the scrutiny

Let’s say you don’t know what to do.  What if you had to survey all the stuff of your life just to find out what it was that mattered?  You catalog your stuff — your mental furniture — one thing at a time.  You reexamine each still life object, or your garden at various times of day, you look at your own hands with new questionings, you carefully study the jar of rocks on the window ledge, your creamer, your house, even your weather.

We’re not talking about casual glances here.  What if each thing needed really careful scrutinizing?  What if your being an artist depended upon it!

Perhaps this is beginning to sound scary.  (I don’t wish to frighten anyone.)  Let’s walk this back.  We’re not urging millions of drawings on anyone.  And anyway to catalog your world could be wonderful.

I am merely suggesting that if you did need to revisit all the reasons, to retake your bearings, that you would just have to do it.  And you’d start from scratch.  You have to start somewhere.  Anywhere.

That first decision — I bet it would be interesting — wouldn’t that gesture take on a whole new meaning?

Sidedness in pictures

Thanks perhaps to Betty Edwards’s well known book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” probably everyone who draws these days knows that visual cognition occurs primarily as an activity of the right cerebral hemisphere.  You don’t even have to have read the book.  Thanks to the title alone, if you just saw the book on the shelf at the art store (and her book is ubiquitously part of today’s artist’s landscape) then you got at least a teaser of its main idea, a neurological hat tip.  Who would have thought that neuroscience would play so prominent a role in contemporary artistic discourse?

Of course, you use both hemispheres of your brain when doing art because drawing or painting are complex tasks.  If you’re right handed (and most artists, like most people, are) then the left hemisphere controls your drawing hand so it’s not as though your left brain just goes on vacation ….

But while both sides of the brain juggle your task, the visual cortex on the right side does the biggest share of the thinking.  So it’s not surprising that lots of pictures exhibit some degree of sidedness.

I often notice sidedness as I work and have adapted to it.  It’s most obvious on those occasions when I start the drawing with objects on the left side.  (Recall that the right hemisphere controls the left side and the left hemisphere the right side of the body.)  However, if for some reason I begin on the right or the middle, I may drift cognitively leftward, finishing the left side of the picture first.

Consider the drawing above as an extreme example.  It has no right side.  Well, some nicely evocative space sits there in empty conversation with the things of the picture.  But there’s no stuff on the right in this watercolor of violets because after I had got this far I stopped work.  My right cortex just took over completely and sent my left brain packing!

That wasn’t very nice.

But it is kind of neat.  And being aware of sidedness, especially when working on an elaborate image, you can intensify your focus by devising ways to put the relevant section of the image “on the left.”  It’s all just a question of context, and your brain is pretty easy to fool.

You gotta fool your brain.


To have your thoughts be unimpeded means — to some extent — removing the obstacles that impede them.  Some of those obstacles are doubt and second guessing.  Another obstacle is lack of skill.  The latter obstacle has all kinds of irony attached to it since going forward with one’s desire leads eventually toward gaining the skill.  If you draw when you think that perhaps you can’t, you move yourself in the direction of getting the skill that you fear you lack.

It is self correcting.  So you just have to draw anyway.  Draw as though you have the skill, as though you have no doubts, and you have removed some of the obstacles that impede thought.

sometimes you just have to draw a cat

Did you ever need to draw a cat and realize that you don’t have a cat?  Well, I did.

I used to have a cat.  But I don’t have a cat anymore.  I’m catless.  Still the desire to draw a cat comes over me from time to time.  So feeling the feline mood recently, I (poised with my blue ball point pen in hand) surfed the internet in search of somebody else’s cat to draw.  Happily, lots of cat enthusiasts post pictures of their beloved pets. (I would too if I had a cat.)

Happily too all cats do almost exactly the same things so the odds of my ever getting “caught” using “this” picture or “that” one is totally eliminated.  Well, that and the fact that this is a most summary and capricious cat drawing.

It’s just a quick sketch.  Just had to get it out of my system.

unimpeded thought

The morning coffee drawing was supposed to be about “unimpeded thought.”  I had been learning about free-association as a means of invention in writing.  Ray Bradbury had said that “we’ve become so conditioned to worry about grammar, word choice, and punctuation that we deny ourselves the luxury of unimpeded thought.”  So I was asking myself what would be comparable in drawing?  The trip to Unimpeded Thought sounds like just the destination I’ve been looking for:  forget these adverts for world cruises to all the tropical paradises.  Just put me on the slow boat to Unimpeded Thought.  Hey, I like luxury as much as the next person.

