The Man might once have been a Boy…
But you can’t take the Boy out of the Man.
Nor his cake!
*drawings made from photos my oldest daughter took on the occasion of my husband’s birthday!
Another “ride” in downtown
France Kernersville. Well, I didn’t actually go on the ride. Drawing it was fun enough for me!
But I have a confession to make. As I sat there drawing this and the other carnival rides, I realized that I had never been to my town’s Spring Folly Festival. Not once. Not in all the 9 years we have lived here. Chalk it up to busyness, raising kids, introversion…whatever it might be…it’s sadly true. But…
…I was here at the opening day set-up!
It made me wonder to what places and events my sketchbook might take me, that I might not otherwise go. That’s exciting!
For some strange reason, I was struck with a desire to draw with a pencil. It’s not my usual thing. But I enjoyed it here, drawing some friends of ours at a cook-out.
I have many pencils…graphite sticks, water-soluble graphite, wood-encased pencils, solid graphite pencils, grease pencils, charcoal pencils, color pencils, etc. I love breaking out of my well-worn (and beloved) ruts to try stuff I don’t usually use.
I seem to be doing a lot of it lately.
And it’s so much fun!
P.S. Hope your Memorial Day is full of rest and hanging out with family or friends…maybe a cook-out!
Lesson #9: Let Loose!
Ok. Not just 3, but FOUR different approaches to drawing. I know I had said there would be just 3 in these lessons, but I can’t resist! I must, must, MUST add this 4th one!! For our purposes, I’m going to call this very different approach…Improvisational Drawing. If you can get in your mind what’s happening when actors perform improvisational theater, when writers do stream-of-consciousness writing, or when musicians riff…then you’ll be farther along in understanding what I’m presenting to you today.
This approach to drawing is one I’ve played around with for many years in my sketchbooks, but really had no clear ideas about it, no firm teaching on it. I am a self-taught artist and much of what I’ve learned about drawing and painting has been through art BOOKS on technique, through VIEWING great artist’s works, through OBSERVATION, and through my own EXPLORATION. Through it all, I’ve discovered much about myself and my artistic preferences. The overarching thing I’ve come to know about myself is that I absolutely adore making marks on paper! Making marks of any kind on paper is, for me, IN AND OF ITSELF, a wonder-ous endeavor. Just moving a pen around on the page, watching the trail it leaves behind, is thrilling…whether that trail is “correct” or not.
Too much emphasis is placed on “accurate” drawing. If you watch young children draw, they have very few inhibitions (if any at all) about dashing off a drawing, regardless of its realistic accuracy. As the child gets older, however, outside forces begin to bare down on the child making him/her feel that drawing IS ONLY what happens when the drawing is a “correct” one. By “correct”, most folks typically mean, how well the drawing accurately describes the actual object, person, or place being drawn. It is a total shame that this emphasis and definition of drawing has become the preeminent and default definition most people subscribe to. I’d like to UNDO, EXPAND, and perhaps REDEFINE ways you have typically defined drawing that may be far too limiting and restricting.
It is a lovely thing, when you have held for years, certain gut feelings and opinions you did not know others shared. And then to find, along the way, that others have held these same opinions, and have even formulated and articulated them long before you have. Such is my delight in a book I’ve recently reacquainted myself with. It’s been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years. Expressive Drawing by Steven Aimone is just such a book! I won’t take you through his book here, other than to quote him a few times, as I have Kimon Nicolaides book, The Natural Way to Draw, in the other lessons. You’ll have to buy, beg, borrow this book for all the rich information and exercises Aimone outlines. It is truly wonderful…here’s how he talks about this approach to drawing:
“Drawing is a powerful and wonderful language, capable of expressing things not easily conveyed any other way. As you know, drawings can be descriptive, by which I mean they can document the people, objects, or landscapes you encounter in the visible world. Perhaps this is the kind of drawing you’re best acquainted with but also most intimidated by!
