When I went to school for science illustration I learned to draw my work out multiple times:
- First make a rough sketch
- Then refine that into a preliminary drawing, usually I do this with graphite on tracing paper
- Next transfer that drawing onto the final paper – I prefer to use a graphite transfer where I rub graphite over the back of the tracing paper and then re-trace the original drawing on the front. You can also use transfer paper.
- Once the drawing is transferred, I go over it again with pencil to make any final changes and to make the lines oh so slightly darker.
In school I often felt like this process was cumbersome and time consuming, but I also learned that whenever I skipped it, the final result turned out worse. I still use it today, which means that in each of my creations, I’ve drawn my subject three-four times before I finish. Sometimes more. Here is a step-by-step example of how I used drawing for one of my Kennicott Ledger rock portraits:
Make a rough outline sketch
Transfer the drawing to the final paper, going over the lines from step one
Rub graphite all over the back of the drawing so it can be transferred
Four, Five, Six...
Refine the transferred drawing, add more detail, go over the graphite with pen and make the final drawing
Drawing is the foundation of my art work. As much as I’ve played with different media I always come back to drawing, even when I’m holding a paint brush I treat it like a pencil. For me, a drawing creates structure and is the substance that I hang all other information on.
I’ve also come to realize that drawing is important for the meditative qualities, especially if I am drawing the same thing over and over again. There is much talk about drawing as meditation, and there are a lot of ways to practice meditative drawing: doodling, zentangles, coloring books, etc. I certainly don’t think there is one right way, but for me observational drawing is a key to understanding my subject, myself, and our place in this world.
I like reading what Cynthia Morris has to say about being a creative person and noticed that she was teaching about meditative drawing. She recommends the book, “Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing” by Frederick Franck. So I looked it up and quite agree! Franck says,
“To see is our original nature, our true nature…to see is not to grasp a thing, a being, but to be grasped by it”
And he writes about the importance of observational drawing. I really enjoyed his words because I felt like they described a lot of what is going on in my head while I draw something over and over again:
“When the eye wakes up to see again, it suddenly stops taking anything for granted. The thing I draw, be it leaf, rosebush, woman, or child is not longer a thing, no longer my “object”, over and against which I am supercilious “subject”. The split is healed. When I am drawing leaf or caterpillar or human face, it is at once de-thingified. I say yes to its existence. By drawing it, I dignify it, I declare it worthy of total attention, as worthy of attention as I myself, for sheer existence is the awesome miracle and mystery we share.”
Above shows the same process on a wood panel for a painting, Nizina River Habitat
I feel like there is a transfer of energy. If I’m drawing a rock, that rock becomes me, and I become it. We tell each other the stories of out lives. Me about how I’m an artist living on this river who loves to draw. The rock tells me about where it might have been formed, how it turned a certain color, and why it broke apart as it did. I’m not completely fluent in rock language so I don’t really know all the answers to those questions, but we still have a conversation.
Final drawings of rocks from the Kennicott Ledger Series. These are the finished drawings; I added watercolor before finishing the works.
Maybe this sounds slightly absurd; it does to my western way of thinking and the culture that I was brought up in. But those feelings have always been there, and they are a reason why I enjoy what I do. Drawing is a spiritual practice, and a way for me to connect with all that is greater than myself. Let me note that I don’t sit around in spiritual bliss all day. Who does? Like any practice, sometimes it also feels a little like work. But often I sit down anyway and transcend that feeling. I forget what I was doing, and just draw.
What about you; do you enjoy drawing and what does it mean to you?