Update on the Conk-on-the-Head: How I Draw

July 3, 2011

See the full post for complete details.

Above: Raven Sketch from taxidermy. Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's Calligraphy pen and light washes of gouache, over prepainted background (fluid acrylics); in a journal I made with Arches Text Wove (Velin Arches) that is approximately 6 x 8 inches closed.

It has been a year and two days since my head's encouter with a light fixture. During that time I've written a couple posts about what it has been like to come back after my accident, encouraging people to become students of their own process. And I've been asked often how I'm doing. When Melanie Testa wrote to ask me how I draw, I thought it was a good time to write a little update. Because I see my drawing as pre-conk and post-conk.

But first the good news: my vision finally settled down in May of this year and I got a new eye-glass prescription and have been adjusting to it.

The less exciting news is that things are still not the same as they were before the accident. Well-meaning, well-wishing people write long missives urging me to ignore my internal critic. I have to just sigh and click delete. (Melanie is not in this group.)

If you learn one thing here besides that it's fun to make your own books, that it's fun to draw and observe your world, and that bikes are the next best thing to seven league boots, I would have thought it would have been the knowledge that my internal critic is not part of my drawing dialog.

Nope, he doesn't even enter in to it. My desire to draw and find the line is simply greater and more interesting than anything he has to say, pre- or post-conk.

When I've tried to write about how things are different now I guess I haven't been clear enough about how they are different (it's difficult because vocabularly has issues of its own).

Before the conk I had a complete fluidity with sketching. This doesn't mean that everything I sketched was great. FAR FROM IT! What it did mean was the machine always worked. It was well oiled. If you know the movie, "For the Love of the Game," then you'll understand when I say, I never had trouble clearing my mechanism. Now post-conk I often do. It is as if I spoke a language all my life and suddenly I can't understand that language.

Now there is a stutter. A slowness. I work more deliberately (which is probably a good thing). There is also a certain amount of physical pain from the concentration, but that is much deminished. The clicking of the synapses are loud now, instead of silent.

I've faced this the only way I know how, with constant work. Doctors and friends (who have undergone something similar) have told me that the brain is plastic and it repairs or reroutes. I have to say I was more than a little annoyed about the rerouting. I liked things set up they way they were. But spending any time thinking like that is basically a waste of time, you just have to move on.

I've found in the intervening time that some things have come back—less shaky hands; a return of eye-hand control (notice I didn't say eye-hand-brain); some increase in drawing stamina; and now of course the vision. I have also found, in the intervening time that I no longer expect things to return to "normal." "Normal" is what is, every day; I don't think in specific terms of what "normal" is because things continue to change.

My visual measuring is shot all to hell, but I had issues with wideology before (my phase for depicting things as wider than they really are), so I chalk that up to the more things change…the more they stay the same.

And so it goes.

That's why, when Melanie wrote to ask me how I draw I had to think about her question as pre- and post-conk.

She asked: "When you draw, do you start at the top and work down? Are you an all around sort of draw-er? Do you mark your page and meet your marks?"

My first thoughts were to refer her to a series I'd written on the blog about direct drawing in pen. In February through May I wrote several posts that touched on "direct sketching."

That link above deals with how I draw people in public. I wrote additional direct drawing tips for drawing animals in this post. (If you use the blog's search engine and look for "direct sketching" you'll find about 6 or more posts on the topic.)

But here's the thing.

There is pre-conk-on-the-head-Roz, and post-conk-on-the-head-Roz—and they draw differently. I had to teach my self to draw again and it isn't the same. It is not as fun. That's the only way I can describe it. Just as going into a restaurant in a foreign land and ordering your favorite meal and having them totally not understand you is not fun. But it doesn't mean you stop ordering your favorite meal!

I still try to draw in the pre-conk mode which was to start with the eyes. (Last year's State Fair Journal is a good example of that; search for Minnesota State Fair 2010 posts. It's a post-conk experience where things more or less worked as I would hope.) Unfortunately it often goes very wrong.

Post-conk I draw more like most people at the atelier draw, putting in angled lines at various points and then going in afterwards to put in the details. (And this is not to say that I sketch with anything like the accuracy of those practitioners, it's just to point out we share some similarities in approach.)

One thing that hasn't changed, I always go for what captured my attention first—typically that's the eyes, but it could also be simply a shape or gesture. I get that and then can go on and start a new drawing or add other things.