Drawings can also be expressive: They can communicate things that are intangible or invisible–your memories, ideas, musings, emotions, even your spiritual world. And the good news is that everyone can draw like this, regardless of age, culture, education, or temperament.” (pg. 7)
What I’ve discovered through the years, is that many of my favorite artists, Cy Twombly, Joan Mitchell, Richard Diebenkorn, Van Gogh, Milton Avery and Alberto Giacometti (among many, many others), have long-since paved the way for DRAWING to be defined in much broader terms other than rendering realistically. The history behind this approach to drawing is rich and exciting. Here’s how Steven Aimone defines DRAWING (and he uses many examples from the above list of artists to illustrate his definition):
“Drawing is the arrangement of line and mark in space, designed to serve a variety of expressive purposes… You, the artist, are a unique filter through which life’s experiences are processed. As a result, responses and expressions emerge that are completely your own. Your drawings reveal things that are not easily spoken of or experienced in any other way. No matter your style, temperament, or approach, drawings can function on three levels: representational, symbolic, and nonobjective…” (pg. 11)
In order to keep this a “Mini” Lesson, I won’t go into all three of these levels and their defining characteristics. Try to get your hands on the book if you’re interested in delving further. For our purposes today, I want you to set aside the three previous posts on CONTOUR, GESTURE, & MODELLED drawing. For today’s approach, you need to step outside of the desire to RECORD your life, and jump into EXPRESSING your life. To be sure, ALL drawings whether they be done in a contour, gesture, or a modelled approach can be expressive!! But for now, put aside attempts to record things, people, events per se, and try your hand at freely expressing your life through marks made on paper.
In classes I’ve taught on drawing, I have asked students to draw lines that, to them, express particular emotions. I was delighted to see that this exercise has been used by others, like Mr. Aimone in his book, to get people to see how just a simple mark on a page can exhibit qualities of anger, agitation, calm, joy, contentment, etc. You can try it too…here’s a grid you can use to make marks in the boxes that seem to fit the emotion. You could even designate ONE PAGE of your sketchbook to expressing in line and marks, a particular thought or feeling. Use any and all drawing/painting/collage elements to express it visually. And here’s the most important part, and I’m quoting Steven Aimone here:
“Without thinking, planning, worrying, or analyzing, generate a linear movement or movements that feel _______ [angry, serene, worried, joyful, etc.]–Let’er rip!” (pg. 67)
And also… “Remember, don’t worry about making a perfect or correct drawing here. Simply trust your instincts until you arrive at an arrangement that is satisfying–or, at the very least, intriguing!” (pg. 69)
Mr. Aimone repeats this mantra many times throughout the different exercises he offers in his book. Though each exercise contains a few “try this” specifications, they are nonetheless to be carried out with complete freedom of expression, staying away from a representational form. I love how he emphasizes that you are not after an “accurate” drawing, but rather one that is “satisfying” to you, or “intriguing”.
I hope this gives you an overall underpinning to this approach to drawing your life. Now here are some of my own suggestions, ways I have enjoyed drawing in this manner:
*Draw with a Brush! You may find, as I do many times, that paint can feel more expressive than a pen or pencil in this approach. If so, by all means use it! Watercolor on paper, either transparent or opaquely applied has inestimable expressive qualities. Acrylics and oils on paper can also be used. Many, many times I sit at my drawing table and just move paint around on the page, responding quickly to each stroke without hesitation. They end up feeling like little prayers or haiku poems expressing so much and yet perhaps nothing at all.
*Feel free to combine media. I love to use as many different things as I can on a nonobjective page. A little charcoal smeared around, then with some watercolor crayons and wax colored pencils with watercolor swooshed on top and then oil pastel drawn into that and some chinese white brushed into and over all of it except for bits here and there… Well, you get the picture. Really let yourself go with all the wonderful materials you have.
