17th June 2020: Thinking about lines

A short morning walk in the park with my coffee and I’ve been thinking about lines – embroidered lines, drawn lines and digital lines.

I’m thinking about how we can define Blackwork as a distinct embroidery technique and I’m coming more to the conclusion that it’s the use of monochromatic stitch lines. I’ve been doing work on my samplers, exploring how the different combinations of materials behave but I’ve also noticed how these dictate the quality of the line, how they are not smooth but textured and how the surface marks relate to and are part of the path that travels on the underside. I’m thinking about the weight of the lines and how these are dependent on the choice of cloth, thread and stitch, the graphic quality of the marks and slight inconsistencies that come from making these marks with flexible materials. The embroidered line consists of points (or sections) of the thread path and these knot and intertwine on the underside as more stitch markers are made – the whole of the mark making gesture is there, even if it becomes impossible to untangle.

Stitched Lines

And I’m thinking about the drawn line – how this too has different weights and textures depending on the material and type of line drawn (how closely, how overlaid). These drawn lines also have a trace of gesture – though movements between are not recorded (the pen being lifted off the paper) but can be inferred by the slight changes in the texture of the line. A drawn line, even a straight one drawn with the aid of a ruler, has inconsistencies – there are minute changes in pressure, angle etc that unintentionally record the gesture of making.

Hand drawn lines

And then there are digital lines. Here I’ve got two types. One is the hand drawn lines using a pressure sensitive stylus on the screen. These lines, too, bare the unintended records of gesture but there is something slightly different here. Though the sketching software offers simulations of different mark making tools (pencils, brushes, et cetera), these are still mediated by the software itself.

Digitally hand drawn lines

There is also a level of control offered to the user, I’m thinking of the snapping and smoothing that can be applied to augment the path shape of the lines. I’ve been using the snap and smoothing in my drawings – turning sketches into embroidery designs. I’m wondering if we can say this is a record of my gesture, as the software smooths out the inconsistencies of the lines, or perhaps, as I have control over these functions, they are simply tools, much like using a ruler or a French curve? Let’s also think about the fact that I can remove or edit the lines. I can, of course, possibly unpick a stitch line or rub out the pencil line, but a trace is always left, and I can’t ‘edit’ (nudge or move) a line like I can digitally.

Digitally hand drawn lines – smoothed

And then there is the second type of line that I can create digitally through code. Again, I have control over the line weight and shape, but the making of these lines is entirely different, being defined mathematically in code before any visual mark is made.

So, I think I need to think about the relationship between these lines and what happens when I ‘convert’ one to another.

A final thought – what makes the line drawn in code unique is that we can replace the fixed numbers with variables. Meaning that the viewer can interact and control the lines. Perhaps it’s all about the fixedness of the thing and who has control?

Code drawn lines (Processing)

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