Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

The Lived Experience Of Making A Life Drawing: Drawing Amy


Brooks, Margaret


When a model sits for you for six to eighteen hours there is a tension that does not exist in other drawings. There is a commitment to the model and her effort. The time is set and framed. The model as subject is chosen, yet I have not chosen the subject of the drawing. There is the expectation that I will draw, and draw well. There is the expectation of an outcome, the finished drawing. These expectations, I have learned, can create blocks that can paralyze the creative process.


The model is my starting point and the frame on which my drawing will hang. However the drawing belongs to me. I must find a way to use the model to communicate something beyond the model and myself. Until I begin drawing I will not really know what this will be. I enter the drawing not knowing what will happen. I will be investing a huge amount of time and emotional energy in something that I have no guarantee will work. Many decisions and problems await me in the drawing and I never know if I will be able to work with them, overcome them or make good choices. The experience of producing a drawing may be frustrating, disappointing or even completely disastrous. This is part of the risk involved in drawing.


I have to find ways to push beyond the fear of failure that accompanies each drawing and the paralyzing anxiety it brings. I have to work hard to ensure the expected outcome is not translated into a drive for a product or a likeness. I have to remind myself that I should not feel I have to spend the whole time drawing, I have to slow down and take time for the kind of reflective looking that will balance the need to produce. I tell myself I do not have to have a finished drawing. This has to be a safe place to experiment. The tensions that drawing from life brings has helped me read and work with my own particular creative process in art making as well as in life.


I spend time the night before a sustained drawing thinking about the possibilities open to me. Adjusting my mind-set.


The materials:


What medium I will choose to work with? What paper I will use, what size? Will I work on the floor or on a table or on an easel? Each consideration has the power to shape the process and influence the outcome. Each has the power to change the way I see and respond to the drawing. They are preferences that change as my drawing life and ideas change.


I use the interface and interplay with the mediums to uncover drawing possibilities. Each medium contains its own set of affordances. Each medium has its own special link to the creative process.


For this drawing I have decided to make my own charcoal. Commercial charcoal has become both too predictable and the pieces too small to capture bigger ideas. I take large knotted logs and drag them from the fire still glowing and put them in an airtight tin. These large chunks of charcoal allow me to cover broad areas quickly and expressively. They fill my hand and compel me to move and feel as if I am drawing with my whole body. Drawing becomes a kinesthetic experience. This movement has allowed me to better feel, and in turn, to better represent the bodies I am drawing. This charcoal has soft and powdery edges that have a painterly quality. This allows me to get in touch with and say more about the women I am drawing. These chunks can suddenly crumble in my hand leaving me with several interesting shapes that can create the most beautiful and expressive lines. The unpredictable nature of the knotted log forces me to deal with the unexpected so that my drawing is less likely to be mechanical. Some artists have talked to me about the process of drawing becoming boring and I wonder if this is because they have ceased to look for the surprises and challenges in drawing? I wonder if boring is what they really mean?


The inconsistency of the charcoal pushes me beyond a competence and constancy of technique and into the realm of playfulness and experimentation. The inconsistency can also be frustrating but I use this to keep me open to possibilities. The unpredictability these chunks bring to the drawing puts me in a state of disequilibrium. The gap between practice and competence is widened again and the challenge in the drawing becomes the creative spark. Without this spark drawing might become repetitive and boring both for both the viewer and myself. Seeking disequilibrium is almost like putting myself in the position of beginner again; I can take nothing for granted. In order to respond to the inconsistencies in the charcoal I have to use kinesthetic awareness as well as sight. My senses must become super alert. I must open to the medium and be prepared to work with both the opportunities and the challenges it raises for me.


I choose a large heavy paper as my base.  It has a tooth on it to catch more of the charcoal and the charcoal dust. It is strong enough to let me rub back into it without tearing. It will withstand the physical beating I may subject it to. Really large pieces of paper seem to have no boundaries. Do I have to know where the edges of my drawing are before I start or can I allow the figure to define the space and form the composition rather than the papers edges?


The content:


I have been thinking about what it means to draw a woman.


What does it mean for a female artist to draw a woman? Traditionally the female model in the studio has been placed on a pedestal, exposed and surveyed, objectified, beautified, even sexually stereotyped. Traditionally it has been the male perspective of woman that has been honored. As a model she must submit to the vision of the artist. They are traditions I have struggled to work with or even challenge.


