Not long ago I purchased an art set along with a drawing guide. It was a good intentioned step into refining my talent for doodles into something more. To be a bit more specific, turning doodles into illustrations for a children’s book. I read the first few pages with pencil in hand, sketching and stretching on paper as I took one small step after another.
Today I recall one of the early challenges given by my paperback instructor.
Observe the big picture. Observe the details. Observe your impressions. Observe colors. Observe. Observe. Observe, and in your observations you begin to see. This is for me, at least in principle, something far more than instruction for drawing or painting. It is a principle for living, and, in particular, for artistic living.
I believe that my greatest weakness as an artist is the result of starvation. Sadly, most of the time I am far too busy to stop and observe. Though it might be more accurate to say that I am too busy to observe long enough to see. Seeing takes time. Funny enough, that thought is backed up by things we’ve learned about how the brain functions. The brain crops and cuts the world around us masterfully as it picks away all but what is deems to be most important. So, in order to see more clearly, we must take more time to look and observe. I saw this most clearly when a cat I’d lived with for months took up residence on my chest. The interruption to my attempted nap brought a startling revelation as I scratched between her ears and, for the first time, clearly saw her face. Her unique markings, beautiful in color and shape, greatly contrasted from the color of her predominantly grey-brown fur, yet were in perfect harmony with the whole. It was a moment of amazement and I sat there some time simply seeing. In that moment, I drew in something of the world around me, seeing not only a cat’s face, but something of myself as well. Feelings and impressions captured in a moment. Knowledge and concepts made clear by experience. In that moment, I was fed.
Discovering this, you would think that I would seek out more moments like it, but I have not. Life, especially this American life, is fast moving and often all consuming. Even in doing things I want to do, they pass by so quickly that they’re nearly gone before they’ve arrived. I know I am too busy, but it is also hard to make time. I find it a struggle because it has become so foreign to me. As a result, my experiences are as shallow as my time, and it leaves me hungry. Strangely enough, I don’t notice my hunger in the midst of my busyness. It is only when I begin the attempt to create that I feel my emptiness. It is in the striving to create that I see just how shallow my experience is.
At least in this, I know what must be done. The question remains. Will I do it? Will I make time to explore, to observe and to really see? Will I let go of some of the busyness to make room for my artist self to feed and grow enough to be able to share the world I see.