drawing from life

Back to The Drawing Board … With A Clearer Sense of Purpose

While I’ve continued drawing since my last installment, I haven’t kept posting near as regularly as I intended when I launched this blog.  At that time, in fall 2014, I was participating in the Blogging 101 workshop; and I felt the buoyancy of a just-minted blogger. But, as the sense of “novelty” wore off, my initial drive really waned. Now, four months into the new year, I’m staring sheepishly at the date of my last posting—November 22, 2014—and wishing I hadn’t let so much time pass. I had really believed in this project upon launch; but, clearly, staying aloft requires more determination to overcome obstacles than I realized.

Graphite Drawing

Silver Pitcher, Partially Refracted Through Wineglass

Yeah, I way underestimated the commitment required to keep this up. Often, my days seem crammed with so many other obligations. When my free time finally surfaces—often after dinner cleanup and other sundry chores—I’m mentally done being productive. Come 8:30 or 9p.m., I typically give in to vegging out.

I’ve struggled, also, with what I’m actually trying to accomplish: What do I want to focus on? Just my “drawing process” and how I’m sharpening that skill? Do I want to write more about where I’m heading creatively, and who/what inspires me? Or, do I want to go even broader–and open the floodgates to still other concerns that arise (with my drawings perhaps providing visual counterpoint to my “musings”)?

Moreover, I remain intent on breaking free of just faithfully “copying” the subjects I draw. I’m increasingly tempted to “color outside the lines,” so to speak. I want to worry less about erasing and correcting “mistakes”; and to more fully express in my artwork the vision I see through my “mind’s eye” (as well as what comes in through my optical senses). In short, I want to overcome my perfectionism–so my artistry and creativity can shine through. That desire, and that problem, however, echo throughout my life. I can’t honestly restrict my writing narrowly to overcoming my artistic limitations—and leave out how perfectionism, and my desire for more authenticity, permeate the rest of my life.

Take, for example, my writing. That’s another venue where trying to be perfect obscures and drowns out what I might authentically express. Just as I’m compelled to erase and redraw my drawing “errors,” so too when I write I worry about and second guess my phrasing, and about whether my word choice is exactly right. Though I didn’t grasp it when I set out, I now realize this simple blogging project about “drawing” has illuminated for me a more universal theme: I’m really writing about growing me. My efforts to develop as a visual artist provides my metaphor for the challenges I face in my larger life.

Graphite Drawing

Onions, Etc. In Bowl

I do have a clearer sense of “what I’m trying to accomplish” in this blog: To capture an ongoing—and illustrated—chronicle of how I’m persisting through my psychic limits; how I’m steadily embracing imperfection; and how I’m striving to express myself more authentically.

Redemptive Reinforcement: A Lesson In “Staying The Course”

Recalling the conversation now, I realize I’d broken my news almost as an afterthought. That’s typical: my reluctance to call attention to myself or having others “make a fuss”  over me.  After we’d talked for more than a half hour, I casually mentioned to my therapist, “Oh, and I’ve begun a blog about my new drawings—you know, showing some of them and talking about how I’m feeling about drawing again.”

If I expected her to let my comment pass, I’d definitely misread the moment.  She had, after all, been the impetus behind my return to drawing in the first place. And each time she looked over my latest sketches, she seemed genuinely pleased—even delighted—to see my progress, “illustrated.” Now absorbing my news, she reflexively raised her hand toward her mouth. “Oh, this is huge—a really big step,” she remarked. “I’m getting a little misty just hearing about it. How do you feel about it?”

Well, I’d certainly been intrigued when I first considered the notion of pairing my “new habit of drawing” with a blog. I realized blogging offered the perfect forum to chart my progress; to talk about my inspirations; and to give readers insight into my creative journey. Further, I imagined others might pull for me and urge me to keep up the good work. Secretly, I even fantasized about attracting a small legion of “fans”—maybe an influential critic or two—who’d offer support and eagerly await my next post.

In answering her question, it seems I replied, “Well, I’m happy about it … ,” though I was still sifting my emotions. As I sat mulling this, my therapist opened my blog and began skimming my first few posts. She read random passages aloud, rhythmically checking invisible boxes with her index finger as she emphasized resonant phrases. I felt unsettled excitement, like I’d ace’d an important test I’d been unaware I’d taken. I also grew humbled, as she touted the potential payoffs my actions might yield.

Do you know how much you could help other people through this?” she asked, a note of wonder infusing her tone. I’d not really considered that; I’ve never though of myself as inspiring or as a self-help resource. To the contrary, I suffer from a sort of low-grade, “functional depression.” I’m also very critical and rigid toward myself. And my experience over the last decade—during which I’ve been chronically un- or under-employed—has left me feeling generally inadequate. (My earlier reference to being embarrassed when others “make a fuss” over my accomplishments surely relates to this negative self-image.)

Still, lately I’ve remained more disciplined and persistent about drawing than perhaps at any other time in my life. I’ve actually felt proud of several pieces I’ve drawn; and I’ve been excited both to reveal them to my therapist and publish them in my blog. Most significant, I’ve felt more emotionally buoyed and hopeful, despite the increased time and energy this work requires. Having personally experienced these brief successes (continuing to draw, to publish my blog–and even to gain “followers”) I realize I’m more positive and hopeful.  And, I’ve gained a higher regard for my abilities along with a new sense of purpose.