I want to place the female model in a role of equal power. I must think about how I can invite her to be part of my drawing. I feel a need to know the woman I am drawing. Then perhaps I will better know how to draw her. However this is a difficult task when she is under surveillance by us who are drawing her.  A type of objectification always occurs in the act of drawing. The conversation is between the marks and the mark maker. In order to work with line, tone and space, the vocabulary of drawing, I have to think in these terms.  But when I do this I see the model as object and not as person. How then can I see both my drawing and the person?


Intimately bound up in this searching for how to draw a woman is my relationship to the model as a female artist. What does it mean today to be a female artist? What does it mean to be female? What are my own perceptions of woman? Who am I as woman? Perhaps it is the pursuit of these questions that engages me in the drawing of these women.


There are many options for me to consider. There are many possibilities open to me. I need to keep as many as possible open yet feel centered enough to begin. The night before the studio session I draw many drawings in my dreams and I wake with them on my mind. I feel that if I have to talk to anyone I might loose these images. However I know that holding on too tightly to these images can be my biggest block and downfall, yet sometimes they do help move me in new directions. The incongruity between the imagined drawings and the actual drawings remain a source of great distress and dissatisfaction for me. When we have images in our minds are they clear and complete or do they only contain the information that seemed relevant only in our dreaming time?  I wonder how complete the images we carry in our minds are? Perhaps they are only the beginnings of ideas but because they are new we not know what it is that is lacking? When the images do not translate into drawing is it because they are not complete or is it perhaps something in the perceiver that is lacking?


I have noticed that others in the studio seem self absorbed and thoughtful; reluctant to talk. I wonder if they too are sifting through the possibilities open to them before they begin?


There is a ritual involved in setting up for the drawing. It brings an order and certainty to an uncertain and fearful situation. I must arrive before the model. As I walk to the studio I can begin to shed the mental armor that protects me from the world. I must leave the outside world at the studio door and enter in an altered and highly sensitive state. I must have a coffee in hand and some gum to chew. I must have my easel on my right, with space to step back from it. The preferred drawing surface needs to be at least four feet by five feet. I must tear off several sheets of brown paper and pin them carefully one on top of each other ready to be ripped off with speed so that I will always have another paper ready to catch the gesture drawings that will precede my sustained drawing. I must have my final good paper chosen and ready close by. I must set out all my materials in a certain pattern and order, touch each tool and know it is there, so that I can automatically reach for it without having to look.


As I go through this ritual I am also preparing my mind. I am letting go of the rest of my life; slowly emptying my mind of its usual noisy clutter. I am getting ready to focus on the model and my representation of her. I am getting ready to lose myself in my drawing.


Amy is the model for this drawing. She is just nineteen, new and unexpected. Moanna, a studio partner, invited her because she thought that the possibility for the sort of dialogue I am looking for might be possible. She herself had found a sense of reciprocity when she last drew Amy for herself. As she had drawn, Amy had read to her and so an exchange was begun. ‘She is different from any other models I have had,’ said Moanna, She does not do the usual model poses. She is grounded and almost seems to demand an exchange with you.’


As the others prepared their drawing spaces I talked with Amy. I discovered she wrote poetry and sometimes busked it on the street. She wrote not only to express herself but also for an understanding of her world. She said poetry helped her think, find some meaning in her life; care for herself.  I asked if she would like to read some to us. Her eyes lit up and she became animated. ‘I can recite most of it from memory. I need to move around as I recite.’


We agreed to do about 30 minutes of gesture drawings as she walked around reciting her poetry.


In drawing, the gesture is perhaps the equivalent to automatic writing. It serves to loosen up, or jump start, the creative process. The gesture is a free flow automatic response to the figure. The purpose is to catch the essence of the pose; the movement and the tension. The drawing movement, or technique, is like a gesture, simple and direct. The large drawing movements also loosen up the body. The speed and the flow loosen up the mind. It is embodied drawing. It is not to be judged. It is the linkage of inner knowing to action.


With her feet planted firmly, we became her audience and she ours.


Her words, strong and musical, rose to fill the room around us.


Her body moving to the flow of the language.


I concentrated on catching the essence; her movement, in my movement and in my drawing. I heard only snatches of her words but from the tone I knew she was describing relationships between others in her life. My energy was directed towards forming a relationship with my medium; listening for it to speak to me so that I could translate Amy’s movements onto paper, translate the tone of her words into the tones of the charcoal.


