28 Apr Studying Life Through Painting
There is a lot to be learned about life through making things and art is something I continue to learn from in many ways. But out of all the arts there is something marvelous to me about the simple act of drawing and painting.
I think it is something about the connection with your hand. It’s such a simple and physical act and it connects you to your senses with a presence that is best described as meditative.
A small list of ways that drawing teaches you about life.
Time slows down when you make things. You also loose track of time altogether, but you seem to settle into a dimension where everything is still. I could paint for hours, and generally I need to to get to the point where I feel like I’m not longer rushing. You can’t draw well when you’re thinking about the finished result. The irony being that keeping your eyes on the goal will slow you down immensely. To draw well you have to pay attention and you cannot pay attention if you are busy thinking about the past or visualizing the future.
I took a drawing class last semester, with an old Catalan painter who cursed at us in Spanish but always gave us extra paper. We would generally draw for three hours and he would talk a bit about drawing and everything he says seemed to at once relate to drawing and be a livable philosophy. See he would always tell us to pay attention, to slow down, to look more instead of only seeing. When you draw you start to see all the details of an object that you never really noticed before. You are not inventing nor coping reality, you are understanding more.
One Thing At A Time
You cannot make a drawing all at once, you have to start with a line and then another and maybe they form a leaf so then you draw another leaf and another and keep drawing leaves for a while and you might just have a whole plant.
It can be time consuming process but it’s all about your perspective. Drawing is like walking in this way. You can cover an incredible distance and get an incredible lot done but it all happens one step at a time. All we have is time when we use of our time is to become so absorbed in our work that forget ourselves entirely we become a part of the process and in doing so discover a beautiful feeling.
There is also a wonderful satisfaction to going line by line. To becoming thoroughly absorbed in each individual stroke. So much so that you loose track of the thread of time and then when you re emerge and hold your page up at a distance there is this moment of amazement when you see how the picture has come together. The thing that you have somehow created, one line at a time.
Judgements seem to hold us back more than anything, they question our ability to do something well and cause us to freeze up before even starting. You cannot draw at the same time that you question what you are making. The questioning will still be there, this is inevitable, but when you draw you must push it aside, you can plan a bit before and consider changes after but in the end these little efforts to control the process always fall away. Simply we learn best through doing and judgement is paralysis in action.
Drawing is a process of trust. Trusting your eyes to see and your hand to connect with the paper. It’s never going to be perfect but as you go along you stop doubting your hand. A blank page is intimidating and the first stroke often feels wrong, and the 2nd and the hundredth for that matter but as you keep going you learn to trust the process and one stroke at a time a shape takes form.
Let Go Expectations
Making things is a bit like skinny dipping in the dark. Scubadiving for treasures. You don’t really know where you are or what you are going to find and you most certainly can’t approach the project with a set of finite expectations. There is an electric spark to this uncertainty. The unexpectedness of a surprise party, the way a good idea sometimes leaves a sweet taste in your mouth. When you grow comfortable in the unknown space seems to expand around you and you find that you are floating in ideas.
There was a time when I wanted to be good at drawing -portraits specifically. I spend a good few months working on this one, months and months and in the end the conclusion I came to was that a drawing will never turn out exactly how you want it to. I spent the next few years drawing plants and it’s been very therapeutic. When you let go your expectations of how it should turn out you free yourself to create and the unexpected results are often eternally more interesting than you could have imagined.
Drawing keeps you on your toes. Painting in particular is a constant reminder to work with the process rather than trying to control it. Watercolors are always a balence, too dark, too much water something unexpected is always bound to happen and one must grow comfortable with the ever shifting changes of direction.
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