Wei Li

To Not Draw

Over the years, like most artists, for me drawing has become a way of exploring, understanding and relating to the world. I would say my thought process takes form primarily in two languages, English and drawing. They are what the structure of my thoughts are made of. But unlike spoken language, drawing is an act I have imbued with tremendous purpose. It is the act in which I have chosen to create the most important of what I have to say in this little life of mine.

Over the past year and a half, I developed significant tendonitis in my left, dominant hand, and so I taught my right hand to draw. Then, as I rotated between the two hands, I developed tendonitis in my right hand and elbows as well. I attended physiotherapy regularly, did the prescribed exercises and drew with my feet outside of work in order to give my hands a rest. After a while, my hands felt better and I thought it was all fine.

Two weeks ago, the tendonitis developed in my shoulders and I started getting headaches from neck pains. I couldn’t even draw with my feet because looking down intensifies the pain in that area. I had to leave my job as a storyboard artist,  which I loved very much, but more importantly, I had to stop drawing entirely to heal.

The consequences of not drawing have been strange and profound. My relationship to time changed. I could no longer continue with my devotion to spending every bit of time possible to work on my passion projects, including life drawing and a short film. Drawing is something I have ingrained in myself over the years, it became my companion, and my body has rejected it, and I felt lost.

I have since questioned what kind of artist I am, want to be and can be. For so long I have forged in my mind that I am a draftsman of stories, and where my body is simply a tool for drawing rather than a participant of drawing with its own conditions and demands. Out of stubbornness and anger, my initial reaction was to simply force another part of my body to learn to draw, like I did with my right hand and my feet. Mind over matter, I tell myself. I have grandiose ideas of drawing with a giant ink brush on giant pieces of paper, wielding the brush like a broom with my body. As if it’s the ultimate ‘You don’t want to draw? I will show who’s the boss” statement to my own body. However, the more I imagined dancing with a giant brush, the more I realized that perhaps it would be more rewarding to not draw through my body, but with my body. What if, instead of the act of drawing being just a mean to an end product, I see the final picture as an archive of that act? What if I treat the act of drawing as a performance rather than a task?

Despite my years of training and the skills I have gathered as a draftsman, what inspires me has always been that ideas that drive art and how it accomplishes that relationship. Liu Bolin, the contemporary artist behind the incredible 'The Invisible Man' series, said:

"I think that in art, an artist’s attitude is the most important element. If an artwork is to touch someone, it must be the result of not only technique, but also the artist’s thinking and struggles in life."

Perhaps I have resided for too long in the comfort of my draftsmanship, and to let it go is to free myself as an artist.

For the first time in a long while, I feel like I can attend - even if just a little - to a calling of Werner Herzog that has stuck with me:

"So long as you are able-bodied, head out to where the real world is. Roll up your sleeves and work as a bouncer in a sex club or a warden in a lunatic asylum or a machine operator in a slaughterhouse… Walk on foot, learn languages and a craft or trade that has nothing to do with cinema. Filmmaking — like great literature — must have experience of life at its foundation."

This is my opportunity to volunteer at a Youth Custody Centre (Juvenile Prison) like I used to, sign up for dance classes like I have always wanted to, explore non-drawn art, read, and Learn. Perhaps I can develop the source of art within. As the popular idiom goes: when one door closes, one thousand open. Regardless, it’s frightening to leave something so precious, that I have built over many years, and not know when I can come back to it.

Visual development for my short film. I was experimenting with demonstrating contrasting mood and mentality in the character through the aesthetic style.

Drawings from Wreck beach.

The first and last one were of a model named Venessa, LOVE drawing her.

These are style tests for the main character of our short film, Tehura. We named her after the Polynesian wife of Gauguin who he married when she was only 14 years old. I am exploring drawing her in different styles because the film is from two different perspectives and we want a different visual style for each perspective.

Her body shape in the first image is different because that’s suppose to be a poster of her when she was younger. She’s gained some weight since then.

More story sketches for the short film. Haven’t had much time to work on it since my new job has been pretty draining. It’s also been rewarding which is nice.

The second to last image is purposefully referencing Gauguin’s painting, Spirit of the Dead Watching I am pretty happy how these turned out.

Some fun doodles. Really felt like drawing a space explorer for some reason.

Went to China to visit my family. Woke up early and went to the park. People were there, practicing taichi and reading the papers.