I teach drawing to many adults who have had discouraging experiences in previous art classes, often in their youth. It takes courage for many to even sign up, and invariably they tell me that what helped them to decide to register was the phrase: "there is no such thing as an awful line” in my course description. Whether my classroom is in my studio, at Ghost Ranch during the July Festival of the Arts, or in conjunction with a tapestry design workshop, many arrive with the unease of being outside their comfort zone, hoping to have a better relationship with drawing.
We begin by getting acquainted with the pencil as a tool, and all the many lines and marks that can be made with it. We do warm-ups with the pencil, for just as a dancer or a singer must warm up and stretch the body or vocal chords, so too must the artist warm up the drawing muscles and neurological connections between the hand, arm, eye, and brain. We play, explore, experiment, and try new things. Then, one-by-one, each student settles into the act of hands with pencil creating marks on paper, following and describing what the eye observes. A quiet concentration comes over the room, and I know that the deeper component of drawing is at work.
Drawing is about engaging with the world and truly seeing the shapes, textures, patterns of light and shadow in front of us. The more we focus on a blade of grass, a leaf, or a tree, the more we can understand through observation the essence of leaf, tree, or cloud. We connect in a deeper way, through the pencil in the hand and the focused eye and mind. We enter into the eternal moment.
Once my students get this component of drawing, it changes how they see and engage with the world. They have found a pathway to a deeper connection with what they observe, and it helps them to be more fully present. For some, it becomes part of their daily journaling practice. For others, it is a way to begin expressing something that has no words.
For my tapestry students, they discover that they can see and subsequently better understand the connection with shape, line, form and value (the degree of lightness and darkness), and how these can translate to tapestry technique. The mantra becomes: “If I were to weave this, what techniques would I use to describe the essence of this?”
Marie Dixon was in the 2013 Drawing as Meditation: Sharpening the Eye to See class at Ghost Ranch. Already an accomplished watercolor painter, she kept a journal of each class day. Several months later, Marie shared this with me:
As I followed along each day during the “ Drawing as Meditation,” I conscientiously took notes and posted samples of my work in my journal. I wanted the notes and artwork to remind me of the special instruction and mood created by the daily exercises designed by Elizabeth Buckley. I had my favorites like the tearing paper landscapes, the movement and drawing day, and making my marks to show my mood. I thought to myself, I wanted to remember each day and someday share with others.
Coming back to Sacramento, I had a neighbor who was very sick with cancer and her daughter had asked her to draw her feelings. She was intimidated by the process so I brought the art supplies over and my journal from the class and took a few hours to explain to her that drawing and painting can be very meditative and she had nothing to fear. Each of the exercises could be easily done by someone who had never drawn or painted.
The drawing as meditation transported my friend from the weight of her illness, allowing her to get in touch with her feelings in a way that was freeing rather than frightening. My neighbor was successful and very grateful and has continued to use my journal. This is a very peaceful approach to art where everyone is successful in their own way.
Drawing truly can be accessible to everyone. With pencil and paper, one can enter a pathway into the pulse of life.
Appreciation to Marie Dixon, Jan Boydstun, Emily Flores, and Laura Nelson for their permission to use their images and words in this post.