“A drawing contains the act of seeing by a unique human mind and heart. It contains interpretation, imagination and intuition about the subject of the drawing. A drawn portrait captures not just what the eye can see but also what the heart and mind can understand.” - Wendy Ann Greenhalgh Drawing and the Art of Mindfulness.
“I have no talent at all. The only thing I can draw is stick figures”. I hear this phrase over and over when I introduce myself as an art teacher.
Children under the age of 10 freely use drawing as a means to interpret and engage with the world around them.
At what age did you notice that your drawings were not “good enough”?
As a child did you experience criticism or recognition from adults on your drawing ability?
It is not a coincidence that age 10 is also when we begin to engage in symbolic thought; judging, labeling and categorizing everything around us. That is when we understand that the word “house” and the symbol for it mean the same thing.
The house image below does not look like anyone’s actual home. It is a symbol the same way the stick man does not look like my actual mother, or father but is a universal symbol for either of them.
Around age 10 our inner critic shows up and begins to silence our creative explorations in music, dance, writing and art. The inner critic says that a symbol is no longer “good enough” and the symbol itself starts to get in the way of noticing the individuality of the object before us.
If you were fortunate enough to have drawing offered to you after age 10 you might have begun to engage in seeing beyond the symbol for the things you drew. When drawing, an artist looks at the subject deeply, notices the details, the flaws, the shapes and textures of the subject. Seeing clearly is at the heart of drawing and the chatter of the inner judge and critic makes this a difficult process for most of us.
When I teach drawing, this ability to perceive is the skill that matters more than how you wield a pencil.
Can you quiet your mind enough to engage in extended looking?
Can you remain curious enough about the individuality of the rose in front of you to see the unique whorls and color variations in the petals and the shape and arrangement of the serrated leaves?
There is so much to see in a single rose branch. The outer petals of each rose are different from the inner ones, there is a certain number of serrated leaves on each leaf bract, the thorns are located in a particular pattern and each type of rose has a different center, a different bud shape.
Can you look enough to take it all in?
If you are very fortunate, something special happens when you draw. Drawing can take you into a reciprocal relationship with the things you draw. There is a point in the process of observation where you and the object of your observation meld.
The rose is a part of you and you experience what it feels like to be a rose. Losing your sense of self this way connects you to the natural world and calms the mind and spirit. This experience is what drawing is about as much as it is about making marks on a page. Connection with the nature of the things we draw is what we bring to our art that makes them “real” for ourselves and our viewers.
The process of drawing this way soothes that mind and soul in the same way meditation does for experienced meditators.
Drawing is also a wonderful practice for learning to separate the voice of the inner critic from the voice of the inner artist. As you draw, both voices guide you. Stop and notice where you feel each voice inside your body.
What memories and associations appear?.
Can you stay with the uncomfortable feelings your critic brings to the conversation?
Can you pause to breathe through them without reacting or arguing?
Every artwork goes through an “ugly stepchild” phase where we want to give up on it.
Can you stay with it and persist until your drawing blossoms into beauty?
Can you follow the voice of your inner artist into making the marks that bring you joy and grace?
Envisioning is another gift from drawing. When you see your subject in your mind’s eye and put it onto the paper you are practicing the art of building and birthing your visions into the world. We birth the world anew each time we use our imagination to create a new possibility.
It takes practice to develop the imaginative space for these new possibilities to emerge and to play with the alternatives. If you are going to paint a rose, what colors will you use? What shapes, what materials, what emotions do you wish to invoke? Your unique interpretation of the rose affirms its reason for existing. When you can play with the image of your drawing inside your mind’s eye, you can play with the blueprint for your new future as well.
Drawing is a wonderful teacher, talent is irrelevant and you are never too old to learn. If you are interested in learning more about drawing please reach out and let’s talk. I invite you to allow me to lovingly guide, support, and accompany you in your artistic development.
With light and delight,