Monday, February 25, 2008

Teaching Myself to Draw 2

This afternoon, I was sitting at the table talking to one of my best friends, who was visiting for the weekend from out-of-town. I picked up one of the clipboards lying around and put a piece of paper on it to take notes on our conversation, but as he went out to his car for a minute to get something, I started to draw. I thought maybe I'd doodle something, then take notes, maybe make a sketch of something small in a corner of the page. By the time he got back, an entire drawing was mostly sketched in, and that sheet of paper, of least, would never be used for taking notes. I worked rapidly, and continued to look at and add to the drawing as we sat and talked for another hour. In an hour, the drawing was done. I've looked at it a few more times during the afternoon, but feel like there's nothing more to add. It's loose, sketchy, evocative, rapidly executed, and probably more expressionistic than I currently know.

As I have said before, I like it when I just sit down to start a drawing, and it's done quickly. I'm not one for drawings that take days to finish—at least, not yet, not in my current stage of learning. I like doing drawings that I can get done in just a day. I would like to try some drawings based on photo images, and see where that leads. It will no doubt be good practice in selecting which details of a scene to emphasize, and which to leave out: art is often about leaving out unnecessary details, so the main subject can be brought into focus. Photography is that way, too, although it seems a lot of non-photographer visual artists often mistakenly assume that a photograph is supposed to include everything.

Today I started, as I often seem to do lately, with a circle. Sketched the edges. Made some rough forms. I am attracted to circles and spirals. I am primarily inspired by natural settings in my photography and now that I'm learning to draw with colored pencils I find myself starting with circles. Sometimes it's the moon, sometimes the sun, sometimes a circle of rocks or a void inside an old tree-trunk. I start with a circle, and the drawing reveals what it wants to be.

Circle forms have a history in my artwork. I often am drawn to them in photography, and even more often when making landscape art pieces. I practice drawing enso whenever I get out my Japanese calligraphy brushes. Sometimes these turn into drawings; more often they are just enso, and occasionally become what Paul Reps called Zen Telegrams. Sometimes they become haiga.

I started making some long strokes in abstract shapes around the circle I had started with, and the next thing I knew, I was drawing an image of high thin clouds scudding rapidly over a dark sky, partly revealing and partly obscuring the moon. The color palette for this particular image is dominantly purples and blues of various tones blended together, overlapping, interfingering, interlacing. Layers of thin pigment using light pressure, the pencil turned to the side so that the edge of the lead makes a wide stroke.

This is an intuitive process. I realize that it is similar to the intuitive processes that dominate my artistic process in other media, such as poetry and music. I often do not know where I am going when I first start out. But you have to start somewhere. You start with a single line. The next thing you know, a form emerges. Once you know what the form wants to be, you develop other forms nearby, and the drawing emerges. This is not pre-planned. It emerges organically as I go. You have to start somewhere, to fill the page's blank void. One stroke will do. Starting with a circle gives me an anchor-point.

This intuitive process itself is what separates the making of a piece of art from just doing a study, an étude or practice drawing. An actual artwork (quality of execution is another matter) comes from this need to draw (or write, etc.). The need is there, and the piece wants to come out. It demands attention. It's almost never something i set out to do beforehand, and planned to do; the things I set out to do are usually practice-pieces, or études, not finished pieces; they might give me some good insights and skills practice, but I rarely think of them as finished pieces. It always seems to happen this way for me in poetry; it's interesting that it's started to happen this way in drawing as well. The "feel" of the process is similar. Also as in poetry, I make no claims as to the quality of what is produced: it could still be merely a sketch, a basic idea that later needs revision and reworking, before it becomes an actual artwork.

My visiting friend, who knows much of my artwork and my process, commented that as usual I was following my intuition, as I do in many arenas of life, not least of them the spiritual. His comment gave the drawing its title: Intuition (moon and high clouds).

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