Looking is a language. Look: a dog, a tree, a car, a man. We apply labels — to things in order to understand and process them. In Genesis, God has Adam name the animals. Labels makes abstract thinking possible. But because we over do it, looking replaces seeing and we soon stop seeing things for what they truly are. We say ‘tree’ and stop saying ‘elm’, stop saying ‘thirty year old elm, with silvery bark missing in fist sized circles on the eastern half of its trunk, 37 foot 8 inch elm with 37,437 leaves, some mustard colored, others sap green”, and we completely miss going to the next level where language fails us all together, where things are so specific they can have no name, where they are absolutely real.
This is where drawing comes from. When you can look at something slowly and carefully and refuse to see it for anything but what it is – at this very moment – in this light – from this angle. And as you begin to see, you cease to be the many things that limit you. You drop judgments, cultural biases, history, and baggage. Time slows, and then disappears. All you feel is the pen on the paper, the slow cutting drag of the nib against the grain till even that sensation fades away too. You don’t think about art or what people will say or whether you are inept or ugly or stupid or self indulgent. You stop thinking about bills and aches and grievances and chores. You, your pen, your paper, your subject, you just are.
You sink deeper and deeper as you see more and more. You draw the edges and then the textures, the shadows, the textures and shadows within textures and shadows. The orange, the tree, the body you are drawing is just a landscape your eyes traverse. Your line takes you through adventures and surprises, over hill and down valley, into light and through shade. And eventually your journey brings you home again and you feel your pen thud back against the dock, the door step, and the world slowly cranks back up again like the merry-go-round it is and you come back to all your senses, sharpened, refreshed, renewed.
On your paper, there’s a map of your trip, a souvenir, only as accurate as the clarity of your vision. Keep it if you want, frame it, sell it, but it won’t matter – every twist and turn of the trip itself will be seared into your mind.
Are you ready to give it a try?