Filters & Naturalness

When I log into my computer, MSN’s landing page appears, and I’m immediately informed about whatever MSN thinks is important in life, which invariably is either politics, crime, or disaster. Disasters vary, but politics is exceedingly predictable. Whatever MSN wants me to think regarding politics is reliably identical to whatever they wanted me to think yesterday — so much so that one can “predict” the “news.”

I was wondering about ways to subvert that morning filter. The idea popped into my head that perhaps I could just make a list of “things to think about,” pleasant things that I might adopt like cognitive trampolines to hop from “whatever I’m supposed to think about today” to something I’d prefer to think about this morning. So, let’s say I decided that for morning I’d think about flowers. Whenever computer surfing seems aimed on getting me to fall into the propaganda filter, I would hop onto a flower instead — rather like a bug. Flowers are a good topic for me. I love drawing them. They feature prominently in my art. The thing would not be to hypnotize myself into only thinking about flowers — though nothing wrong with that — but more just a way of distracting myself from the recipe that is “supposed” to construct my thoughts.

The point is more about CATEGORIES. If one were to make a list of OBJECTS OF THOUGHT, rather like a STILL LIFE of words and ideas, what sorts of things would you choose for yourself? Reading around a bit in Buddhism I’ve lately come into acquaintance with the notion of clearing one’s mind. That seems like an interesting phenomenon too, but tricky to manage. So if you cannot clear away the cobwebs, what about merely choosing the categories for yourself? If one’s mind were presented with a buffet table of interesting items — an organon, a taxonomy — that you prepare for yourself — what items would be there?

Okay. Maybe one is not Aristotle and you don’t want the bother of inventing the system from scratch — rather like someone who isn’t much of a cook and needs the help of various things that come readymade in boxes — but still you go shopping and you select the span of things.

If you select things to think about — even by merely pointing and choosing — you’re mapping out territories in your mind. And what if, moreover, you say to youself, “I’d like to think about something a bit different today,” you have to go looking. You have to FIND new territory. What might that consist of? How do you search out new objects of contemplation? One wants a dictionary. Nature’s dictionary perhaps.

They might be things with names. They might be percepts that lack names. It doesn’t matter. They might be words, in a writerly way of being. They might be sights or sounds … or tastes or aromas, actions, distant memories, reconfigured bits of the past. For some people it might be math — not for me, alas.

Leaves, clouds, shadows, contours, hatchings, buzzing cicada song. Maybe I will contemplate the folds in a cloth and whatever they have to tell me about gravity and light. Maybe a doll in a fancy dress.

Maybe I will think about large amorphous landscapes of places I’ve never been except in dreams or drawings, vivid places composed of the colors I like, dramatic scenes bright with light that would be breezy and clear if I walked there.

Or maybe I’ll think about creamers and tabletops and past conversations and tea times with old friends. Creamers rendered into bright blue lines that curve or intersect in ragged ways. Creamers decorated with flowers.

If you were creating your own taxonomy of thought and feeling, how would you find the categories? How set that table of contemplation? If your mind wants filters, why not choose the filters yourself? The act of choosing is expansive — it enlarges experience, one choice prompts another.

Set that table with the items that suit you, that put you mentally where you want to be.

And if you like this post please SHARE it — particularly so that others might go hunting for items, that they might consider creating their mental schemata to compete rigorously — possibly triumphantly — against the massive social hypnosis that pop culture offers tediously and daily.

Enlarge the cosmos!

Advanced Drawing Challenge

the shell motif (2)There are many wonderful drawing challenges on the internet that give people ideas. Many drawing challenges serve to inspire.  They may prompt you to draw things you never thought of drawing.

I have thought that — from time to time — I’d like to post some drawing challenges of my own.  Some are kind of advanced challenges.  But they are fun. They are tasks I give to myself to stretch my skill level.  Yet I hope that artists working at all levels of drawing skill will consider giving them a try because …  because you just never know what will happen.  There’s always a potential for invention in trying new things.  And in any case, drawing isn’t dangerous.  How can you possibly go wrong?

The purpose of this particular advanced drawing challenge is not to produce a drawing to hang in a frame, though that outcome may arrive, but instead to devise ways to stretch your visual skills.  It’s really more about process than product.

This challenge has two parts.  Each can be fairly difficult, but for sure the difficulty of the second part depends upon the difficulty of the first part.

several shells drawing in notebook
drawing from the motif


For the first part, you simply draw something.  What do you usually draw, or often draw? Choose something familiar — or something that you can observe keenly, intensely.   What you’ll do is to draw the thing or the scene very carefully and fastidiously, observing as much information as you can and recording it in whatever way you approve.  You may find it helpful to use lots of contours, lots of linear elements to describe forms, but it isn’t strictly necessary.  So just do whatever you do. And you  might also want to redraw this motif you’ve selected a few times, two or three times perhaps.  For this challenge repetitions are good.