*Work quickly! This will shut down the “thinking” and “analyzing” side of your brain, and will allow your creative side to have free reign. The key then, once you’re “finished” is to keep yourself from judging the result!!!!! Your analytical brain may attempt to destroy what your creative brain has just expressed!
*Try the Assert/Obliterate method. This is totally fun, and Mr. Aimone describes this process more thoroughly. Basically what you’re to do is to make some marks, then erase/scrape/paint over/draw over/smear part of whatever you’ve drawn, then go at it again. Make assertions in line and marks. Then obliterate some of them in any way you choose. Repeat. Fun! The very first drawing in this post is an example of an Assert/Obliterate page.
*Think “Flux”. This is a cool term used to describe a drawing that has a sense of energy and movement in and through the marks on the page. It’s as if what’s happening in the drawing is actually occurring ON the page IN PROCESS, and not at it’s end result. The drawing is “in flux”. I like that. Very much.
*Try your best to stay away from any preconceived or pre-determined outcomes! Maybe you just want to make a page to express an emotion or a memory. But begin the page without determining what it will end up like. Just go for it. Just start. Put down a mark, a color, a swoosh of something and then react and respond to that! I think Mr. Aimone’s term for this is Automatic Drawing.
*Think Texture. Make marks on your paper that nod to textural marks from nature. Perhaps consider sitting outside NOT to draw what you see before you, but rather to make marks that mimic the textures all around you.
*Create a Day Page. Dedicate a page to describing the day you had, the feel of it, perhaps, or just stream-of-consciousness-mark-making as you think about your day. The very first drawing in this post started with a written account of a day. I wrote about what happened and my feelings about it. Then, through the process of Assert/Obliterate, I went about adding marks and colors that seemed to express the day.
*Draw/Paint Music! Play music of any kind and make marks on a page to express how you hear that music, what you feel, what it sounds like. Many famous artists, like Kandinsky, worked in this manner. Write the title of the music on the back of the page you create. Do this again, listening to the same music on another day! You’ll be surprised how different your mark-making is depending on when you listen to the music.
*Create an expressive “portrait” page…lines, marks, strokes, and colors, all while thinking of someone you know OR a self-portrait. Just let it flow freely and DO NOT JUDGE!!
*”Draw” with papers… I like to pull out papers and collage in a semi-random manner. Many times I’ll just start with a piece of “found” paper. This is a quirky piece that is perhaps leftover from a previous collage session where I cut something out. It’s an already cut/torn piece and I’ll just use it as a starting point to create shapes and colors around it. Sometimes I’ll just use ALL “found” papers without any tearing or cutting at all. Placing them in positions on the page that are pleasing to me.
*Create a page that has absolutely NO RHYME OR REASON to it at all!! Just marks on a page. Lines, colors, splotches, swooshes…make marks for marks’ sake. Any marks…painted, splattered, dark, light, long, thin, thick, dotted, sporadic, squiggly, strong, etc. Let go! Let’r rip! Let loose!
***Working with Improvisational Drawing pages will actually help your contour, gesture, and modelled drawings to be more expressive!!
(Note my little hand scrawl at the bottom of these pages. Click to enlarge image if you need to.)
A Blessing: May this week find you letting loose in the midst of your very structured, highly organized and planned life. May you find freedom in your sketchbook pages in such a way as to spill over into the rest of your life a sense of play and expression.
***Perhaps the allusions to our Life are evident here. But it really, really helps me to remember these things:
Life is like
a box of chocolates a page of Improvisational Drawing:
–Life is always in Flux.
–Life is sometimes asserting new things, sometimes retracting old ones.
–Life is setting our pens to the paper (be purposeful to show up) and then going with the flow (allowing Life to lead us wherever it takes us).
–Life can feel very random at times, with no rhyme or reason to it. Perhaps more than we’d like.
–Life is best lived WITHOUT preconceived or predetermined outcomes.