This double reading, she representing with poetry and us with drawing, was beginning to create the kind of reciprocity I was looking for but had rarely experienced in my figure drawing; the beginning of a balance was struck between us.


Now it is time to begin a sustained drawing.


I slow my breathing down again and I try to shut out distractions in my immediate environment. I have to be attentively open. I have to be conscious of the model, yet also be open to something else that is inside me.   But if I allow any thoughts to rise they will block this internal connection and I will have to begin over. I cannot think about my daily life and myself. I have to push aside all of my successes and failures. I have to let go of the need to produce and the need to succeed. I have to put my body, this space, this time in the background. Keep pushing back all the clutter of life. All that can exist is the model, the paper and my drawing tools.


Relax, breath, empty.


I look at the model for a long time gathering information, storing it ready to use or not. I screw my eyes up and squint out of focus. There is just the paper and a blurred image as my hand moves over the paper. Not drawing yet, just rehearsing for the right movement and the right moment. My hand moves as if I am drawing. I am feeling my way into the drawing. Searching for the focus. As I look at the model I am plotting out distances and proportions. Where the elbow sits in relation to the hip bone, at what angle are her legs, how much of her neck can I see, how is she holding her book, how far is her chair from the window? I am taking note of the patterns of darker tones on and around her. Which direction is the light coming from? Is the shadow under her chair as dark as the shadow under the window and under her chin? Shall I use the invisible site lines that run zigzag under her chair, back across to the wall heater and back again to her and are then mirrored in the lines that form as her arm crosses her body and foot aligns with leg, as key structures of the composition?   I am trying to find the most critical information that will hold this drawing together.


My visual sensitivity diminishes in proportion to the detail that I am aware of. So when I begin to draw I do so with my eyes half closed and the image pushed out of focus. I am reducing the depth of field. I am eliminating the visual clutter in order to find out the basic structure; what is really important. As I hesitate above the paper I am weighing a hundred decisions all at once. Impossible for the mind to do, impossible for the eye to move in and out of focus so quickly, so I rely also on my automatic response, I pull from my subconscious. Just as before I talk I do not always know what I am going to say and I am sometimes surprised by what I actually do say, so too I do not yet know what I will put down on the paper. It just appears; a complex yet simplified image. I try to map it onto the page, without looking, while it is fresh. I am always surprised, sometimes disappointed, sometimes confused but often empowered by what transpires, what I find there. This will be the structure upon which my drawing will unfold. In talking, or conversation, I evaluate what I am saying as I say it, always ready to elaborate, simplify or clarify. So too in drawing I can only understand the value of a mark when I see it on the paper in context.


Like conversations it is not easy to take something back. Once a mark is placed on the paper the history of it will remain there even if we try to erase it. It is this transparency and honesty that so attracts me to drawing.


Where do these marks come from?  Do they come from the motions of my hand, my involvement with the model, or from somewhere inside of me? Are they remembered movements; a kinesthetic memory? Each person has such a unique way of drawing that somehow the drawing must be part of who that person is. Like fingerprints or handwriting.


If the first marks to go down are out of balance it throws the whole drawing off but I often cannot see this until later in the drawing. It is too early to tell. I can only see in retrospect. Why can I not see it as it happens? As I review a video taken of me drawing I can see, now I am time and place removed, where the imbalance is. I shift restlessly in my seat and my hands want to move up and make changes. I am frustrated with myself for not seeing while I am drawing. Yet as I have watched others draw in the studio I know this is a common problem. They are working so hard at drawing that they are not able to see the drawing. What is it that they are and are not seeing? Is it possible to learn to see better and so make better decisions?


As soon as a mark appears on the paper the space is activated and the drawing conversation begins. This first mark seems so important that I always hesitate to put it down. I can change it, realign it, cover it but it will always be there for me to work with or against.


The drawing voice and the conversational voice have some things in common. If I begin a conversation by angrily yelling, or defensively arguing, it sets the tone for the conversation. The tones and lines of my drawing voice seem to be coded in ways that are similar to the tones of my talking voice. Like drawings, sometimes conversations ease into themselves, beginning more generally, some gain more depth than others. Sometimes they start boldly and enthusiastically; ideas are bounced back and forth. The intonations and spacing of my voice allows the conversation to flow, just as in drawing the charcoal tones are varied and lines flow or stop.


