Visual artist Selma Dronkers works in the summer on the North Sea and English Channel with her partner on a forty-two-year-old sailboat. She traveled for years with a seven-and-a-half-meter boat, now with a nine-meter boat. Recently, this gave her work space on board, measuring 2.5 by 2.5 meters.
At home, I have a nice workspace with everything I need nearby. It is wonderful to live and work in the center of a city. Still, this relocatable and "limited" artist-in-residence attracts me. Why?
The community you are in when you travel by boat is much smaller than back home in the city. You are part of a mini-society where nothing is mandatory - except rescuing others at sea when you are around, of course - and where helping each other if necessary is very casual.
At home, I take a daily dose of social media and broadcast it. At sea I do much less with social media, simply because we have no internet in the middle of the sea, only sometimes in the ports. I see far fewer people, rarely call, don't watch TV, et cetera. I like life on a smaller scale and nice and organized. While traveling, besides drawing, I take a lot of time to observe, perceive.
When I think of an artist-in-residency, I think of meeting other artists, of doing, not directly of "just being," observing, experiencing.
In the small sailboat there was only room to work on very small drawings, often I came to nothing, which was quite frustrating. Looking back, I could consider this time at sea as time for deep experiences in being and in perceiving with all my senses, seeking a relationship with this overwhelming environment.
I travel and I take with me:
- sixty sheets of Bristol paper, A3
- molotow refillable markers in white, black, cool gray and warm gray plus extra ink
- transparent water-based pigment ink white and black and blank markers
- black colored pencils
- straight and bendable rulers
- tesa sensitive tape
- photo camera
- the book seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees by Robert Irwin
It is very limited what I can take with me. This feels very light and uncluttered when leaving. Once working on the boat I regret not bringing more, which feels stressed. While working I become happy with the limitation because it gives peace and focus.
At home, I worked with many layers of repeated lines in different colors on top of each other. This gave a parallax-like experience of the image. The drawings had diffuse surfaces. A parallax is the phenomenon where the apparent position of an object in relation to another object or the background varies when viewed from different positions. It is exciting when the drawings do not immediately reveal all the layers at once and you can "shift" in looking.
During this artist-in-residence period, I wanted to go deeper into the workings of layers with clearer forms over more diffuse layers. Therefore, I chose to limit blacks, grays and whites. Would the parallax-like image be maintained?
The experiences at sea have much in common with what I find fascinating in drawing: sharpness and blurriness, the ever-changing surface (by repeating lines on top of each other), the ever-changing shapes and tones in the sky, having to relate to the random events, the choice to act or wait a while, intuitive decisions interspersed with carefully considered choices, "reality" presenting itself differently all the time (the parallaxes). What do I do when a drop of ink falls, a line is not exactly the same everywhere or dark/light? Do I include it in the drawing and continue building or do I get stressed because it goes 'wrong'? Having expectations and yet staying alert for random and useful twists and turns. Looking/seeing ahead and yet also being in the here and now, dealing with what presents itself.
Space, infinity, merging, dissolving
When I think of the sea, I think of the immense space, the height, the enormous depth, the enormous distances. Just during one of the first sea voyages, where we ended up in fog, I discovered that not being able to focus on anything, to be in focus is not oppressive - as I first experienced - but rather liberating. Being one with infinite space, being space, feels very light.
This year there was an event that felt the same as when I am drawing. At night at about three o'clock, in the middle of the English Channel - the wind was calm this time - I saw a strange wave-like movement next to the boat. I thought of a whale and suddenly found it very scary. Then more waves, splashing, snorting, prostrating, squeaking, rock-hard
claps on the water. It was full moon surrounded by the blackness of night. At least twenty dolphins were diving under the boat, making their somersaults in the moonlight. Truly wild animals that were hunting. We were silent. The space, the boat and we were one, experiencing no physical presence but only being, just as during the
'Everything eventually turns into its opposite' (I Ching)
The sea rises and falls, is silent and noisy, light and dark, cold and hot, rough and smooth. The wind lies, caresses, cuts. The moon pulls powerfully on the water mass with spring tides, barely with neap tides. A natural, erratic process with its own logic, just like drawing. The reaction while drawing to these changes are following, but not non-committal. The marker is the rudder that gently but definitely steers the drawing in a direction, always open to possible changes.