–Life is more enjoyable WITHOUT trying to overanalyze every detail!
–Life is filled with color, textures, marks and lines…a plethora of beautiful things that may at first appear to be a mish-mosh, but in the end create a lovely whole.
***Access all Mini Lessons for Drawing Your Life at the top of the home page on my blog! (OR just click the highlighted words in blue!)
We are now a three car family.
And even though this happened two months ago…I still walk out into our driveway and wonder…Who’s here?
Then I remember, all three are ours, we have three driving people in our family, and it won’t be long ’til we have four.
Four people who drive, that is, NOT four cars!!!!
I’m not sure whether this would be considered a typical site in France or not. But here in Kernersville, we recently had our annual Spring Folly Festival. When my fellow artist friend, Debbie, and I went to draw downtown, I was delighted to see folks setting up the rides in Harmon Park. Color! Shape! Line! Fun!
I’ve imagined myself going to these festival events we have here and actually drawing on site while they’re happening. I realized as I sat there with hardly anyone around (and enjoying that fact!) that I’m not sure I’m cut out for drawing events like this. I’m not good in crowds. That is to say, hordes of people in small spaces are not my idea of fun. Hmmm…
Maybe I’ll stick to showing up a day early to sketch the set-up.
Or maybe, I’ll get brave someday and go and draw in the midst of the crowd!
Maybe in the morning…when there aren’t too many people yet.
Lesson #8: Sculpt Your World
Yet another approach to drawing could be encapsulated by one word: Sculpting. Now this is a 3-Dimensional approach being applied to a 2-Dimensional piece of paper. You are attempting to capture FORM on your page…the actual 3-dimensional shape of the thing before you, whether it is boxy and geometric or curvy and organic.
Our friend, Mr. Nicolaides, calls this Modelled Drawing. Just as Contour Drawing was the sensation of touching the contours of your subject, and Gesture Drawing was the sensation of energy, action, and character of your subject; so Modelled Drawing is the sensation of the shape of these objects moving away from and towards you in their form. He, once again, wants us to EXPERIENCE our subject, rather than merely create a product. Here’s how he suggests going about it:
“…using your crayon on the side and not making any lines, go over all the vertical (and horizontal) contours of the figure…Where the form goes back in, you press back or in with your crayon. For example, as the form moves up over the chest and then back over the shoulder, your crayon moves lightly up over the chest and then presses heavily back over the shoulder. You are trying to believe that you are touching the model and all of its many contours. Naturally, you have to push farther to reach those that seem to go back.” (pg. 36)
When I teach this in a class setting, I have students use a chunk of play-doh and model the play-doh into a pepper with its stem. From this, they get the very real sensation of pushing the play-doh back to form the sides and grooves of the pepper, as well as the area from which the stem grows. This is the same action we use to draw with charcoal. Press hard on the paper with your charcoal stick on its side to denote places where the form moves back or away from you. Use light pressure on the paper when the form comes forward. If you’ve gotten any areas too dark, just use a kneaded eraser to bring the form back out towards you.
*So you are to imagine that you are a sculptor, fashioning the form of your subject whether it be a vase, a face, or tree, whathaveyou. Imagining that you are actually holding these objects in your hands, sculpting their forms with your pens, pencils, charcoal or paint, is a great way to think about what you’re doing when you draw in this manner.
*A helpful discipline for creating form on paper is to learn to see how light falls on form. I said LEARN TO SEE. Learning to see in ANY of these three approaches to drawing is a lifelong endeavor! And especially so when learning to see light and its effects on the form of your subject. As you go through your day, look for this! In the daytime, look for the way the sunlight plays on the landscape, or on peoples’ faces, or on parked cars. At night, look for how lamp light falls on the objects nearby, how overhead light plays on faces, etc. There is SO much for you to learn and look for even when you don’t have a sketchbook in hand.
