Why Drawing Practice Matters and What Your Line Can Tell YouJanuary 4, 2018
Readers of my blog know that I love observing my process. I can’t help myself. Even during emergencies. I think you can learn a lot about yourself and find ways to always sketch.
On November 19 I fell in a friend’s foyer. I was rushing across the foyer to my fanny pack to change my glasses and missed a 2-inch step down. Dick came rushing toward me as I was writhing on the floor screaming in pain. (It was not fun, but I was also having flashbacks to a fall 30 years earlier.) He tripped over the same step and almost landed on top of me. This all would have been really funny if I hadn’t been in so much pain—especially because I was visiting a friend who had just had hip surgery! She was pacing back and forth two floors above us and getting ice bags. Dick helped me upstairs where we iced my foot and then off we went to the emergency room.
I think Siri is pretty stupid. On the drive to emergency I asked Siri for “URGENT CARE” in our location. She threw up 3 emergency rooms. We went to the hospital we favored (yes we have a favorite) since it wasn’t going to take that much more time and we were headed home and the ride home from emergency would be quick. BUT the next day we confirmed for ourselves that we passed EIGHT urgent care facilities including one connected to the orthopedic surgeon I eventually went to. Evidently Siri doesn’t do too well in an emergency.
By the time we arrived at the emergency room I was doing a good job of keeping the pain back, but I needed help focusing my mind so I got out my sketchbook and started to sketch Dick.
The visit went well, I was issued a boot to immobilize my foot and ankle, and sent home with instructions to follow up with the orthopedic surgeon when the swelling went down a bit—since it was Thanksgiving week, that meant I saw the orthopedic surgeon the following Monday.
While waiting in the lobby for my appointment I sat at a table in a “cafe” area and sketched. I was rested, not in active pain (because my foot and ankle were immobilized), and in the second page spread in today’s post I can see that my warm up lines are as they should be—especially after I warm up and get to quick sketching the man in camo.
What I find really interesting is that after spending an hour in a treatment room waiting for the doctor I was in a lot of discomfort. I had not sat up for that long in a week. I could feel my foot throbbing in the boot. I’d been talking to Dick to keep my mind off things, but I couldn’t stand it any more. I pulled a short stool over and sat on it with my foot elevated on the patient chair. I wasn’t comfortable, but I knew I could cope for awhile in this position. I sat and sketched Dick.
In this third image, which is unfinished because the doctor finally arrived, I can see how I’m pretty much at my wit’s end to keep the pain levels out of my mind. My line there is mostly a scribble, but not a searching-for-a-line scribble. I’m just attempting to keep the pen moving and taking guesstimates all about on the surface.
What do I learn from all this?
Well from the doctor we learned that the still black bruising of the foot was normal and I had both torn ligaments and a stress fracture.
That was hard news to take because I’m not one to sit still, and confirmation that there were weeks more to wear the boot and not cycle was difficult for me to absorb. I’d just recovered from bronchitis and missed the spectacular fall weather for cycling. I was anxious to at least cycle inside on the trainer.
But worrying over it isn’t going to change it. You just live through some things. Drawing helps me do that.
In the meantime I confirmed something that I already knew about myself, but which is always good to reaffirm—I can sketch in less than ideal situations.
I routinely with vertigo; I’ve sketched through bronchitis and other illnesses. If I have a spare moment when something else doesn’t need to be done sketching is my default.
I always tell my students to sketch even if they don’t feel like it and I’m glad to know I can still follow my own advice in emergency situations.
One of the things we have to do as artists if were going to take any moment and use it as a time to practice is to focus and limit our expectations—we aren’t trying to sketch a masterpiece in these less than ideal times. We are simply showing up and doing our work. And that’s vital. Because when we stop showing up that’s when we stop looking and stop exploring. For some students with difficulties dealing with the internal critics these no-show times begin to establish a pattern that undercuts their drawing practice. I’ve even seen it stop people.
If you find yourself in a stressful situation try limiting your focus and your expectations—say to yourself “I want to truly see one thing” and then look for and get that thing down on paper as best you can.
Next build on that one thing with another thing. That’s really what drawing is about anyway, building.
When I sketched the camo guy all I wanted was the hat (billed caps are an issue for me) and the gesture of his body. And then because that was all I wanted, when I got that I thought “OK, I can get the paints out.” And when I did that it was just about keeping things quick and simple because we might be called in at any time. And then it was just about getting something about that camo pant on paper. And then…there was a nurse who came over and wanted to talk about sketching. So because I had only one small focus on which I built another focus and then added something else, I could easily stop and chat with the nurse because she wasn’t interrupting anything. This isn’t a finished sketch because it was never planned as such, and I’m thrilled by every bit of it.
For me there was an additional bit of information—this is how my sketching mind responds to pain. I can see that in the three pieces. I’ve had chronic pain issues my entire adult life. They haven’t stopped me doing my work. But acute pain is just sifted off norm enough, just unknown enough, that it’s helpful for me to know my reaction to it.
I can go forward in all situations knowing I have this practice to hold me up, to engage me. Drawing isn’t something that takes me out of my mind. Drawing brings me into the present moment. That’s exactly where I want to be regardless of my physical circumstances.
Images in today’s post were done in a Hahnemühle Watercolor Sketchbook. I have a review post coming up soon.