Main Image.

Drawing, is dirty.

It gets under my nails, stains the edge of my hand. I sweep the bench of watercolour pencil shavings and my palm is a rainbow of colour. My hands at the end of a studio day are dusty pink and ochre fingers, palms a wipe of pastel.

Sometimes I want my work to be simply photos of this and nothing else. The beautiful stain of the effort.

I’ve always tried to honour this; the reality of making work with a body, charcoal, pastels. We get dirty, we make a mess, we wash, we come back. Sometimes I make works where I leave everything on – all of the fingerprints, the trying and failing shown through erasing, adding, ripping up, sticking back together. For me, the attempt to reveal and show this process is also the content of the work. It’s saying hey, I’m made by a human who is intense, committed, breaks things, makes mistakes, comes back, forgives them, tries again. It’s a lot like a relationship. It is a relationship.


There’s no way over, only through. Lately I have had to go all the way through a drawing, beyond the point where I think it’s ok. I’ve been checking my intentions; what do I want from making a drawing? We practice and practice, and get good at some stuff. And then it’s like that knowledge solidifies and gets stiff. It has to be broken, so it can be remade. I remember ripping up drawings in my MFA and my studio neighbour being so shocked. Transformation is shocking, unexpected, frightening. But it’s so much better than getting bored. So much better than making a kind of lie – something we know will work, but doesn’t have life in it anymore. I always try to keep light, keep moving, keep things alive. I’d much rather what I make is alive, struggling, moving, with lots of imperfections, than it be edited until it is perfect, and the life is lost. None of us have the power to bring things back from the dead.


And when I lose my nerve, teaching reminds me. I teach because every class reminds me of the simplicity, and wonder, of originality, and finding out what our bodies hold, and reflect. It’s an honour, and a privilege, to offer exercises, trials, challenges and experiments to help unlock that and see what we find together. And I make myself do those same exercises. I can teach, only because I do. All of the fear, the uncertainty, the joy, I know it. I know the process to get us there, and, after many years of practice, I also know ways to get us out, or move us on. I write one of my best tips on the board: KEEP MOVING. Sometimes I think nothing else matters, both in creative process, and in life, that we don’t get stuck, but keep looking for where we can move, shift, stop from getting frozen.

Siân Torrington has been drawing for well over a decade, and is interested in represent the embodied, living subject through acknowledging the processes of making. Siân has taught at tertiary level, in schools, and community contexts. Her teaching methods honour the process, and allow participants to develop their own styles. She has an MFA from Massey University, has exhibited nationally and internationally, and works from a studio in Wellington. 

Drawing, is dirty

+ Text Size -