Thursday, 21 April 2011

drawing state

I'm still thinking about this idea of the state of mind which accompanies drawing. I don't mean the state of 'flow', which has been written about a great deal; that thought-free state of concentration which drawing seems to produce in just about anyone who does it.

No, it's not that. It's the state that makes it possible to draw. And also the state which, in one sense, determines what and how you will draw. In my creativity group last week, we did two drawing exercises. The first was from Drawing Lab - 'blind contour drawing' of giraffes - where you draw the outline of a giraffe from a photo without looking at your paper or pencil at all. This teaches you almost instantly how closely you need to look at something if you want to draw it. It was a laugh.

Then we did an exercise from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain - where you draw a Picasso drawing upside down, and then find to your amazement when you turn it the right way up that it's a hundred times better than you would ever have thought you could draw (if you haven't drawn as an adult). This wasn't so much of a laugh - all four of us found that it involved phenomenal concentration. It was another exercise in understanding the need to look very carefully at what's in front of you. Both exercises were very good for understanding that drawing is not a magical skill, but a training in learning to look and to see.

However, for me, at this stage in my drawing life, I seem incapable of getting very interested in this approach to drawing at all. I decided about a month ago that I was going to overcome what I took to be a kind of 'fear of failure' attitude to drawing that seemed to be preventing me from doing it. But I realised last week that returning to this kind of focus on drawing was utterly deadening to me. It's quite strange. Even copying the Betty Edwards Picasso was phenomenally hard, concentrated work - or was it because it was an exercise that it felt like such hard work? Looking at these two drawings, which I did around age 23 and which must have taken quite a long time, I have no memory of finding it hard concentration at all. 

To do a drawing like this, you have to be utterly absorbed, interested, captivated, mesmerised. I did it then, and I did it about five years later in the India drawings, some of which were equally mundane, in terms of subject matter. The fascination was clearly still there.

Now, though, I just can't do it. I don't mean technically, or in terms of concentration in general. I mean, I can't get into the state of wanting to draw an object like that, I can't find the will to become mesmerised in that way. I tried to start on a few of these recently, not noticing at the time how lost and peculiar I was feeling about my work. This was partly an upheaval caused by the trip away - which threw everything up in the air - but it was partly, I'm quite sure, because of the focus on drawing.

After a few days of this the agitation got to a peak, stopping me from going to sleep one night, until I got up and found myself making a small, messy, wonderfully undisciplined painting, of the sort I was doing a couple of months ago.

It was quite strange - as if the drawing from life was boring me and strangling me, and in the end this unknown, unconscious part of myself reared up from the depths and forced what it needed to happen. For whatever reason, learning to look at the world with my pencil just isn't doing it for me anymore.

When I think about it now, I can see that this unconscious part of myself seemed to be trying to make itself heard earlier in the week, when I decided to draw an orchid. I set myself up in front of the beautiful plants, without a clear plan in my mind, but intending to draw them. What came out was this:

Which wasn't quite the orchid I had in mind. I wonder if it was partly because I had no plan when I started that instead of the regular plant drawing I had somehow assumed, I got this exercise in repetition, pattern and colour. There seems to have been an unconscious level of response which was trying to speak up when it saw me going off in a direction that, for me, is somehow just not the right thing at the moment....

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