characterized by recurrence or repetition.
MATHEMATICS•LINGUISTICSrelating to or involving the repeated application of a rule, definition, or procedure to successive results.“this restriction ensures that the grammar is recursive”
COMPUTINGrelating to or involving a program or routine of which a part requires the application of the whole, so that its explicit interpretation requires in general many successive executions.“a recursive subroutine”
It began innocently enough as this drawing below, a simple warm up exercise I gave myself before the pile drive of work for my current graphic novel project, MEADOWLARK. I didn’t really know what I was doing or had any clear notion of where to go with it at the time. I hadn’t even codified the rules of the piece, but interestingly enough, the rules came as it was happening… what if I didn’t;t take my pen off the paper? What would a bunch of wiggly lines start to make me see in the drawing it was drawing? And so we ended up here.
After I felt a funny itch to do more, and so did, this time with a more purposeful approach. A clear subject in mind. Do a drawing in one single unbroken line using a ballpoint pen. Could this be a thing? Turns out the answer was yes.
Thing is though I have a prior relationship with these classic old Bic pens. (not the fancier heavy duty ones, just the straight up unbranded clear Bic pen you get in bulk at any office supply store). I had used these exact pens to the point of burnout in executing my very first graphic novel, SUDDEN GRAVITY, originally for Caliber Comics back in 1992. Bic pens were cheap, accidentally archival, humble in a way that begged for that to be exploited into something greater and I was dead-dog broke and just out of art school with a box of unwanted but pilfered cream stock paper from my job a The Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture, where I would eventually serve as caretaker for five or so years. It was a perfect tool to draw with for being utterly portable, easily replaceable and permanent. Hell, I could get replacement pens from the bodega up on 11th avenue, they were that ubiquitous. But as it turns out and has been mentioned before it twiddled with the detailed obsessed part of me that drove me nearly out of my tree, and even though SG wasn’t bringing in a single penny of income I felt honor bound to stick with the medium that brung me in finishing all 275 pages of the book. And that meant more Bic pens. At the end, or close it, I had an opportunity to utilize this new sumi ink I had gotten from pearl Paint on Canal St. Just three or so pages as a kind of dreamy flashback. It was like a shaft of bright light through a growing cloud of darkness, sick to death as I was of drawing in ballpoint for those two or so years of doing the book. But those three pages sparked a near 17 year run of almost exclusively working in sumi ink in comics, editorial art, children’s picture books and cover jobs. I swore I’d never ever never go back to the Bic pen ever again except to sign things and maybe make grocery lists like normal people do. Then I squiggle this fella above, and well… you see what happened.
Almost 25 years after getting tricked into the tar pit of the ballpoint pen, I was back in it, on purpose and enthusiastically. Those years of work had softened the bitterness but also had fueled the arm that wielded the thing in a way that made the application of them on paper something new and different… and worth chasing. And what is the 52 Weeks Project for if not to chase white rabbits into shadowed bushes? And so RECURSIVE was born and officially codified. The word RECURSIVE as listed above struck me as sort of perfect as a way to describe the effort. The looping back and repetition and self realization seemed sort of pitch perfect for the idea going into the drawings. And the rules were simple: Once single, unbroken line when stopped, ended the drawing.
They were fast efforts, but of course with all things we do now fueled by years of training. None could have been done as such without the literal decades of work and all the other preceding portraiture that went into them. They worked my whole arm in a way that the sumi ink taught me rather than the choking hand-cramped way of the Sudden Gravity days. They were wild and loose and a storm of lines doing everything that went against my usual way of working and I was having a ball. I formed a proper web page on my site for them and uploaded a new one each morning after a quick draw before getting to work on the day’s business.
I had noticed that within this very particular swirl storm of wiggly lines an emerging difference between possible approaches. One as way above where there’s a veritable cloud of wild lines that eventually coalesce into a face or a form, and then another less frenetic approach, where the drawing became more controlled and purposeful. Negative space and tonal differences became an added factor and so I tried a few on in this more minimal approach with some interesting results.
They were becoming drawings that as drawings unto themselves had a professional grade of value I respected, and the effort made me appreciate more the wild squiggle storms of the others. This second minimal approach birthed dozens of interesting new ways forward…
Further and further certain types of forms were becoming clearly more suited than others for the drawings, but the speed and wistfulness of the Project was freeing in a way I don’t think this kind of distraction had been for many years if I were being honest. Of late, The 52 Weeks Project became more content driven and subject aware in a way that while perfectly fine was a little less irreverent than it’s first two years with the sumi brush. Like many of these projects do, I ended up becoming part of the effort as well. Sometimes the idea of a new way to attack the series came up unbidden- as in the case below to do a few spooky themed drawings that in top of the existing rules, had to be done ceaselessly until the pen literally ran out of ink. Turns out, that was less than I had imagined. But more in some ways than I had expected.
So as I began to see the endgame approach I thought to tackle something on a grand scale. Was it even possible? The ink ran out of the pens faster than such an enterprise could hold… how to handle that? I actually tried to splice pens together to make the single line charge hold, but as it turns out the vacuum seal of the pens that allows the ink to flow into the nib much like siphoned gasoline in a Mad Max’s mouth. SO that meant I was going to have to stop, switch pens, and get back on it exactly where the line had left off. A small bend in the rule but in keeping with the core ethic of staying with a single line. Halloween was approaching so one of my childhood nightmare characters of lore, JENNY GREENTEETH became the subject. The idea of a cursed bog witch grabbing me by my ankles as I stood fecklessly close to a woodland pond kept me far away from woodland ponds for much of my childhood.
It meant I had a clear notion of what I wanted to draw, and starting in a more careful and determined place forward. My usual way of working in a portion of the page and then hopping up to another area and back over to yet another would mean having to journey there via that single line, and leaving a trail all along the way. Initially this seemed an impossible thing to do and create a full illustration I had before known I wanted to do. Turns out it was doable but it meant more planning ahead for that eventuality. I had to hold in my mind that locale and get there via purpose rather than by racing over like a maniac. The drawing took many hours and was at the end one of the most exhaustive efforts I have ever done at least that graphite drawing I executed for the ANNIHILATION poster for Mondo. It absolutely killed me. That said interesting as a result. Very much leaning heavily on my old JC Cole self.
I think as well the idea of selling them had become too much a part of the effort and these free floating hippies need to mushroom prance through their particular wonderland without such grownup mercantile consequential in tow. So I decided not to sell any of them until after the series had reached its conclusion. That day has finally come and as of today at 2pm ALL of the 50 pieces will go up for sale en masse right HERE at 2pm EST, if you’re so inclined.
To see the series on its own devoted web page, please go HERE.
In the end it was a cathartic reconciliation with the Bic pen that I had so maligned for so long… I’ll never do another graphic novel of that scale with them of course, but it proved once again its tremendous values an instrument I so admire. It’s a portable pen that draws in many ways like a pencil. The reason I send up Bic for these pens is their consistent ability to keep to their line without a hiccup. They also for reasons of their own do not poop out these blobs of ink as most ballpoints do after a series of drawing. The overall effect of the exercise was to expand once again into a new area from which to draw from for any given piece or forthcoming project.
Essentially I found a new love and a new way of working and thinking again. I cannot express too oftener too loudly how absolutely valuable these kinds of experiments are whether you’re just getting going in your art career or as a years-long established professional. More I think for the latter because working this much for this long is simply exhausting and can command through force of desire by one’s public and by simply doing what works, a new way of thinking that can keep your art making fresh. Work, experiment, work again and repeat it until you can no longer. That’s the goal and the daily experience if you’re doing it right.