I sat there in front of a photograph on the wall.
Straddling a cushioned cube at a local hangout spot, I was drawn to draw him. Ruffly shirt, dark eye peering out of stark value shifts. My own eyes tracing the shapes, the connections between shapes, the value shifts, squinting in order to see better.
What shall I use? Emptying my zippered pen/marker/pencil pouch, I didn’t realize I was talking out loud. One of my fellow drawers offered – “Use charcoal! It begs for charcoal!” Yes, I know…but I don’t wanna use charcoal…I feel rebellious.
Now if you met me, your first thought would NOT be – Wow…here’s one rebellious chic! Middle-aged, ordinary mom, dressed in homegrown clothes…quite predictable I’m sure. But today I did not want to choose the predictable. I adore charcoal. It is effortless and magical and allows you to lay in values and adjust transitions on a dime. What I wanted today was ink and water and pen and watercolor. I wanted to see if I could tame something whose primary property is FLOW (charcoal does not flow on its own), and to attempt to wrangle it into something that looked like a portrait. Yes… fountain pen, water brush, watercolor paint.
There was only a moment’s hesitation before setting my fountain pen to paper. Just enough time to choose where to start my line…on the page as well as the face…right here, I think. Then it was off to the races. Well, the tortoise race of following the contours of invisible lines were values meet. Not drawing a nose, just the shapes, where I see them. No pencil first, just gut and years of experience guiding me.
When all was said and done, or at least when I declared that the sketchbook paper couldn’t take anymore paint, that the flow I had been wrangling and taming was on that lovely verge of flowing right off the page, when I sat back and felt that it could stop in this most interesting place…I knew…
…I knew that it was not correct.
I will not go into all the ways this drawing (painting, sketch, whatever you want to call it) does not “match” the photograph, does not exhibit “correct” values or transitions, does not have perfectly measured shapes. What I will say, is that it delights me. This sketch, based purely on itself and not on any standard or pre-existing image, is exactly what I had set out for –
Unpredictable, full of flow and splash and texture, all within certain quasi-delineated bounds that give the overall impression of a face. Yes. This.
This is why I love to draw. As I peer into another’s face, a landscape, a jumble mess on my desk, I get a glimpse of my own self, of my world, of life. I could care less whether anyone else likes it, or think it’s “good” or not. In fact, I want to care less and less what I myself deem it to be.
What I want is to keep on peering into things, drawing them in unpredictable ways, trying new approaches, and so somehow to live the whole of my life in that chaotic flow, trying to wrangle it within invisible bounds so that beauty can emerge. I want to care less about whether the values are correct, the shapes perfectly measured. I definitely do not want my life to match someone else’s.
I must follow where I am led…riding on pools of watercolor as it flows, blooms, and splatters in unpredictable ways. Following an invisible line that only my Maker draws out for me. This way of living delights me. Scares me. But fascinates me and keeps me coming back to the pages of my sketchbook.