Drawing as a Meditative Process
I’ve discovered something over the last year. We all need ways to empty our minds of the massive amount of stimuli that bombard us daily. TV, social media, the steady stream of 24 hour news cycles, the pull of responsibility to family, fatigue from a world wide pandemic. It all can clog your head space and make you feel anxious, run down, powerless, like you are sinking.
There is a drawing method that I think is one of the best tools I’ve discovered, both in settling your mind and training your hand and eye to work in unison. The results are both trippy, fun and strangely beautiful. I’m talking about Blind Contour Drawing, and I’ve enjoyed its benefits for many years now. I discovered it in a great book on drawing called The Natural Way to Draw, by Kimon Nicolaides. It’s a real treasure that I’d recommend to anyone wanting to learn to draw And sketch from life.
The process is simple, requires no real artistic ‘talent’, whatever that is, and can be done anywhere and only requires paper and a ballpoint pen or sharp pencil... and women mental focus. First, find a comfortable spot where you can place the paper in front of you. Look around for an interesting object or group of objects. By interesting, I mean something with a mass of varied shapes, it could be plants, bottles, leaves, piles of clothes, dishes, a person, etc. The main thing is you want interesting shapes. It won’t be as fun with a single cup or a box, though you can do that. We are looking for varied contours, which basically just means the edges of objects, their outlines.
Now, once you’ve settled on your subject, the next part is the fun and surprising bit. With pen in hand, prepare yourself by taking a few deep breaths to calm yourself. Pick a point on the subject. It can be anywhere along the object. Look down at your paper, find a good spot to begin your exercise (look at where you are planning to begin on your subject, and place the pen down on the paper where you will have room to expand around your beginning point while drawing). Now, look back up at your subject, find your starting point. When you have it fixed in your view, place your pen down on the paper. You will keep it on the paper for the entire time, following the eye as it traces the object. Therefore, you aren’t jumping around from one spot to another- you are moving, uninterrrupted, along the edges of your object, slowly making your way around its contours. Very slowly begin to “trace” your subject on the paper. Think of your sight as a finger, touching the edge, or contour, of the object, and your pen is moving along at exactly the same speed and direction as your sight. DO NOT LOOK DOWN AT THE PAPER. EVER! Not until you have visually felt around the entire object, with your eyes always on the subject and your hand marking down on the paper, do you need to see your creation. I will note here that it is initially really difficult to focus intently throughout the exercise, keeping trained on your subject and keeping the pen moving in unison. If you lose the connection momentarily, pause, pen stopped but still on the paper, re-focus on where you are on the subject, and once you are convinced your eye and hand are connected again, begin the slow visual crawl with your pen following along.
The results will be interesting, strange, maybe a little disconcerting for those who seek a more “realistic” image. Things won’t be where they are supposed to be. Proportions will be off. But you will notice a beauty in the lines, a rightness to some of them, and you will have a visual record of a time closely studying something. The final result isn’t the point, IT’S THE JOURNEY!
This is where I feel that we can cross over into the meditative realm. Time spent focused on a singular task, letting all else fall away for a few moments, leaves me feeling centered, relaxed, and calm. I am also getting the benefit of training my hand and eye to work in coordination with one another. I have found it helpful to time some of these exercises. Perhaps give yourself 5 minutes to do what you can, with no real plan on finishing a subject, just doing what you can in the time allotted. I spent some time last night doing 2 minute contours of some of my favorite “face cups”.
As you can see, draw anything! I have plenty of messy piles around my house from which to choose. I spent time standing in the kitchen, following the contours of a cluttered counter corner! Since we are ripping our kitchen apart, we have little to no cabinet space😄! Try this process out, and let your worries slide away with the scratch of a pen line... JC