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Seeing What Is
In college, I am currently taking a drawing class wherein I’ve learned a lot about how I really look at the world, what I am seeing, what I think I am seeing and what is really there. For me, it has brought to my awareness about the depths of details that I may not be consciously processing, although my eyes are actually seeing them. On a continual basis, I find myself in awe and thinking, I had no idea THAT detail was there.
Each day we are in class, the professor provides us 30 minutes at the beginning of class to do a warm-up drawing of different objects. These warm-up processes are to get us settled into the space and in the frame of mind for drawing. Inevitably, I discover that as soon as I start sketching the simplified drawing for the object, my seeing intensifies and, suddenly, there are details that I had never noticed before. I’ve also learned that, as the details start opening up to me I can very quickly become overwhelmed and freeze up, not knowing where to start.
Our classroom and homework assignments are more of the same, but on much grander scale. As I pondered the first assignment – a still life of two or more objects – I kept hearing myself think, I want to do simple objects. Anything with too much detail and I’m going to get lost in it. And, the days rolled on without any time spent actually drawing the assignment, but rather only thinking about drawing the assignment.
Eventually, I found myself somewhat stranded in a small town, in a tiny motel room without internet or phone. Thus appeared the perfect scenario for completing my assignment. But then, I didn’t have any “objects” to draw. I am funny in this way… when I’m really scared about something, I can find all sorts of excuses to not do it. And, in this instance, my old program of, “I don’t know how to draw nor can I do it well if I try,” popped up and was sabotaging me at every turn.
“Why don’t you just draw that?” My daughter asked, pointing to the little table where I had placed my purse, sunglasses and motel room key haphazardly. I glanced at it and thought, Not too much detail. I think I can do it.
So I did.
What happened was I spent several hours – probably triple what was required for the assignment – in a timeless space where all there was was me, my paper, my pencil and those three objects. I sketched. I measured. I lined. I watched in awe as the shadows, highlights, details and things I hadn’t noticed before started to pop out at me. I darkened. I shaded. And, eventually there was a very close representation of what had been placed on the tabletop. I stood back in humbled awe and stared at the piece of art, stunned that it looked like that.
My process of drawing has many stages:
• Sketching stage, where it doesn’t really look like anything unless you’re able to compare the chicken scratches with reality and then you can barely see it.
• Line stage, where I look at it and fear that it looks nothing like what is really there and I’m tempted to trash it and start over so I get up, walk away and breathe.
• Decision stage, where I come back, after breathing and moving and in a much clearer space where I can be less emotional about deciding if it’s salvageable or if it is, indeed, something that needs to be scrapped.
• Commitment stage, where I follow through with the decision and either start over or begin adding depth and details until it becomes a lifelike representation of what my eyes are seeing.
Completion stage, where I stand back and really take in what I have done, declare it complete and sign it.
This process I’ve described is a lot like life. There are times when you are seeing your life without taking in all the details, which can be a sort of self-preservation technique if you’re sensitive. There are other times when you choose to focus in and see details that may take you by surprise. There are also times when you have to decide if it is simply your fear that is making things look incorrect or if you truly need to change course. And then there are the times that you get to make a commitment, move forward and eventually declare it complete
The key element in this whole process is the point where you give yourself permission to step back, breathe and move. It is this practice that brings you into presence with yourself so that you’re able to be clear about what is needed next. In light of that, the next time you find yourself cornered, stumped or stuck, I invite you to take a deep breath, step back and move your body. It may be just what you need to be able to see the truth of what you’re facing.
© Angie K. Millgate 9/11/11
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