Brandan Doty & Sarah Jane Holtom
Curated by Heather Smith
Organized by the Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils (OSAC)
Touring the province through OSAC’s Arts on the Move Program
By Heather Smith
The title of this exhibition refers to a method of drawing where an artist only looks at the subject, not down at the paper, and with their pencil following ‘blind’ they draw the contour or the edge of the forms. Contour lines are any edge, inside or outside any part of a form. The important thing is that the artist does not look, or only rarely looks, down at their drawing. It is common with this method of drawing for the artist to focus on the complex patterns of tiny edges and lines rather than the bigger compositional structure and that the result is a drawing that is strangely interesting. This shift in vision to those small details creates a kind of meditative state in the artist where they allow themselves to focus on what they are seeing in the moment verses making conscious decisions about the drawing along the way. One instructional book on drawing tells the artist to, “Allow this to happen: this is the shift in vision we are looking for.” Another book on how to draw tells the artist to, ”learn to accept the process – remember you are drawing blind...the distortions, exaggerations, and omissions in blind contour drawings tend to give them an expressive quality other drawings may not have.” Blind contour drawing has been used by many famous artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Picasso, and it is still widely taught in art schools to this day.
Sarah Jane Holtom and Brandan Doty both attended the Alberta College of Art and first encountered this method in their drawing classes. Interested in the quirky results that blind contour drawing can produce, they have continued to apply this method in their current work. After graduating from art school and traveling to New York they decided to move to the small town of Canora, Saskatchewan. They began a gallery there, grandiosely titled the National Gallery of Saskatchewan, where they organized exhibitions of some high-profile contemporary artists that they had met during their student years.
For a few years leading up to her move to Canora, Sarah’s work had focused on the portrait as the primary subject matter in her art. In 2006, she had completed a large project of painting one hundred small portraits of artists in Calgary. The Glenbow Museum purchased the entire series and it was the proceeds from this sale that made them able to fund the purchase of a house in Canora. Sarah’s drawings in this exhibition are the first series that she completed upon moving to Saskatchewan and they all contain her aging dog Penny. Penny, an older Dalmatian, slept alot and was therefore a perfect subject for drawing because she stayed still. Sarah positioned Penny in her home amongst the complicated patterns of oriental carpets, flowered blankets, and pillows so that all these patterns and lines would make interesting drawings. And the results are these beautiful light-handed, pencil crayon drawings of an intimate scene – an old dog in the sun, her head propped up on a pillow or a blanket covering her back, sleeping at her master’s feet. These drawings seem relaxed and heartfelt, exuding the quiet peacefulness of a scene that is captured honestly and directly.
Brandan Doty loves hockey. He worked as the zamboni driver in the Canora hockey rink at night, made drawings and paintings in his studio during the day, and co-ran the gallery space. This series of drawings are made using the blind contour technique while he watched a hockey game on television. The artist follows the movement of the puck with his eyes and moves the mark-making tool with his hand. The resulting drawing is a trace of the path the puck takes in a game. These drawings might look like abstract art, but they are actually direct representations of the puck’s movement during a hockey game. The lines of the drawing are darkest at the edges where the puck hits the boards and lightest in the place where the net sits. To vary the drawings, Brandan used different colours or thicknesses of mark-making tools. He also varied the drawings by breaking the games down into periods – one sheet of paper for each period, or one colour for each period drawn on top of each other. He choose to make drawings of important games, such as Gretzky’s last NHL game in 1999, thereby commemorating and trying to understand, or at least come to terms with, the significance of this important historical event.
These two projects are as different as they are similar. His drawings are a loving tribute that both memorializes a specific hockey game and the act of watching it, just as her drawings capture the love and warmth felt towards pets at the end of their too-short lives. They are both projects that capture time – his is the time it takes to play a hockey game, hers the time an old dog can sleep in one position in a warm sunny spot, or the time at the end of a favourite pet’s life where one cherishes every day they have left. His work, on the other hand, is about the largely-male, public world of organized sport and suggests the position of the focussed fan, intent on watching every moment of the game. Her work is a view into a private, quiet, domestic, interior space. Another difference is their choice of medium and scale: his use of oil stick and larger scale paper suggest contemporary high-art making materials, while her pencil crayon on left-over computer paper suggests the materials found laying around in every normal house.
