Caleb Lewis: The Art of Stippling

Caleb Lewis "requiem"
Caleb Lewis "Requiem" Pen and Ink

Stip-ple

verb

(in drawing, painting, and engraving) mark (a surface) with numerous small dots or specks.

By Caleb Lewis

I was in my thirties before receiving a diagnosis of Aspergers by which time I’d already self-sabotaged my life at every opportunity, the reasons for which remained a mystery to myself.

There was a very long list of things I wasn’t comfortable doing, Like a hundred Achilles heels lingering beneath the surface awaiting discovery. I’d say no to things I wanted to do, avoid all manner of unfamiliar things and feared all environments. The frustrating aspect for me was that the anxiety had no reason I could establish.

It was simply there, unfaltering and oppressive, driving a wedge between myself and wider society. I tried self-medicating to cope with situations where such panic arose and got by for some time but of course that bought its own problems. I was increasingly erratic, digging up my garden, paving and all, before throwing it in a hired skip. I then lamented the lack of garden. I needed to offset the ever present anxiety in something less destructive, or at least didn’t involve dismantling my own house.

I’d always loved art, not the making of it but the looking at it. The colours, pattern, shapes, realism, abstract, surrealism anything really I was regularly amazed as I imagined the skill of the artist and what it must be like to be able to do such a thing. Personally I couldn’t draw at all.

Caleb Lewis "Palpitation"
Caleb Lewis “Palpitation”

I’d given it a go but I was at or near the bottom of the class, had no natural ability, if I drew a cat it looked like a donkey, a donkey would look like an aeroplane; no good. Attempting to draw a donkey when I wanted an aeroplane didn’t work out either- there was no fooling the system.

Following my diagnosis, I remember standing outside the clinic processing the new development, wondering what it all meant. Over time I came to see it as nothing new at all, it had always been there and I hadn’t caught it, I was it. Shoes I’d been wearing all my life.

I used to doodle as a tool of distraction, Nothing specific, just circles or little shapes and then my mind would wander. Sometimes by chance, something would emerge that would be more than a doodle. A group of lines that resembled part of a figure or face. (if you squinted a bit with an optimistic mind).

Caleb Lewis Carrion
Caleb Lewis “Carrion”

Many years later I found myself getting ill in a crumbling house. Must have been the damp. If it rained outside, then it was raining inside, and water would sit and lie about in little puddles. I wasn’t capable of anything for six weeks but as I started to recover I had the idea of trying one of my old school doodles only to try it big and cover the “lounge” wall. It was something I could do without leaving the sofa so made a start. I still had a little bit left to do when the felt tip I was using gave up the ghost. RIP faithful felt! With only a fine-liner left, I finished what I had to do with dots, triggering a dormant compulsion that once awake became very difficult to control.

I thought I was onto something and started stippling paper. Stippling for stippling sake rather for any broader artistic purpose- I needed to escape from my own mind and stippling lifted me off to somewhere else.

I tried to do lots of dots as close together as possible with none overlapping which seemed an important rule at the time. In my mind All other anxieties were eclipsed by just one- getting the dots right. As time progressed I became happy that I could fill in circles with small dots and ventured into the great unknown.

Caleb Lewis "Broken Wing
Caleb Lewis “Broken Wing”

It was difficult to rationalise what I was doing but I felt better for doing it so persisted without dwelling too much. I completed some images with recognisable features, the narrative carried by a development of my doodled lines. Over times the lines took over altogether, deconstructing the figure or object into a structure of shape of line. The shapes would be drawn on tracing paper and then I’d overlay more tracing paper and redraw the lines and shapes continuously until
their relationship and balance with each other fell into place. By that point the original figure or object may well have been obliterated beyond recognition but they remain even if the original concept is lost. Harmonious resolution at the expense of everything else.

Many rules govern my outlining process. I’m not aware of having come up with them within my own thought processes but they exercise legitimate authority over what is allowed or not allowed. It sounds very restrictive in contrast to the usual freedom associated with the arts but whether what I do constitutes art or not is a secondary concern to me, the result sought is the only aim and the rules deliver that aim.

In a world often confusing or hostile, trying to shape the unbendable me to fit the other shapes has lead to much grief and ultimately isolation. In the worlds I create, everything fits in peaceful harmony, even when the subject itself is riven with anxiety and discord. I aim for the finished piece to look and feel how Angèle Dubeau sounds playing Spiegel Im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt. A lofty aim never met but the key principles of stillness and ethereal drifting frame what I’m doing.

Like a rogue note, any aberrations would shatter this overall impression, the governing rules seek to ensure the end objective is met.

Caleb Lewis "The Rain Smilers"
Caleb Lewis “The Rain Smilers”

Stippling a line will ordinarily leave a slightly jagged edge similar to the pixels visible on a blown up computer image. Using a 0.03 nib, with a heart rate and breathing set to zero, I’ll further stipple along the outer and inner edges of the line until smoothness is achieved. Lines must taper and bend without flat spots, widths, shapes, the spaces between them and their relationships in groups and with other groups need to be perfect or else I will have failed. Various arbitrary rules based on numbers manifest themselves when considering what goes where. I try not to orphan anything in the pictures either or otherwise disturb the fragile peace. Most often the pictures are signed on the reverse as a signature on the front would break the arrangement and balance I have struggled so hard to achieve.

In contrast to between heartbeat stippling, large coverage of physical elements like roads or walls require considerable numbers of slashed dots or strokes to achieve coverage. Entering a section at a rate of 3-5 strokes per second, the pace must be maintained until the section is completed which may take several hours. A combination of fury and stamina are necessary to accomplish this, the small nib sizes ensure the completed effect doesn’t compromise the integrity of the vision for the piece. One part of the process quells anxiety, another burns it off.

Attempting to record and digest my own experiences, together with optimistic dreams and the sad reality, I try and capture stillness without suffocation, line and shape arranged into harmony, along with the wonder and awe that interrupts from time to time.

As being in space doesn’t in any way preclude the appreciation of earth, my condition results in often appreciating society from a distance. I hope my pictures manage to bridge that distance and reflect my affection for the world even though I’m often on the outside looking in.

After years of self-recrimination for not being able to adjust my shape, stippling has helped me to recognise myself in a different way.

Behavioural traits that have a neutered value in many circumstances have found their own purpose. Ritualistic rigid approaches, obsessions with numbers, placement, and order, have coalesced to produce a vision of the sum of those parts. Having drawn my own experiences and ideas to make sense of my passing days, many aspects of life are common to all.

I hope others will be able to identify with my pictures and enjoy them the same as I’ve enjoyed their making.

Caleb Lewis

I’m Caleb, living and stippling in England. I was diagnosed with Aspergers in my thirties which was a little late to help what had gone before but helped me to understand my life up to that point better.

I freak out pretty easily so paper is my steady point and I try to stay there. I don’t have an arts background but enjoy it and do my best. I display my pictures online at www.theglasspool.com

Cover image: Caleb Lewis “Requiem”

1 Comment

  • You are absolutely speaks to me. In many ways. I have a congenital heart rhythm abnormality so the artwork titled “Palpitation” captures on paper what it feels like to be out of sinus rhythm. Thank you for sharing your art with the world and with me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.