How do I begin this drawing? I want the figure to sit easily in the space she is in so I begin by drawing the space around the figure at the same time as I draw the figure. Instead of a line to define the edges of her form she is defined as the negative space and a strong block of tone as the ground. When I combine the drawing of the ground with the drawing of the figure they sit as one. If I outline the figure she will be cut away from the ground.


Her voice calls my attention to her face and dark hair so I block in a large area of dark tone. As soon as I see the dark patch on the paper I can no longer see where her face should be, it is too dark; I pull back and reevaluate the tone. I have to erase back into the tone to find her face again. I place another bold block of tone behind her but the contrast between figure and ground is too harsh so I rub the ground back into the figure with the heal of my hand to mesh the two. Now it is unclear which is ground and which is figure. And so the drawing conversation continues between what I see, the marks I make, and what I want to see. I am listening with my eyes and responding with my marks.


The head and shoulders seem to be marking the mid plane of the picture space and I will use this marker as a point to work forward and backwards from. Photographers use this technique too to focus the viewer’s attention on the subject. The eye likes to see in focus so I can use this understanding to pull the viewer’s eye around the picture space to where I want them to look. The chair and wall behind her are in shadow and less defined so sit back in the picture. As I work on the knee that sits in front of this shoulder plane I use both clarity of line and highlight to pull the knee forward towards the viewer. I sharpen the edges of the line with my erasure. My erasure is clogging up with charcoal, it is no longer leaving a clean passage behind it, I rub it clean on my jeans. It is very difficult to draw a sense of space. I have to be conscious of the whole space as I work on specific parts. Yet as I focus on, and look so intently, at her ankle in order to draw it becomes as much in focus for me as the knee I have just been drawing. I have to adjust the clarity of the drawing very slightly so that the ankle will sit a little back from the knee. I have to constantly reference all the other parts of the picture space. But it is not even as simple as that. As I look at her arm I know it sits further back in the picture plane than the ankle, but because it is well lit in comparison to the ankle it appears with more clarity than the ankle. I have show the clarity and light yet at the same time convince the viewer that her arm sits back in space from her ankle. It is the subtle positioning of the body that will tell the viewer how the model feels, who she is and what her relationship to them is supposed to be. One tiny misalignment and I will send the viewer a message that is hard to interpret. It is this aspect of drawing that is most challenging to beginners.


I usually work from the general to the specific. In doing so I am laying down a grid of marks to guide me. This is the drawing’s skeleton upon which I will add the many layers to form the fuller picture. I begin by concentrating on large blocks of tone. I translate the image into broad bands and chunks of gray with very little definition. I am in a continual process of laying down the charcoal and then uncovering the form within it, finding a picture in the marks. I use my fingers and the heal of my hand to bed the charcoal into the grain of the paper so that it does not fall off. I try to make it belong there. I build up layers of density, rubbing each layer in, blowing some away. Each mark contains an element of line and tone and I choose which bits will stay and which will be altered. Some sit deep in the paper, some lie on the surface, as if the marks are woven through the paper.


The erasure is as much a drawing tool as the charcoal or my hand. It alternates rapidly with the charcoal and I am not aware of the exchange. Where I have rubbed with the erasure the surface of the paper is altered, the texture has changed so that when I lay charcoal over that part again it sits in the track of the erasure with a deeper quality; a more intense density of tone. I leave a trail of erasure marks which, like the charcoal lines, can catch the eye and inform the viewer of the passage of my hand. I am engaged in an ever moving dialogue, trying to find a balance between confirming and overturning; always working towards new discoveries. As I work I am building a visible and living history of the progress and process of my drawing. This is the power of a drawing. There is no underpainting in a drawing. Every decision the artist makes is visible; there are no hidden crimes. It is always direct, visible and honest.


I try to move my drawing concerns beyond technique. To draw I only need technique. To create I need both technique and freedom from technique. If I only use technique I will produce a technical drawing. If I do not have enough technique my drawing choices are limited. Drawing from the model is not a matter replicating what I see in front of me. My aim is not a perfect mimetic transfer of image to paper. If I walk around the studio and look at the other student’s drawings I see multiple representations of the same model.  I will look at another’s drawing and be surprised because I never thought of looking at the model, or representing her in that way. These drawings tell me something about the artists who created them.


