Wednesday, July 9, 2014

the art of SEEING

Have you ever spent a day when you haven't spoken out loud to another person?  When you finally encounter another human being, do you find speaking initially cumbersome and awkward?

That is what happens to me.  It's as if my verbal "muscles" have weakened due to disuse, but they slowly loosen up.

The same can be said for drawing, or any creative activity.  When someone tells me "I can't draw!" - the emotion in their voice betraying a deep desire to connect to this inherent gift - I point out that any creative expression requires regular use in order to feel comfortable or fluid.  If you haven't been drawing - just like not speaking for some time - when you do attempt to draw (or paint, or write, or sew) you will feel initially wonky and wobbly.

This conversation came up with a dear friend who is strengthening her fearlessness skills by signing up for my Sketch Diary Explorations offering. I love that she is leaning into her edge: aware she is stepping out of her comfort zone but also answering this deep pull towards what feels both exciting and frightening.

And I get it ... this fear of failing at something we deeply desire ... the moves we make to avoid revealing what we believe is an essential lack or flaw.  Studies have found that younger children will respond positively when asked if they are able to and like drawing, but that number decreases steadily as they age. It isn't so much a lack of ability as much as a lack of experience combined with increased self-consciousness.

I know all too well the expectations laid upon me when I declare myself to be an artist.  I still panic when someone asks me to draw something ... I begin to qualify "I'm not that kind of artist" which is to say, I do not strive for exact realism in my work.  But under that explanation is no small amount of discomfort because truly, if one is an artist, that means being able to draw exactly what one sees, right?

But really, what does SEEING involve?  Is it merely the surface appearance of things?  Or might it also include something more abstract and deeply personal?  The essence or meaning of the thing for the beholder?  Am I drawing merely to confirm what I KNOW about a subject?  

When I reach for my sketch diary, I am not seeking to create an exact replica of the scene before me.  If I wanted that, I would grab my camera and take a picture (although the choice of angle, perspective, lighting, cropping all are choices I make which influence the emotional impact of the scene; I still am filtering the view through ME.) What I want to capture is the essence of the moment, the deeper meaning of what is before me and hopefully through the act of slowing down and paying attention, to SEE what I might otherwise overlook.

My preferred method of drawing is known a blind contour drawing which I learned about through the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. I confess, I do cheat. What I love about this technique is it forces me to go slow, turn off my mind and stay present for what I see in each moment.  I can always tell in a drawing where I was deeply engaged and really seeing what was before me

and where I sped up and drew what I knew (the opening of the glass is a round shape, but from the angle where I was sitting, it would not appear as a perfect circle)

I have to wonder: how often in my day, my life, do I fail to see what is before me?  How often do I lapse back into what I believe or know, which is to miss out on an opportunity to deepen my understanding or experience of that person, scene, or thing? How often do I filter my life through the narrow and limited lens of my thinking mind and overlook the deeper mysteries and lessons present in each moment? In the offering of this vase of summer flowers or the emotional gift present in the eyes of a donkey or my sleeping dog?

 To SEE something in its fullest being requires, for me, the attitude of a child. It requires curiosity and a willingness to engage heart, mind, eyes, and soul with whatever captures my attention.  To look deeply and see the essence of what is before me is to tap into the sacredness of living and to merge the prosaic with the profound.   (I want to give credit to the artist Katherine Dunn whose book Creative Illustration Workshop along with her amazing online course Capturing the Essence clarified for me  the purpose and the gift of artistic expression in my life.)

It is familiarity with life that makes time speed quickly. When every day is a step in the unknown, as for children, the days are long with gathering of experience ...
- George Gissing

To regularly make time to sketch some aspect of my day is to strengthen the part of me that experiences life as a child: fully immersed in what is before me, a clean slate of experience, and mind open and willing to see, believe - and most importantly - receive.

Some days it is a playful action and other days deep soul medicine.  But always, if I show up and engage, it is a means of valuing myself and my experience.  It is strengthening the voice deep within ... the voice I knew as a young child ... the voice that tells me I belong to this world with all its gifts and delights. 

Even when I fail to see clearly, what I put down is still a record of my journey: the lapses and the triumphs, the quiet moments and the breath-held-in-suspension moments, the struggles and the simple pleasures that add up to a life well lived.

My girl will be joining me in camp this summer.  Consider it to be one massive and creative play date ... we would love the company!  All the details are HERE and beginners are not only welcome, but beginner's mind - a child's mind & heart -  IS the only requirement!   

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