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Leslie Roberts – ‘Drawing Instructions”

Acrylic gouache, colored pencil, ink, graphite on gessoed panel
GANSEVOORT ST Acrylic gouache, colored pencil, ink, graphite on gessoed panel

Leslie Roberts – ‘Drawing Instructions”


Leslie Roberts makes diagrammatic works that revel in the space between drawing and painting. They also excitingly explore the spaces between looking, seeing, and thinking (or decoding, problem solving, “figuring out”). Her works translate often serendipitously found texts into patterns. Within the parameters of each work exists every aspect of this transmutatative process – the source words Leslie recorded are written out, the code by which she then translates these words into gridded color is delineated, and the resulting patterns are rendered visible. In a sense, Leslie’s works chart the process by which a word can be spoken, heard, considered, and then absorbed as meaning. Her works collapse the space between thought and action, between the abstract and the concrete.


Myriad artists have grappled with the relationship between the notation and the image. In the diagrammatic works of John Cage, Alfred Jensen, and Mark Lombardi, propositional ideas are depicted in semi-concretized aesthetic form. Each of these artists positions themselves as a conduit through which information begins to coalesce into visual form. Leslie’s works differentiate themselves from these in that they withhold nothing – she allows us to see the method of translation while the act itself is performed, simultaneously. In this regard, Leslie’s works democratize the processes at work in her paintings and collapse the space between the viewer and the artist herself.


Within this openness is a type of magic. Leslie’s works are a form of visual chemistry – her process of transcription into transformation is fascinating to witness, and while we know what’s happening in broad terms, Leslie’s finished works ask us to simply look. They are awash in vibrant luminosity and a spectacular optical beauty.


Leslie’s linguistic fodder include found texts, snippets of conversations she hears, signs, class assignments, etc. – the residual words spoken around and across an idea – not fixed but searching, often uncertain and spontaneous, akin to thinking. Her words are the evidence of the brain at work, trying to work out a solution to a problem, grapple with an issue, or to simply describe what is happening, in real time. These words are then translated into brilliant patterns that reference Op art, the history of abstraction, and textiles. In Leslie’s works, language exists both as something that conveys meaning and embeds sensation. It is legible AND felt.


An excellent example of Leslie’s process can be found in the work “Drawing Instructions” from 2014. The text came from Leslie’s notes on teaching drawing (see below), which she’d given to a class. She then made a painting from these notes, systematizing the letters of the text into colored squares on a grid. Her work, as she notes, does not follow her own instructions. But then, this isn’t only a drawing but a hybrid, one that calls into question the distinction between the act of drawing and the act of painting. This work, as in all of Leslie’s works, refuses to be pinned down and located within a specific medium or as encapsulating a concrete theme. Abstration and pattern arise from thought, from speech, from notation. How we move between these two languages is up to us.


See more of Leslie’s work at

Acrylic gouache, colored pencil, ink, graphite on gessoed panel

Acrylic gouache, colored pencil, ink, graphite on gessoed panel

Acrylic gouache, graphite, colored pencil on canvas
14 x 12″

Acrylic gouache, graphite, colored pencil on gessoed panel
14 x 11″

Studio inventory
Acrylic gouache, graphite, colored pencil on canvas
12 x 12″

Acrylic gouache, colored pencil, ink, graphite on gessoed panel
16 x 12 inches

From my notes on teaching drawing
Leslie Roberts, 2014

three primary ways to create spatial illusion: / overlaps / scale change / location on picture plane

/ touch at least t

(t)here edges of the page / do not try to put in every detail / erase as often as you draw / add

additional pieces of paper to

extend the scope of your composition if necessary / consider cropping the page / if you find you

are bored stop

use axes to describe directions in space / attention to relationships of negative and positive


keep in mind the four edges of your paper are the first four lines of your drawing / stand back

frequently from your drawing

draw the lines that explain the form / draw the same thing from two different points of view

you should be able to stop at any moment and have your drawing feel complete

keep your eye on what you're drawing not on the page / draw slowly imagining your pencil is

touching the form

push all shapes to black or to white/ use value to explain the form / use a continuous line / make

short marks

use hatching sparingly and selectively / Cezanne said a work of art is never finished only abandoned

explain only as much as necessary / don' t draw on the backs of your drawings / don' t use


it's impossible to draw exactly what you see / interpret what you see in horizontals and verticals

use only line / draw shapes of value without using lines / seeing is forgetting the name of the thing you see