In resuming drawing, I’ve strayed into a realm I really care about. I feel a sense of belonging to this endeavor, like I’m on my spiritual home turf. That awareness of “coming back to” a treasured part of myself has also left me somewhat scared and humbled. To be sure, I’ve only been at this for a brief time (and sporadically at that; I can still go days without drawing.) But, before, I’d held fast to my shame and inadequacy, criticized myself unmercifully, and internalized the judgmental messages I heard (or believed I’d heard) from others. Now, by taking positive steps forward, in a field about which I am so passionate, I’m actually replacing some of my victimized, reactive behavior with stretching, encouraging and risking.

So, having my therapist gently emphasize that I’m doing good—with the supporting evidence laid out before me—penetrated my leathery emotional hide. But it was the suggestion that others might benefit that broke my dam. The next moment, I cried big, heaving sobs. Along with feeling grief, however, I realized I was experiencing a kind of redemption. If only briefly, I’d peered beyond the sense of inadequacy that so distorts my outlook. And I’d arrived at this moment of clarity by consciously treading a series of scary steps along a path that offered me no guarantees I’d succeed (though I’d certainly received ample encouragement).

After several minutes, I recovered my composure. In our last few minutes, my therapist gently summed up our session.  She reminded me how recently I’d become very preoccupied with my adult daughter’s mental illness and erratic behavior.  She suggested that, perhaps, this circumstance actually offered a kind of diversion from recognizing the pain I’d finally confronted.  Still gathering my wits, I shook my head in assent.

After other such “breakthrough moments,” I’ve tended to hope, unrealistically, that “now everything will be different.” I’ve come to realize, however, few miracle arise from even the most transcendent moments. It seems something inside changed that afternoon; or maybe I just received particularly memorable “reinforcement” for being on the right track. I do recall that the following day I made a special point to go out and do some drawing.

(I remember another rather ironic detail about my mindset leading up to the above meeting with my therapist: I’d nearly cancelled the appointment for fear I just wasn’t “up to” discussing heavy, emotional stuff that day. I’m glad, now, I made the effort to show up.)


Creative Growth Is A Long and Winding Road

Recently, I’ve taken a pretty “circuitous” route along my drawing path. I’ve struggled with the sketches I’ve begun, as well as with drawing as regularly as I’d like. What’s more, I’ve produced few coherent results to show for my efforts. I’m coming to realize that artistic growth is simply not a “linear” process. Occasionally, I might “luck out” by producing a more or less complete sketch on my first take. But, more often, my first (and sometimes second or third) try simply reveals the direction I “should” have gone.

For instance, I kept trying to freehand-draw a forlorn, defunct gas station that sits anonymously downtown. Visually, this subject really appeals to me; its run-down, solitary appearance evokes a sense of an entity “left behind” by progress.

This old ARCO gas station sits forlornly along El Sobrante's main drag

This old ARCO gas station sits forlornly along El Sobrante’s main drag


... and one of my initial "freehand" drawings. I really struggled to produce even a semblance of an accurate perspective view.

… and one of my first “freehand” drawings. I really struggled to produce even a semblance of an accurate perspective view.

So I keep returning to try and draw it. Twice, I worked for nearly two hours at a stretch, but I produced little more than rough outlines of this deceptively “simple” structure. Those four frustrating hours just reinforced for me a couple hard-won truths: I simply could not “freehand” the building and achieve some semblance of perspective (at least not to my satisfaction). Moreover, if I wanted to render it realistically, I’d need to re-acquaint myself with the fundamentals of perspective drawing.

So, I “went back to the books” (actually, some helpful Web tutorials) to relearn how to set up multiple “vanishing points,” and use them to outline geometric objects in perspective. This process proved decidedly “mechanical” —not exactly the “freed-up” drawing style I’m aiming for. But I simply haven’t overcome my desire to achieve a general realism in my work. Even if I ultimately do develop a freer, more spontaneous drawing style, I simply prefer realism; it’s “my thing.” And really, at this stage of restoring my drawing skill, there’s nothing wrong with focusing on the fundamentals.

My latest, more successful effort at depicting the old 'station. I began by determining the approximate location of two "vanishing points," toward which the structure's horizontal lines converge in receding space. (From this start, I can now more confidently add details.)

My latest, more successful effort at depicting the old ‘station. I began by determining the approximate location of two “vanishing points,” toward which the structure’s horizontal lines converge in receding space. (From this start, I can now more confidently add details.)

Once I’d familiarized myself with the basics of perspective drawing, I went back to the old gas station. This time, I came equipped with an oversized sheet of illustration board clipped to my drawing surface. That extra surface gave me room to establish those key “vanishing points” outside the frame where I’d actually draw. Using a ruler, I then fairly quickly drew the general outlines of the structure (with the perspective lines converging much more convincingly). Now with my perspective established, I’ll be able to freehand-draw most of fine details.

Along with beginning that project, I’ve still been intermittently sketching subjects I select from everyday objects and scenes:

Securing regular time for this basic but essential practice remains a surprisingly thorny challenge. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, since drawing vies for my time (and attention) with many daily responsibilities. But, I’m going to keep tweaking this time-management thing–and get back to my original four days-per-week commitment to drawing practice.