Lines, Threads, Traces, Drawing and Writing.


During the course of my Masters study I have been interested in further exploring modes of drawing to include both writing and cutting, to this end the book Lines: A brief history (2007) by Tim Ingold has been invaluable to my research.  I’ve been a long time reading it, so it has almost seemed as though Ingold and I were journeying side by side, to the point where I made work and subsequently discovered perfect descriptions of it in his writings.

Ingold identifies two different kinds of lines as threads and traces: threads are three dimensional filaments, that could be suspended or tangled up (2007, p. 41) and traces are those marks left on surfaces that are enduring (p. 43). However even these cannot be said to be true dichotomies, as he concedes:

Threads can be transformed into traces, and traces into threads. It is through the transformation of threads into traces, I argue, that surfaces are brought into being.  And conversely, it is through the transformation of traces into threads that surfaces are dissolved (p. 52).

Which is as brilliant as it is dizzying. He is talking of course about things like knitting and embroidery which although they are threads (three dimensional in their own right) become traces when they are applied to or become surfaces.  A trace requires a surface in order to be a trace.  In theory once there is no surface, the trace must become a thread.

Traces too can be categorised, one of the early chapters featured the epiphany of ‘reductive’ and ‘additive’ marks (Ingold, 2007, p. 43).  Reductive traces include any mark that is made by incision such as carving, engraving, or cutting.  Additive traces are those that are added to a surface; pencil, pen, charcoal and so on.  These two forms of mark making either add to or take away from a surface, each leaving its own distinctive trace.

Later on Ingold explores the connection between writing and drawing.  He points out that though writing has been heralded as a technology of language, it is still very closely related to drawing.  Particularly our first forays into handwriting where we learn at first to draw the letters.  Ingold paraphrases Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky: “Only when he can read can he also be truly said to write” (p. 121).  Learning to write, is at first an exercise in copying, because until there is a proper understanding of the letters and words they create, that is, until you can read you cannot really write, only copy.

Understanding the words however, does not nullify the drawing “The hand that writes does not cease to draw” (Ingold, 2007, p. 124). Though we begin writing as only drawing letters, once we understand and can read what is written, writing becomes drawing and notation, rather than ceasing to be drawing.

Moreover, writing is another form of trace, representing not only the marks that are left on the page, but also the invisible gestures that caused them:

“the visible trace of a hand movement while the pen is on the paper and the invisible trace of the movements when the pen is not in contact with the paper.” (Sassoon as cited in Ingold, 2007, p. 93).

Handwriting is the evidence of a journey across the page, it is logical and linear, it contains a lexicon of meaning, and yet, like drawing, it describes movement on a surface.

Where the connection between writing and drawing becomes complicated is in the printed word.  Here, truly, writing is notational technology and much less like drawing.   Typed words are produced statically, letter by letter, and not in the continuous way of hand writing. Writing can be technological, but it doesn’t have to be, Ingold notes that “You can write with a pen but you cannot draw with a typewriter” (p. 128).  The relation then, lies in the commonality that drawing and writing (whether printed or handwritten) both operate as trace.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s