Only problem is that I’m not sure how to get there.

Have to contemplate it some more ….

In the interim I sought to remove all mental barriers between me and my still life objects, they who pose so nicely for me day and night.

Power and speed be hands and feet

An artist is not just her face.  The hands deserve some self-portraiture.  I draw with my hands, both of them, even with the non-dominant one, and it might be that they represent my truer nature even more than my face. They deserve more contemplation than I usually give them.

And my feet are also very much “me.”  They take me everywhere I want to go.  They take me to all those places where afterwards my hands draw.

So next time you think about doing the self-portrait, Artists, remember the hands and feet.

“Power and speed be hands and feet.”  originally from Beaumont and Fletcher as quoted in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self-reliance.”

Things that embrace

Notwithstanding that “why ask why” is a good adage, I still wonder to myself why I am fixated on flowers in vases.  There are probably lots of reasons.  I find one reason in a doodle, tucked in a pocket notebook, a drawing made during an anonymous day of a remote past.  With lines that stretch upwards, a vase like a person who just stands there, the flowers having arms, lift them in a bodily gesture.  All the things artists paint have stories or meanings tucked away inside them.  Here the vase is like a being.  The flowers that expand from its top are like arms that stretch out.  Everytime I have drawn trees I’ve understood them that way too — as beings like human presences, their branches like arms.

I was a tree hugger avant la lettre.  And am a flower hugger too.

the news at noon

Been pondering a mixed collection of incoming news events, including such topics as “how to write” and finding the “keys” to things (such as drawing).  The latter is particularly poignant for me, being someone who (as regular readers know) frequently loses my keys and must continually be arranging search parties to find them.  (No refreshments are served at these parties unfortunately.)

In other news, stringing ink lines around the imagined contours of household objects has continued to be my daily (and often nightly) preoccupation and holds the key (see above)  to some future ambition.  These humbler forms of drawing are “journeywork” for the great things I shall do someday.  (This is a developing story.) They prepare the foundation for some unknown motif that I will make, something that I cannot even envision at present because it’s so far ahead on the arc of the circular space-time that composes my life (hat tip to poet Paul Squires).

Breaking News:  While I was washing the dishes last night I dropped a large plate after the coating of soapy water caused the plate’s surface to slip from my hand, falling back into the sink below where other dishes were stacked.  Fortunately, no dishes were broken.  And no still life objects were present at the time of the accident.

Okay, I guess it’s not breaking news after all.

In other news, the mowers are cutting the grass on the pathway to the inner landscape.  Try to stay out of their way while drawing with the blue ball point pen since the imaginary grounds keepers have trouble enough in their tasks when the conscious Self comes bumbling into the Subconscious properties.  Visiting is still being permitted while the grounds-work takes place, the workers merely ask that you not tread too often away from the marked paths ….

I don’t know what this is

I have no idea what this is.  Opened the notebook, flipped through the pages, and there it was.  However, what it was has not survived translation.  Nonetheless, I find that I like it.  And so I share it with you.

When you draw a lot, sometimes it doesn’t matter what the subject is.  All the things that attract your attention all filter through your brain and some element of the attraction is diffuse.  You sometimes end up remaking all the various subjects through the longings of your own personality, and to an extent all the motifs are really just one motif.   So it does not surprise me that this “what’s-it” looks a little like the vase of flowers, but also looks somewhat like the koi.

The details of flower still lifes have some of that vertical presence.

And some koi drawings feature bits of blobby yellow, red and orange patches floating among streaks of blue.

So perhaps the drawing at the top is a Vase of Koi Flowers — or it is Daffodils Swimming in a Pond?

cool water on a hot day

It’s hot outside!  How nice to dive into the koi pond, deep into that cool blue pool.

A blue pencil taken up in hand, examined, applied to the page — its blue alone is something to cool you off.  Gazing upon the blue colors, even far from water, even without swimming, the blue that can as easily be a sky as a pond — that blue will take you wherever you need to go.  It is worth the journey.  The journey into blue.

Orange fish make themselves the opposite of this blue and dash it up with their contrariness.  Some thoughts come like splashing — they just arrive boldly.   There they are.  Like fish who came from unknown depths — for just this moment now — to come into a present into which they belong.

When life is right and things are good.  And when there’s a pond of blue on a hot day …