Discover more from The Dan Catt Pen Plotting Newsletter
📙 #001 - Steal like an artist?
Take what you need
"The reason that great artists cluster together geographically is so that they can learn from each other. Jacques Lipchitz explains, 'I remember one day when Juan Gris told me about a bunch of grapes he has seen in a painting by Picasso. The next day these grapes appeared in a painting by Gris, this time in a bowl; and the day after, the bowl appeared in a painting by Picasso.'"
― Rod Judkins, The Art Of Creative Thinking
A few weeks ago, I used my pen plotter, "Trevor", the A3/V3 AxiDraw, to scratch away at some scratch cards, revealing the multicoloured or shiny surface underneath.
After posting the photos, I received a flurry of messages, many of them in the vein of "I was just thinking about doing this, but you've beaten me to it!"
So, of course, I encouraged them to do it anyway.
"It might have been done before, but it hasn't been done by you!"
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
In her book Gilbert talks of ideas living in their own realm, looking for ways to break out, to find a "host" to occupy and help them manifest. Alan Moore has a similar concept with Ideaspace, where locations spread apart in both distance and time can be closely connected by ideas.
The Magic and Magick of Gilbert and Moore has a dimension inhabited by idea Daemons, stalking and pacing, biding their time, looking for a weak spot in the walls that separate them from us, and when they find one, they burst through. Because the land of "Ideaspace" is convoluted, joined by concepts rather than geography, London, New York, Tokyo and Shanghai are adjacent because we think of them together as major cities, it's possible for a Daemon, the idea, to step through at a single moment in time, but separated by a great distance.
When we, as artists, are struck with an idea, a pebble of thought rolling around in our head, we shouldn't be surprised when we see someone else do just that very thing. And that doesn't mean we should throw that idea away.
Juan copied the grapes from Picasso, who in return took the bowl and used it for something else.
"Art is theft".
― Pablo Picasso
When I've run small workshops in the past, teaching "creative coding", I tell students to look for an end result they see from someone else and then "copy" it.
Of course, the process of copying it is to try and work out how a program may have been written to get those final results. Inevitably about halfway through, the student will swerve off in a different direction, they'll have a bug that produces an unexpected result, or some setting that they discover they can crank up not just to 11 but to 111, and everything goes flying off in all directions.
If you get stuck, copy, copy, copy, try to work out how it was done, see if you can figure out the intent, dissect it and put it back together.
"The only art I'll ever study is stuff that I can steal from".
― David Bowie
When I posted the scratch card photos to Instagram, I'd already seen it done over a year earlier.
I was thinking about getting a pen plotter but wasn't sure yet. So I was looking around and found a person who made these beautiful plots. Stupidly I didn't make a record of it at the time, so I can't credit them because I was "just passing through", but the idea stuck with me.
I think they had metal plates they'd covered in black ink and then used a scratching tool to carve the design into the plate with the pen plotter. Sweeping flow fields, like atoms smashed together, appeared, and it was beautiful. And then, they stopped, or I never found them again.
At the time, I thought, "well, I can't do that because they've done it."
Until an advert popped up from an art store, showing me scratch cards, daemons from the Ideaspace using Facebook Ads, in a way it makes sense, modern magick indeed.
In the pen plotting art space, certain concepts are so common and such basic building blocks of our art that if we rejected everything we'd already seen, it would leave nothing else to create.
Which is how I decided to just get over myself and post the scratch card photos and encouraged everyone else to do so. To go back to the first quote, "The reason that great artists cluster together geographically is so that they can learn from each other" was perhaps true back in the olden days (although our Daemons would make sure the same idea popped up on different continents at the same time), but now our cluster is Instagram and Twitter.
"Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest."
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Never not make the art.
I'm still figuring the "format" of this Newsletter. The above writing is something that's been bouncing around in my head for a while, waiting to get put down into a longer blog post. I thought it'd be fun to have shorter versions here, so you get to see the half-formed ideas first.
Don't be too surprised to see a long delay between something showing up in the Newsletter and it appears out in the more public world; as mentioned before, I am a terrible procrastinator!
In the world of "still figuring things out", I'm going to pop a couple of sections below, but I expect that'll evolve until this all settles on its "final form".
News from the world of Catt
This is a placeholder for where I'd post about things I've just done or things brewing. And hopefully not just a rehash of things I've posted to Instagram that you've already seen.
Unfortunately, I've posted all the things to Instagram and forgot to hold some things back 🤣 It's not quite like that, but you get the idea.
I swear in the following Newsletter that I'll be more prepared to talk about posters, t-shirts, or copperplate printing.
Links and resources
Unsurprisingly I get asked fairly often about "How do I do pen plotting art" and while I do have some good tips and also plans to write some tutorials, I usually end up pointing people to Michelle's (known as @dirtalleydesign on Instagram) blog posts, specifically the "more links" at the bottom of these post:
And this post
Obviously, I could look at those posts and go, "Ah, Michelle has all this pen plotter advice covered", but we've just been through a mini-essay on that, and there's easily room for several different takes.
Around the Instagrams
This is a small selection of things that have caught my eye from Instagram.
Well, that was fun, wasn't it? I have a good feeling about this. More words than Instagram and Twitter, less stressful than a blog post, I'm sure we'll hit our stride as we get into it.
Way back in the past, when I worked for Flickr, I'd run a blog feature called "Five Questions," which were always the same five questions asked of a developer using the Flickr API. The last question was always, "Whose work do you admire and think we should interview?" Which I've always thought is a great way to end an interview. When I've nailed the rest of the Newsletter, I think that's something else to start.
Also, as we're all friends here, I'm open to feedback; please feel free to reply to this email. I assume that'll work; if not, then you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Elsewhere on the Internet.
This is the Newsletter part where I'd traditionally put all the other places you can find me on the internet. Which I will do. For the moment, though, I just want to thank you all for signing up in the first place, and I assume you already know where to find me.
Thank you all, take care out there.