I have also always used imaginary plumblines (traditional methods advocate the use of imaginary and real plumblines), though again, I'm claiming no accuracy! I imagine lines dropping from the pupil of the subject's eye, vertically down my page, and I observe what crosses that line, at what distance, and at what angle, and so on. Whether I start with the eye and work out, or make a contour and add details I'm constantly looking at the spaces between things and the alignment.

What hasn't changed since the conk on the head is that I still keep track of what my brain is doing and how she is doing it. And I really enjoy watching people sketch. I wish there were a TV channel devoted to it—I would watch it all the time (well a lot). I love watching the decisions that artists make—between stating a line and omiting a edge; on determining where to position a line in relation to another; on setting the strength or personality of their lines. And of course it is exhilarating to observe their decisions on what to leave out. The last tells us so much.

  1. Reply

    Certainly life teaches that Conks happen, and the most positive response is in learning on how to cope with and survive them, making every step forward the new Normal.

    You are such a great teacher and your Conk has provided that new opportunity for us to learn from your experience, too.

    For a fascinating artist’s-process video, check out Karen Jurick’s

  2. Reply

    as a fairly new reader of your blog, I was surprised to hear about your pre-conk and post-conk story.(I found you through Rice’s art journal yahoo group) I have had fainting spells throughout my life. fainting doesn’t hurt, it’s the impact with whatever you hit that does, so I have to wonder what those impacts have done to my brain over the years. I haven’t seen any significant change to my art skills, but sure wonder if my ‘memory’ defects are from damage or just getting ‘old!’ thanks for reminding us that WE are the ones who know the most about ourselves and that we are the ones responsible for recovery/improvement/motivation. Your blog and your drawings have really been inspiring me to draw more, and I’ve been enjoying my visits here!

  3. Reply

    Nita, yep life does teach us that. I’m glad you’ve found something in my discussion of the Conk. At first when it happened last year I actually discussed with friends the idea of not blogging any more. I’m a private person in a lot of ways, but teaching so much has also made me public in some ways. But I made adjustments to blogging just as I made other adjustments. The best thing to come out of it all is that I really like having the last vestige of any idea of “normal” shattered.

  4. Reply

    Oh, and Nita, I forgot to mention, THANK YOU for sending the link to Karen Jurick’s painting session. Very fun to watch. I loved it when she put the highlights on the back of the woman’s black jacket!

  5. Reply

    Leslie,thank you for the link to a painting and drawing channel! I look forward to checking it out later today!

    What about Scotland makes aureolin go mucky brown? I know a lot of folks start their watercolors with an overall wash of aureolin.

    I like seeing the sketching process myself as well.

    Back to plugging away! “Freer” is a good word. (Wish we had Ravens in the City, I only see crows, so I have to work from taxidermy.)

  6. Reply

    Leslie, I was disappointed in the painting site you provided a link for. I clicked on a Hazel Soan program link on the main page and got someone named Terry telling me about acrylics instead of Hazel doing watercolors in London.

    Since I don’t know any of the names listed it’s hard to know, since they don’t have little thumbnails on the main page, what I might be interested in. So I was frustrated and that means, for me and the internet, I have to move on. Did you have any favorite programs there you’d care to recommend?

  7. Reply

    Dianne, Well I’m glad you found your way here and find the blog interesting.

    I hope you’ve had someone look at the fainting issues. I read an article in the New Yorker a couple months ago about concussions in football players and the ramifications and it’s quite startling so if you have had repeated concussions you need to get that looked at too.

    In the meantime I hope you keep up the push to draw more! That’s always a good response to just about everything.

    • Leslie Schramm
    • July 3, 2011

    The website changes the programmes on a Monday, today they have next weeks listed, but are still showing last weeks, the London ones are good and should be there from late afternoon on Monday, She’s got a very loose and free, wet style based on her sketches on site; it’s also good for looking at corners of London. so for Minnie, I guess it should be there for a lunchtime treat, all the best, Leslie

  8. Reply

    Thanks Leslie, I’ll check it out again!

    • Carole
    • July 3, 2011

    Roz, your Raven looks so wise and knowing. There’s a large old crow visits out garden. His beak is enormous. The other week, he ripped the innards out of a sparrow, the sparrowhawk had killed and left on the lawn. I didn’t feel quite as fond of him after that.
    I’m glad your eyes are getting better. That must have been a real worry, with everything else. You continue to inform and inspire.

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