*One of the best ways to SEE THE LIGHT (and consequently the shadows), is to SQUINT!! Now there’s an oxymoron for you! SQUINT TO SEE! Yes indeed. Try it! Go outside in the morning or late afternoon (sometime when the sun isn’t directly overhead). Find a tree, person or object to look at. Now, squint! Notice how the shapes of light and dark become more defined!! And if you have your sketchbook in hand, try carving (with your pen or pencil) these shapes of light and dark on your paper.
*DO NOT DESCRIBE THE SHAPE OF “THINGS”! Describe the shapes of LIGHT and DARK even if they contain several “things” inside of them! Remember that this is a vehicle for capturing the overall FORM of these things. Seen as a whole, your eye will fill in all the “things” necessary. So there’s NO need to describe every blade of grass or leaf, every eyelash or tooth, every single little detail before you. SQUINT and see the BIG PICTURE!
*Stick to only two or three values! A value denotes the darkness or lightness of your pen marks (or paint marks) to delineate a particular shape. It is much easier to keep only a light value and a dark value in your drawing; possibly adding a third middle value.
*Use any drawing/painting implement to denote these light and dark shapes. Charcoal is a wonderful medium to use when you’re first learning to depict form. You can really press on the charcoal for shapes that are far away from you (or which have little light falling on them). And then you can lighten the pressure when the shape is closer to you (or has lots of light falling on it).
*But you can also use a Bic pen or a fineliner pen to do this as well. Building up scribbly lines, or crosshatching, to the value you need is a lovely way to establish the form of objects and the play of light on form. Of course, graphite (in its many varieties), is also a wonderful tool for establishing form.
*You can also use paint to denote these values. Of course, varying shades of black to gray to the white of the paper is a terrific option. But even in color, you can choose darker blues, greens and purples for the dark value and then lighter shades and/or colors of yellow, orange and red for the light values.
**There is SO much more to say about all of this!! We could really have a whole other set of lessons devoted to this one subject. I merely want to give you some basics for training your eyes to SEE, and your hands to RENDER, how form can be created by delineating shapes of light and dark.
*And for any of you who collage, let me steer you to a favorite artist who exquisitely uses pieces of paper to model the form. Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson’s “paper paintings” are beautiful collage works which capture the way light falls on objects and describes their 3-Dimensional form. Definitely check out her blog as well as her website.
***It is important to note that what we are after in drawing IN ANY OF THESE APPROACHES, is an EXPERIENCE, NOT a FINAL PRODUCT. Drawing our Lives means that we experience them, that we learn as we go, that we sip the beauty of our life as if through the straw of our pens or pencils or paintbrushes! Contour, Gesture, and Modelled drawing are three wonderful ways to sip, slurp, and drink in the Beauty that’s all around us.
I will leave this subject for now with a lovely quote by Nicolaides:
“There is only one right way to draw and that is a perfectly natural way. It has nothing to do with artifice or technique. It has nothing to do with aesthetics or conception. It has only to do with the act of correct observation, and by that I mean a physical contact with all sorts of objects through all the senses.” (back cover)
A Blessing: May you drink deeply of your Life by looking for the light. May you revel in training your eyes to see the beautiful ways Light shows form on all that surrounds you. And may these ways to draw allow you to experience your life more richly.
***Access all Mini Lessons for Drawing Your Life at the top of the home page on my blog! (OR just click the highlighted words in blue!)
Whose fields these are…
Whose fields these are I think I know…
His house presides o’er fence below.
His cattle say their grace each day
Content to watch and eat and stay.
The fields, they hum a beckoning tune-
To roam, to fly, to surf their dune,
To live with graceful, swaying ease,
To know no bounds, nor responsibilities.
To run and play and frolic free,
To chase the butterfly…or not…as you please.
Walking away, their song remains,
Though I am bound for my life’s restrain.
And as I enter my home’s gate,
I bow my head to plead for grace…
To watch and eat and yes, to stay;
To boundlessly live within the fray.
