and attempt to perfect it. I chose charcoal because it is both versatile and forgiving. Each drawing that I create today is still a little bit of a struggle. Finding the right way to capture an image, by figuring out what marks I need to make, is a process that I find to be both frustrating and rewarding. The satisfaction I feel when completing a drawing is what brings me back to it again and again.

How do you feel the medium choice enriches or matches the intentions for your work?

I often ask myself the question of why I draw instead of taking photographs, especially since I draw from photographs. I spend a lot of time creating those reference photos. After the effort of locating or creating a scene and taking the actual picture, I then take that image into Photoshop and manipulate it. I pump up the contrast, delete distracting elements, and burn or dodge certain areas. After spending hours getting it right, why then does it need to be turned into a drawing? I love putting down smudges and marks on paper and recreating that image. It transforms it from something that is real into something that is an illusion. During the drawing process I continue to edit, but it’s not the editing that performs the transformation. It’s the charcoal. I do not draw in a hyper-photographic manner because I like for the charcoal to have a voice. The final piece is not about just the image it is depicting, but maybe also about the journey to create that image.

Lately, I have been less interested in working from photographs and am trying to incorporate more life drawing into my practice. Drawing from an object that is right in front of you is more satisfying than drawing from a flattened representation of that object. Also, when using a photo for reference, I find myself too beholden to represent the photo. Not starting from a reference point means I can let the piece take on whatever shape it may during the drawing process. That is really exciting and also a little terrifying. The risk of ending up with a drawing that I dislike is higher, but I think the rewards of that risk are greater.

Is there a scale you prefer to work in or feel most comfortable with? Why?

My ultimate goal is to make a living off of drawing. Currently, I balance my studio practice with a part time job. It’s a great job, with wonderful co-workers and good health care coverage, but balancing the two sometimes is very challenging.  I have mostly shown my work in the Baltimore area. The art market here has a very low price point. If I want to sell a work here, and have the sale be worth the time spent to create the piece, then I have to work small. It is weird to think about the concept of investment of time and rate of return when it comes to drawing. It can definitely be harmful to a studio practice. This is why I am thankful to have a day job that supports my monthly expenses so that I continue to have the freedom to work as I want in whatever size I want.

The current goal is to get my drawings outside of Baltimore, and to reach art markets that have a higher price point. I am figuring out the steps I need to take in order to meet this goal and thankfully have wonderful mentors to help guide me. An art career can be whatever you want it to be. There are many paths and options. After talking with many artist friends, each of whom followed different paths, I have realized what direction I want my own career to go in. This requires me to now think strategically about every aspect of my practice, including the size of a drawing.

Erin Fostel, “The weight of absence” Charcoal and graphite on paper, 2016, 26″ x 40″

What project or exhibitions do you have coming up? Where can people see your work?

I have a solo show coming up this July in Pennsylvania, at York College. I will also be a part of the MICA Alumni Biennial Exhibition which opens in Baltimore in late June. I enjoy sharing works in progress or other random studio moments on social media, so I often post in my Instagram account: @erinfostel. I also have a website that I keep updated with new work and upcoming shows: www.erinfostel.com.

At the moment, I am shifting gears on subject matter. I just completed a series of drawings of Baltimore buildings. They served a very specific purpose for me, as a commemoration of the life of my father, who was an architect. His death was an experience that forever changed me and it is impossible for that experience to not be reflected in the work that I create. Loss provides an awareness of the impermanence of life. For me, it has been a tough thing to mentally tackle. I have developed an increased interest in the interplay of presence and absence, the nexus of reality and illusion, where the tangible and intangible become intertwined. I am exploring that concept with the language of drawing, or at least trying to figure out how.

Buy Erin’s work here!

Name: Jan Razauskas

Location: Catskills, NY

razauskas, carbon X11, 28 x 19 inches, 2016
Jan Razauskas, carbon X11, carbon paper and carbon residue on stone paper, 28 x 19 inches

What do you enjoy most about working in graphite?

I repeatedly find myself drawn to black and white media for drawing or research-based projects, because it somehow allows a more detached or universal voice in the work, without allusion to specifics of time or subjectivity.

How do you feel the medium choice enriches or matches the intentions for your work?

In this project I am looking at the nature of perception, and how the vagaries of perception effect our understanding of what is seen. I was inspired to pursue this while reading about the discovery of graphene, the first known volumetric, two-dimensional object – what this could be like, how an object like this fits into our definitions of the world.  

For this project, I wanted to use a material that could be read as both two and three-dimensional, as object and sign, and carbon paper became the vehicle for that idea. Vintage carbon papers are made with loosely bound ink and wax adhered to paper, and the paper itself is at once dense and opaque, and a very thin, volumetric object. I was able to work with a residue from the paper as well as hand-cut pieces of the paper to make images.

Once I started working with the material aspects of the carbon paper, possibilities opened for a language of marks, repeats, copy-negatives, shapes and voids, as explored in the drawings.

Is there a scale you prefer to work in or feel most comfortable with? Why?

No, typically the scale of a work is dictated by the subject or focus of a project or idea. For the carbon drawings I work in two sizes.  The smaller size lends itself to images that are more spare or reductive. The larger size lets me work with overall patterns or more elaborate compositions.

What project or exhibitions do you have coming up? Where can people see your work?

Some of the Carbon Drawings can be seen on my website – I have new paintings in a 2-person show, “Gigantic Brain”, with Sophie Grant at twoforty space in Brooklyn, that has been extended until May 4. And generally I use Instagram to post new work – @janrazauskas.

Jan Rasauskas, carbon 47, carbon paper and carbon residue on stone paper, 14 x 9.5 inches
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