Anyone can make a blind contour drawing. They are not hard to do, but they do take patience and perseverance. I realize after seeing these drawings that what makes them special is that both artists care about the subject of their work. This exhibition is a testament to the work of two young, very creative artists, whose work, when it is stripped down to the root of the matter, is all about drawing something that they love.
Heather Smith, Curator
i Betty Edwards, Drawing on the Artist Within, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986. p. 147.
2 Robert Kaupelis, Experimental Drawing, New York: Watson-Guptill, 1980. p. 17.
These drawings document the puck’s movement during Wayne Gretzky’s last NHL game at Madison Square Garden in April of 1999.
Sarah Jane Holtom
My art mainly focuses on working from life; a visual celebration of the beauty all around us, rendering the details as I see them. I aim to capture my subject’s likeness in one sitting. Ideally marks made are few, beautiful and descriptive.
Working in a blind contour method helps me to focus on the subject. This encourages me to render without hesitation; there is a confidence in the marks being made. I enjoy seeing the outcome, following a line drawn which not only reflects the subject’s form but also my train of thought.
I prefer to use coloured pencils for drawing because of its permanence, colourfulness and its sensitivity to line weight. When not drawing with pencil crayons, I use oil paints for quick colourful oil sketches.
Brandan Doty was born in St. Thomas, Ontario and currently lives and works in Toronto. His education includes a term at Yale University studying painting in the summer of 2004 and graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting from the Alberta College of Art and Design in 2005. In 2007, Doty, along with Sarah Holtom, moved to Canora, SK where they opened and ran the National Gallery of Saskatchewan over a two year period. He has participated in numerous group exhibitions from Triangle Gallery in Calgary, to the Flux Factory in New York, and most recently, at the Godfrey Dean Art Gallery in Yorkton, SK and the Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery in Moose Jaw, SK. His work is represented by the Douglas Udell Gallery in Edmonton, AB.
Sarah Jane Holtom
Sarah Jane Holtom was born in 1980 in Terrace B.C. and raised in Jasper Alberta. Holtom earned her Degree in Drawing at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, AB in 2004. In 2006 with funding from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Sarah completed a project "100 Portraits of Calgary Artists" which is now in Glenbow Museum’s Permanent Collection. In 2007, Holtom moved to Canora, SK., where together with Brandan Doty they started and ran the National Gallery of Saskatchewan for two years. With funding from the Saskatchewan Arts Board, she began a painting project which is a volunteer show with Access 7 TV, "The Painting from Life with Sarah Holtom Show". Each episode documents from start to finish a landscape or portrait in oils completed in a one hour time limit. Currently Holtom's priority is to visit Canada's north (such as Dawson City and Churchill) painting new landscapes and portraits. Painting in oils from life is the constant theme in her work.
List of Works
Brandan Doty works:
Wayne Gretzky’s Last Game, oil stick on paper, 2008
Wayne Gretzky’s Last Game in Red, oil stick on paper, 2008
Wayne Gretzky’s Last Game, 1st Period, oil stick on paper, 40 ½ x 48 ½ “, 2008
Wayne Gretzky’s Last Game, 2nd Period, oil stick on paper, 40 ½ x 48 ½ “, 2008
Wayne Gretzky’s Last Game, 3rd Period, oil stick on paper, 40 ½ x 48 ½ “, 2008
Wayne Gretzky’s Last Game, Overtime, 40 ½ x 48 ½ “, oil stick on paper, 2008
Wayne Gretzky’s Last Game, 16 x 20” ink on paper, 2008
Sarah Jane Holtom works:
Roll Over (double pose), coloured pencil on paper, 15 x 11”, 2008
Natural Habitat, coloured pencil on paper, 15 x 11”, 2008
April 1st 08, coloured pencil on paper, 15 x 11”, 2008
April 5th 08, coloured pencil on paper, 15 x 11”, 2008
April 7th 08, coloured pencil on paper, 15 x 11”, 2008
Penny and Baby Donkeys, coloured pencil on paper, 15 x 11”, 2008
Awake in Purple, coloured pencil on paper, 15 x 11”, 2008
10 08, coloured pencil on paper, 15 x 11”, 2008
With Mandy 2 Hearts Pillow, coloured pencil on paper, 11 x 7 3/4”, 2008
With Pals, coloured pencil on paper, 11 x 7 3/4”, 2008
Golden Girls, coloured pencil on paper, 11 x 7 3/4”, 2008
Penny in Pen (March 20 08), Bic pen on paper, 11 x 7 ¾”, 2008