Learning to dance on the page
: Approaches to learning to draw movement by integrating analogue drafting techniques within a technologically assisted environment

  • Maria Theresa Hayes

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Technological interventions, in combination with creativity and drawing skills, have altered the course of representation in art throughout history. The camera obscura, camera, data projector, and now digital technologies assist artists to make images that describe a world in motion.

Learning to draw movement requires intense periods of connected looking, which can be difficult to maintain. Video Projection Drawing (VPD) integrates analogue methods of observational drawing within a technologically assisted environment. It is used in this research to retrain embodied responses when drawing a subject in motion from observation.

This study combines practical investigations, workshops and performative collaborations with a review of relevant historical and technical literature. The quality of an energetic interchange experienced between an observer and an artwork, and the artist and the observed subject, is significant; so, where possible, observations are based on the viewing of original work, from cave drawings to contemporary art. In this study energetic interchanges are understood as phenomenological experiences where both parties affect each other.

The practice-based research culminated in the show Shedding Skins (2011), which was divided into four spaces. Shedding Skins, a video installation on a Selkie theme, documented drawings of movement coming in being. The drawings that resulted from the processes captured on video were exhibited in the adjacent space. Dancing in Time, an in-depth study of drawing step dancing and Drawing with Light, videos and photo documentation of work carried out in educational settings were presented in the third space. The final room, a demonstration space, hosted The Energy Gift Exchange. For twelve days, the movements of visiting practitioners (musicians, actors, dancers and
storytellers) were drawn using the video projection method. Participants from the visiting public, art school students, invited community groups and myself engaged in the Energy Gift Exchange and were observed learning to draw movement in the assisted environment.

The resulting research documented here contributes to the field of contemporary Fine Art and to the debate on Fine Art training. It identifies a new role for observational drawing: to reveal movement that is seen but not easily separated from the observed event. The findings recommend reinstating observational drawing as a necessary part of Fine Art training. VPD proved to be an accessible method for all levels of artistic and technical ability. Drawing movement in the assisted environment improved looking, deepened engagement, extended familiar skills, developed new ones, retrained embodied responses, and encouraged an atmosphere of collaborative creative
enquiry. Learning to draw movement requires a state of being and a course of action working together in concert with the observed situation — a condition which I call ‘connected looking.' The energetic quality that drives continuously unfolding events is captured in movement traces. This kinaesthetic trace results from an embodied response to the subject in motion through sustained, connected looking. Instead of a look-draw-look-draw pattern of behaviour as observational drawing training currently promotes, this method encourages sustained looking with the eyes, while the hand traces the eyes’ observations on the page. Assisted by lens based technology the observing body abstracts, translates and reveals previously indivisible lines of movement into drawing by learning to dance on the page.
Date of Award29 Jul 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorJohn Harvey (Supervisor) & Miranda Whall (Supervisor)

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