Dark Drawings: Technical Page

Dark Drawings find their magic in the conjunction of two surprising facts. 

The first is an odd quirk of our minds stemming from our projecting meaning into the world around us all the time in order to make sense of it.  If our senses don't provide enough information our minds simply fill in the blanks because the mind seems unable to tolerate an absence of meaning.  Darkness acts as a veil between the eye and the image that causes us to project a meaning or feeling into the drawing that is not actually there in normal light, most usually with a stronger effect than if the details were provided. Clarifying the details of an art work does not make it more powerful.  This is why the murky paintings of Rembrandt or the wonderfully messy salads of impressionism are so evocative. (This is also why the night is full of demons that vanish in daylight!)  


The other surprising fact is purely technical: the dynamic value range (lights and darks) of any image, rather than narrowing when viewed in low light as one would expect, significantly expands! This is because the full value range of the medium is compressed into a narrow range visible in low light, making possible an amazing range of subtleties.  Ironically, this makes it possible for the artist working in the dark to add a level of subtle marks to the drawing that becomes quite invisible in the dark, though they still have an effect. Thus the artist's expressive power is actually increased because although the apparent contrast of the image is decreased the contrast range of the actual drawing (viewed in full light) remains the same. So the mark of the drawing tool becomes extraordinarily subtle, making possible vanishingly subtle passages that are possible in well lit drawings only by weird behaviors (common to artists) like drawing on the back of the paper.

                            Scientific Evaluations                        

In the decade or more  I have worked on this technique I've only begun to scratch the surface of the possibilities of working with it.  Since I have not heard of anyone else working with these ideas (who would ever have thought?...) I am stumbling along trying to make sense of what I am discovering. 

One thing that seems crucial for me is to distinguish what kind of effect a change in light level produces.  In almost all normal drawings (created to be viewed in normal light) the effect of viewing the work in various light levels is minimal.  The Dark Drawings I have chosen to exhibit I feel have a high degree of change with the level of light, but not all in the same way.  Furthermore the optimal level of light for viewing in order to see the effect is different for different drawings.  Therefor I've created a chart for each drawing to describe its optimal viewing conditions and where I see the significant change.

I don't much like making art into a science, since it tends to thereby obscure art's feeling qualities, but there is something about the technique that I feel should be shared and perhaps even quantified.  I find that there are practical possibilities for use of this technique, for instance to help teach young people about the power of suggestion to arm them for doing battle with advertizers, who wield enormous control over the psyche.  I see it as useful for psychology students in order to better understand the dynamics and principles of psychic projection.  And of course I see it useful for artists and graphic professionals to be able to utilize these ideas with some facility to creative effect.

If you are curious about the effects, as I am, you can try to make sense of the charts as indicated below.  But really, you don't need to do anything beyond just enjoy the drawings and be proud of yourself that if you find them powerful it's because you are doing it yourself!

Sample chart for identifying the properties of a Dark Drawing.

Sample of an effect as viewed in the dark...

...and in the light:

In this example the woman viewed in the dark loses motion and gains weight when the drawing is viewed in the light.  

(This sample is not about subtle values, which is why it can be approximately visually reproduced here.)

-Tim Holmes,  2010

Copyright © 2007 Holmes Studio