Bailin Studio


Art Tools & Gears

January 26, 2016


Artist Interview: David Bailin

For this installment of Art Tools and Gears, we have guest artist David Bailin from the USA. Originally from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, David is currently based in Little Rock, Arkansas. David studied Painting at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1976. Subsequently, he attended lessons on creative art at Hunter College, New York, where he had graduated with a Masters of Art in 1984.

Qn: Could you introduce yourself to our readers?

I am a full-time artist who teaches drawing part-time at two regional institutions: The University of Central Arkansas, Conway, and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

I moved to NYC in the late 70s as a painter but moved into performance and theater to explore narrative. I was engaged in the downtown avant-garde of Richard Foreman (theater), Stuart Sherman (performance), Robert Ashley (music). The power of a single actor on a stage was inspirational and after leaving theater for more hermetic pursuits I began to compose my paintings and drawings as I did my directing: finding pieces of business within environments.

The Arkansas Arts Center, where I worked as its museum school director, has a world class collection of drawings by artists spanning centuries and from all parts of the world. That collection (especially it’s Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Matisse, Mondrian, Morandi, and others) convinced me that drawing was as powerful a medium as any painting, sculpture, play or piece of music. I put down my paints and my writing and began to draw almost exclusively.
Qn: Will you introduce us to the art-tools you use for your charcoal drawings?

Besides Grumbacher medium, 16 charcoal sticks, charcoal dust, straight edge rulers, kneaded and white erasers, I use anything tool that could make or lift off marks on charcoal. I use rubberized texture tools, stencils, dried-up brushes, and rags. Socks are a favorite tool since you can use the ribbing to create wonderful hatching marks and by putting your hands into them you can control the amount of surface manipulation. Coffee has long been both a medium and a drink in my studio. I’ve occasionally added oil and pastels to my drawings as well.
Qn: I see that you draw in a mixture of charcoal, oil, pastel and coffee – how do you go about doing that?

Coffee is the primary means of creating warm passages against the cool charcoal tone. I also use it to punch up the charcoal by applying it like a wash over certain passages. I will dip a stiff brush into the coffee and then drag the wet brush directly over the passage or, sometimes, dip the wet brush into the charcoal dust from the floor and use that on the drawing surface. While the coffee is wet I can press into it for patterns and other effects or to remove layers of drawing. Oil and pastel are applied sparingly as I don’t care to use them to carry any emotional or ‘coloristic’ message preferring to use them only to create contrast in the work.
Qn: What type of prepared paper do you use for your charcoal sketches?

I use un-waxed milk carton paper covered with a layer of taupe-colored acrylic eggshell paint. I call it prepared because that painted surface allows for a number of important results. The painted surface allows me to reestablish the ground so I can start an area over. In addition, this particular paint reacts to my drawing style (punching and dragging the sticks of charcoal and eraser) in that by wiping out an area with a rag in various pressures or erasing a line or two, the area or erased line turns a coffee-color. That surface, then, gives me a warmish hue that contrasts with the normally cool charcoal hue.
Qn: Do you have any tips on charcoal drawing and the choice of art-tools for aspiring charcoal artists?

For charcoal, students should consider the medium as a painting rather than drawing and use the eraser as a paint brush rather than as just a tool to remove charcoal. Never use your fingers to manipulate the charcoal and remember to account for the change that fixative will bring to a drawing (I happen to like the look of a sprayed charcoal drawing, others avoid fixative like the plague).

But my seven tips for any approach to making art:
  1. Don’t make wallpaper
  2. Don’t contemplate your navel
  3. Don’t give in to the cheap shot.
  4. The artistic Pit is inevitable but fear the Zone that becomes a way of avoiding the Pit.
  5. Practice your Doodles (the circle, the daisy, the ball of string, the hatch and the cross-hatch)
  6. Use thumbnails
Qn: Have you read any art-book/s or instructional mediums related to charcoal art that you can share with us?

I read a fair number of articles on art history and criticism and subscribe to several art magazines. I look at Drawing magazines for ideas to take into my classes. But I really find more ideas and usable solutions to problems talking with my artist friends. I think this is true for most artists. It is hard for me to be in the studio for hours. It is one thing to work through one’s narratives on paper, it’s another to feel that they have become real in the studio. My artist friends understand this and our abreaction over coffee is as much a part of my artistic process as pushing the materials.

For me, though, the most effective instructional books have come from a few novelists who have shown me how to structure pieces of narrative and manipulate style to suit theme. Novelists like Franz Kafka, Thomas Pynchon, William Gaddis, J.G. Ballard, Umberto Eco, David Foster Wallace, Haruki Murakami, Neal Stephenson, José Saramago are masters of form and content. I can only hope that my work brings to my viewer as much depth of insight into the world that those fiction writers bring to me.

We thank David Bailin for this very insightful interview and his generous spirit to share his experiences and knowledge of charcoal art.

Bottom: New House • 2016 • Charcoal, Oil, Pastel, and Coffee on Paper