I like to think about drawing as the art of seeing. Have you ever noticed that very young children can see so much better than adults do? And I am not talking about acuity of vision as measured by an optometrist! Very young children (below age 3) actually see more and better than everyone else, because they look with their eyes and not with their minds. In other words, young, pre-verbal children are not yet limited by the conditioning of images, symbols, and language. Many years ago, I caught a glimpse of this ability through my friend Elizabeth’s daughter Melina, then a toddler, perhaps 18 months old. Melina was in her parent’s bedroom, and I was watching her. A tall armoire with mirrored doors lined one wall of the room, and onto one of those doors was taped a reproduction of a Pierre Bonnard painting (Drawing of a woman, right) representing a woman standing in front of a mirror. I observed Melina adopt the exact same pose of the woman in the painting as she looked in the mirror. Amazing!
When my son was small, I quickly noticed that he was very observant of detail. He would remember our friends’ apartment numbers and knew which button to press on the elevator when we visited their buildings. Close to the ground, his line of sight was naturally low, and we would enjoy walking together and pointing out patterns, colors, signs, objects that we would find.
And so, for a person who has already received a lifetime of conditioning, learning to draw is the equivalent of learning to see once again. No longer will you look at a tree and see a lollipop on a stick, or some variation on that theme. No longer will you be able to look at a face and not embrace each feature with your eyes. There are many books and classes whose purpose is to teach you to draw. There is technique, and there is expression. Above all, there is seeing. Even if you never learn to draw properly—and it is a skill that can be learned by anyone who so desires—learning to see will bring you great satisfaction in your life, from moment to moment. Careful observation will also improve your memory. When you are waiting in line, you can observe everything around you in great detail. Drawing is a form of meditation, a love poem to the present moment, and the connection of self to the world.
If you are interested in connecting to the present moment and your experience of the real, then pick up a nice sketchbook, a few graphite pencils, colored pencils, sharpies, watercolors…whatever suits your fancy, and keep them with you in your car, your purse, at home. Take the time to observe your surroundings and to caress them with your eyes and your mind. Although I have been very near-sighted most of my life, I am so very grateful for my ability to see, and when I sit down to draw, I really feel at home in the world and in myself.
DCPL has some nice titles that replicate artist’s sketchbooks as well as instructional books about drawing. Other books are more philosophical, relating to the theme of seeing and drawing. Have fun opening your eyes!
Here are a few titles to peruse at your leisure:
- The Zen of Seeing: Seeing / Drawing as Meditation, by Frederick Franck, 1973
- Page by Paige (a Young Adult Graphic Novel), by Laura Lee Gulledge, 2011
- A Soldier’s Sketchbook: from the Front Lines of World War II, by Joseph Farris, 2011
- Painted Pages: Fueling Creativity with Sketchbooks and Mixed Media, by Sarah Ahearn Bellemare, 2011
- How to Keep a Sketchbook Journal, by Claudia Nice, 2001
- The Sketchbook Challenge: Techniques, Prompts, and Inspiration for Achieving Your Creative Goals, by Sue Bleiweiss, 2012
Below: Sketch of reclining figure and face from a session at the Apache Art Café