Thursday, August 04, 2005

In Pursuit of the Inner Doodle

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On the quest for visual spontaneity....

I've been admiring Mole's napkin art: stylized, serene, three-dimensional representations drawn from an inner well. For me, at this time, "inner" is the definitive term.

I drew "Butterfly Woman" about 15 years ago. I didn't have a model, just plucked her from my brain as I doodled. She formed by herself on the page. I was on the verge of outlining a story, my Muse about to give birth as it were. That feeling led me to draw a creature both heavy with pregnancy and yet ready to launch into the air: light enough to flit.

I haven't drawn anything like her since.

I was introduced to comic books while hospitalized as a child. They weren't allowed in the house; as an adolescent I got my "fix" at a friend's place. The comics served double-duty, as stories in and of themselves but also as drawing aids. Elana and I spent a good deal of time sitting side by side, writing our own adventures -- but she also had tracing paper. Every so often I flipped through her comics collection until I found the image that came closest to the drama I wanted. I traced it and then added my own character's traits: hair length, eye color.

That's how I learned foreshortening, and other techniques that slipped into me largely by osmosis.

About 10 years ago I read Betty Edwards' Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which gave me yet more information and skills. I started practicing drawing from real life, spending what seemed like hours at Spy Pond trying to recreate some crumpled leaves.

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I was picking up more skills but losing spontaneity. Certain inner-vision muscles -- still good with words but losing their ability to translate those visions into drawings -- fell into disuse. I spent copious amounts of time inserting detail, which is fine for inanimate objects but not so fine for living beings that, every so often, need to move.

Mary and I had gone on an "Artist Date" based on Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way -- though technically an Artist Date is performed solo. Mary practiced her watercolors as Daisy looked on, but had changed position before I could draw that far.

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I got a bit looser with Red, but was still taking more time than I wanted. And I was still dependent on the external world -- hand coordinating with outer rather than inner eye.

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I haven't practiced drawing in a while. I've since taken a course down here -- learning yet more skills but still slaved to recreating a still life or a photograph. And taking time. Up north I had attended a few sessions with a live model who changed position every few minutes. That practically drove me nuts, but it also made quite clear that I needed to learn how to quick-draw. I especially admire what Rubies in Crystal has done on this score.

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Mary (drawn here, as we waited to catch a train at New York City's Penn Station) got me into the habit of using a pen from the start, flubs and all. Before then, even with "Butterfly Woman," I'd used pencil at first, which I then drew over with a rollerball or ballpoint pen. She's also helped free me from my reliance on straightforward lines, so that I now dash off more squiggles.

Natalie Goldberg says, in Writing Down the Bones, "When you write, don’t say, 'I’m going to write a poem.' That attitude will freeze you right away. Sit down with the least expectation of yourself; say, 'I am free to write the worst junk in the world.' You have to give yourself the space to write a lot without a destination."

I've got to do that with my drawing. I've made a pact with myself: do at least some sketching daily, without thinking overly much. Produce at least one piece taken from my head for each one I model on the outside world. Train my inner-vision muscles, just as I give my students "stretching exercises" to train their writing muscles.

So far I've snatched a few minutes of doodling -- free-drawing -- while waiting for my free-writing group to arrive. No advance planning, just let the pen move. Whatever shows up determines where the ink falls next. Freedom to flub.

No destination. No self-consciousness. No worries.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not much of an artist but I have done some pretty amazing doodles. They only come out good if I'm not thinking about them, like if I'm also talking on the phone or otherwise having a conversation. When I go to trainings (long sit down maybe boring stuff) I always bring pens to doodle with. It helps me pay attention.

9:35 PM  
Blogger twila said...

Wonderful. (I think I must say that to you a lot) I enjoyed both the doodles and the thoughts on relaxing the critic and being spontaneous.

7:00 PM  

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