May 29, 2010
**For those of you who have just recently joined me here on Drawn2Life:
My neighborhood is right next to a beautiful farm owned and run by an incredibly young 84 year old man named Mr. Whicker. You can read more about “My Field” here and here and here. And for even more, you can click on the category “The Field” over in the right-hand margin. It is a place of inspiration for me which I frequent every day on my walks and as I drive through it, out into the world.
Another Friday morning in “France”… aka. downtown Kernersville, I was on my own this particular day so I chose a view I might not have done had there been others with me. This is looking into the courtyard of the Factory where the fountain is, the lamp posts and iron bridges, and the little shop fronts like the one with the black and white polka-dotted awning. I took my time drawing with my Schaeffer pen to capture the full view of this building looking down into the courtyard.
I liked it well enough. Though I discovered that my shoulders were up around my ears several times throughout the drawing process (concentrated efforts at perspective, and a bit of measuring tends to tense me up a little). So I decided to draw the same view, a little zoomed in, but with a more meditative contour drawing, following one line for as long as I could before starting another.
And this one made me smile. The following Friday when an artist friend rejoined me to draw downtown, she and I were talking about how we make drawings for the “correctness” of it all, to record more accurately what we see, and then we make the ones that make us smile. Both are valid ways to draw. Both are beneficial. But I prefer the letting go of “correctness” for simply “what pleases me”.
Try it sometime. Make a drawing to record as accurately as you can the scene before you, and then make another in whatever way you want to, that just pleases you. Perhaps you’ll find that the FIRST drawing pleases you the most. Maybe it’ll be the next one, or the next one. It’s really cool to discover these things about your preferences in art along the way.
Every day, I flip the lime green lid of my iPad, and after some minutes of perusing the latest postings on my Google Reader, browsing through the latest Facebook updates, reading emails, touching base with favorite apps…I begin to wonder, “What is it I’m looking for?”
On Sundays, beginning Saturday evening, I try to take a break from it all. I try! It is amazing to notice in oneself the pull of the afore-mentioned things. To note the lure of “just checking in”. Really, what is it I’m looking for?
I’ve just returned from a five-mile walk in and around my neighborhood. I don’t typically do the full 5-mile loop (usually just 2 or 3), but today, I really wanted to be out for a long lovely walk, breathe in the fresh air, hear the leaves rustling as a storm-front begins to roll in. What is it that lures me out on these walks? What is this siren song that sings to me, calling me to come tromp the paved roads while taking in roadside wildflowers? It hit me while I was out there…
Inspiration. Aren’t we all looking for inspiration? We want to be romanced…and I don’t mean in the gooey, lovey way, but in that classic sense of being wooed and won over by Beauty. I look for it when I peer into my iPad, I look for it on my walks, I look for it in the faces of my lovely family who has celebrated me on this Mother’s Day in such a touching way.
To say that I would prefer to be out of doors to gazing into a rectangular square gadget would be an understatement. I often think I could walk and walk and be filled to brimming over with Beauty. My life doesn’t allow for this. The key is to go a-gathering…to drink in as much of it as I can, to harvest it if you will, so that I can then spill it over to those I live with and around. And even perhaps a drop or two of it to you, my blog friend.
It was on an artist’s blog that I found this quote by Wendell Berry. I cannot for the life of me remember whose it was. It was weeks ago. But the poem has stuck with me and has inspired me on many occasion as I recall it to mind. I’ll leave it with you today…in hopes that you might also choose the outdoors over technology on occasion. That you might drink in the Beauty even of just a breeze on the skin, or the smell of grass and earth. And that it might restore your worries to a sense that all will be well. Perhaps you could paint it, draw it, write about it then. When inspiration comes my way, I just have to translate it somehow in a drawn image…perhaps that’s my way of finally ingesting it into my heart and life.
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
— Wendell Berry