Hands, plaster and drawing.

In recent months I have been moving away from drawing the whole figure, and focusing more on objects as a way of finding out about surface, mark making, exploring acrylic paints and inks, and using different grounds to work on. However, I find myself drawn again to bodies, parts of bodies that are more personal to me. I have been making casts of my hands, using alginate and plaster. Some of these casts have been more successful than others; some made it only to the bin, others are held together with glue! But collectively, they have become beautiful and interesting objects to draw from. Not having had very much physical contact this year, it feels somehow strange and slightly emotional to hold a hand in my hands, even though they are cold plaster, and copies of my own. The hands – which are my hands, but also not my hands – sit on shelves, or a window sill, severed at the wrists. I think of my voice, and how I have felt severed from it for the last couple of years. As I start to emerge from this feeling I can reflect and, once again, unify my hands, my voice, myself. 

I enjoy the whiteness of the plaster, the light and shadows that change constantly on the surfaces. The fine casting plaster picks up all the wrinkles, the crevices, and chewed finger nails, the experience my hands carry. When I draw myself in the mirror, I am self-critical and I cannot focus on the drawing process. However, drawing casts of my hands is a step away from myself, and is somehow easier to address. I appreciate them as beautiful objects, full of personal meaning, and interesting shapes and lines from which to draw.

Casting my hands was fun and is an ongoing project. I may end up with a house and studio full of hands! After a few false starts I successfully mixed up the alginate powder with warm water, and, using an empty water bottle as my casting receptacle, plunged my hands in and held still for ten minutes. After removing my hands from the now solid gunk, I mixed up the plaster and poured it into the negative space my real hands had left behind. Earlier casts fell to pieces when my impatience got the better of me and I tried to remove the alginate mould from the plaster too early; hands just crumbled, fingers fell off, an expensive mistake. A good learning curve! Subsequently I learned to leave the plaster to set overnight, and remove the alginate the next day to ensure the plaster hand was drier, more solid and strong. It is ok to fail, it is part of learning, of finding something out.

I am beginning to incorporate these hands into drawings and paintings, as part of still life set ups. I feel they give my paintings meaning, that I cannot find at the moment in other inanimate objects. I enjoy the challenge of drawing hands and fingers, trying to work out the three-dimensional form on a flat surface. When I make mistakes in my drawings, it does not matter. It is just part of making an honest and genuine drawing. It is just part of the process.