Anyone who has learned to play a musical instrument will know what I mean.

For the second part, you go away from your motif and redraw it from memory.  The goal is to capture as much information as you possibly can based on everything you know and remember about the subject.  One way to help this along is to remember how you drew and remind yourself what you drew. Counting may help if there are a certain number of somethings that apply.  Remembering a “seating arrangement” may help.  What was here?  What was over there?  What was sitting next to the such-n-such?

You can prod yourself to recall not merely the details of the scene you observed but the kinetic, physical memory associated with the act of drawing, remembering both what you drew, and how you drew, and the order in which you drew it.

Some artists say that memory drawing is really difficult for them.  I met one very astonishingly skillful artist who said she only drew from the motif, never from memory, that she “didn’t know how to draw from memory.”  I suspect she was being too modest.  But memory drawing is a skill to possess like any other skill in art.  One way to develop it is to remember your previous drawings which is very different from remembering the appearance of the things themselves.  Sometimes the memory of the things is fugitive but the physical memory of your hands will often be much more sure.

shells memory drawing
memory drawing


This is a very generalized description of a potentially very amorphous, imaginative, flexible and possibly also very complicated task.  The latter quality is good if you like complication (I do) but not essential.  Tailor things to suit your own preferences.  I offer it — such as it is — as a challenge to try.  I’ve used it drawing seashells and a few other things. You can apply it to any subject. It can, for instance, be a good way to study old masters: first copy the image, once or twice (or more) and then draw the memory of the copying.

It’s like drawing a map of part of your interior mind.  What better typography to travel through ….


Drawing of something that is not a hamster

seashell in ink

Readers might wonder why I have offered up no drawings of the hamsters.  My reasons are many.  Ten, actually to be precise.  Hmm, with ten hamsters, I spend much of my discretional time cleaning cages.  I provide hamster janitorial services daily.  What hours of the day remain, I can be forgiven for devoting to other things, as for example to reading, or eating, or even sleeping. 

Then too, though I am a fairly patient person, especially as regards art, ten hamsters make for difficult drawing subjects.  Certainly a single hamster would be easier to draw than any hamster with several roommates.  With one animal, one watches and gradually observes and learns most of their repertoire of behaviors.  Usually animals, even ones that move around a lot, return habitually to some pose they adopted a few minutes earlier.  So while one needs to make many sketches on the fly — in highly interruptible sessions composed of numerous restarts — eventually with luck one gains enough swiftness of hand and knowledge of the particular anatomy to make a decent resemblance.  Or one can also draw an animal sleeping, when all else has failed.

That last resort fails, however, when one has ten hamsters — even divided up boys and girls,  into two cages of seven and three, respectively (a division that one hopes took place soon enough, if you catch my drift).  Take my situation today.  I began drawing one cute little fellow, lying in a huddle, his face up turned.  I had barely rendered a few silvery lines when one of his roomies steps over him and sits atop the aforementioned cute face.  After the interloper had moved on, my subject had shifted pose, scrunching his face under the fluff of a neighbor, and that chance was lost.

So I pick another customer.  The second face is not quite as cute as the first, but cute enough.  I make, I think, maybe three gestures with the pencil when a wakeful hamster among the group decides to shift through their aspen bedding, flinging bits of wood shavings this way and that.  One clump of wood sliver lands — guess where.

I’m a patient person, but I gave up.  I told the peaceful sleepers, “I’m drawing something that doesn’t move.  Hasta.”  It mattered little.  No visage was left visible to draw.  All the sleeping hamsters were now presenting surfaces of fur only, rolled up in clumps of undifferentiated hamster mass.

However I found something to steady my optic nerve!  I picked up a favorite little sea shell and made a fast drawing of pen lines.  I think my little study is as much about masses of lines as it is about a shell.  That should have worked with hamsters.  All those lines of gossamer fur! Perhaps it’s courage I lack!   Drawing challenge for brave hearts:  draw hamsters!

This is as much of a hamster as I have managed to draw so far:

hamster drawing pencil

Drawing Challenges


The web has a bunch of “drawing challenges” going where people offer subjects to draw which are afterwards anthologized in a blog.  One such challenge that I recently stumbled upon is Sheila Thorton’s Old Master Copy ProjectSince I used to do a lot of copying of paintings at the National Gallery of Art, I couldn’t resist this challenge.  This month she has two images, one of which is Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring.

The deadline for this challenge ends January 1, so better draw/paint fast! (The other image she chose is Durer’s drawing of his mother.)

These things that people do to motivate themselves and others, to make art in this instance, in my opinion, is one of the neatest, finest aspects of the Internet.  A whole lot of drawing is going on under the radar screen. 

Have you made your New Year’s resolutions yet?  Let one of them be to draw!  Or if not that, since drawing isn’t for everybody, then buy art!

I made my version of Vermeer’s idea using Caran d’ache oil pastels on Canson mi-teinte paper (dark grey).
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