I need to have a wide range of techniques that come to me uncalled. My skill with them must be somewhere outside of my immediate awareness. I need to put skill behind me so that I can focus on what is transpiring in front of me. When a skill reaches a certain level it hides itself. When it leaves my awareness in this way, it can reveal other things that I am also not aware of.  Then essence of what I am trying to capture sometimes becomes visible.


I still wrestle with technique and often find it difficult to let it go.


It is something others struggle with too. One studio colleague’s response to my search for meaning behind women in the studio was to complain that she was having a hard enough time getting the proportions of the figure right without having to think about anything else. Yet she could acknowledge that when she did stop worrying about the proportions, another voice came through to create sometimes the most satisfying parts of her drawing. Yet I understand what she means. There has to be a certain level of comfort with a medium and a subject before you can forget about them. When I use a completely new medium all of my energy and concentration is taken up with understanding the medium and the subject becomes secondary. When I choose a new subject there is a period of getting to know the subject before I can look beyond the subject. How can we know when we are ready to let technique go? Is it a gradual process or does it happen almost imperceptibly over time? I know when it happens and it becomes a place I always want to be. I am always looking for it and waiting for it. Yet the harder you call it the more elusive it gets.


Visual problems can present challenges that contribute to my technique. They can highlight an important question, the resolution of which can provide growth. They provide an opportunity to look at things differently instead of the problem blocking me.  I can use this circumstance to my advantage and in the struggle to solve the problem create something new. For example in my struggle to draw her legs, I discovered that I could create a sense of energy around her feet by leaving the ghost images there. Without real problems in my drawing I would not have the opportunity for creating unique solutions. For me these unique solutions are the high points of my drawing. It is perhaps these kinds of creative problem solving that our society values in the arts.


Problems force me to take a risk, to jump the gap between the jumbled mess to reframe and create a different order. A distraction often helps. Sometimes this comes uncalled for as I move from one part of the drawing to another. Often I can call it. I move away, turn and face the drawing from a different angle. I glance at it sideways as if catching a reflection in a mirror. I can even turn the drawing upside down or cover part of it. Sometimes I call another and have them tell what they see. I am looking for another way of looking and a way that I can see as if for the first time. I am constantly looking for ways to better understand the drawing process.


When I talk to fine art students about trying to understand drawing through a phenomenological process some draw back protectively. Some are hostile. Some are suspicious. Why do I want to know? What am I going to do with the information? They feel I will reveal too much. They don’t want me to uncover their secrets. They guard the intimacy of the artist’s sanctuary as one would their virginity. They want to keep the mystique of making art as some do religion. Are they afraid that if everyone knows, then it will be available to everyone? If it is available to everyone then will it have less value?


Drawing the model often feels like a race against time. My hand is not able to keep up with the images I see. I am not able to cover enough of the page quickly enough. I know what I want to put down but it does not always appear. My hand does not always obey me. There is a difference between being open to the creative flow and just being careless. A careless mark can cost me time and distort the whole picture. Sometimes I become overwhelmed by the enormity of the task of making every mark count. I move restlessly from one part of the picture to another, dissatisfied with the whole thing. I push and pull at the marks and all I see is my struggle. Part of my struggle is a struggle against the rules I come to drawing with. Some rules I have learned and some I have imposed upon myself. Sometimes they work for me and sometimes against me.  However rather than try to eliminate the unhelpful rules I know I have to learn a way to turn them around to work with me. Otherwise my rage and frustration will turn into a drawing block. For example: I have always been fascinated and impressed by the ‘perfect expressive line’ laid down with confidence, accuracy and purity. I have spent hours pouring over Rodin’s life drawings and Rembrant’s ink sketches trying to figure out how just three or four well placed and expressive lines can say so much. It has been my goal to be able to do just that. However what I never really acknowledged (although I knew they were there) were all the sketches they must have done, that I have never seen, where their lines were tentative, not so perfect or expressive. Art history often shows the successes and rarely the explorations or failures or even much preliminary work. We rarely get to see the artist at work. I also found that I could often get a really expressive mark down but then spoil it with the next not so perfect one. I would rush to erase the not so perfect one but then feel guilty because I had not played by the rules.


Looking at Diebenkorn’s figure drawings has helped me find another way of looking at the expressive line. His drawings are like reading multiple images. He leaves all of the approximations he has made to represent the figure for the viewer to see. He wants you to acknowledge the process. He has left all the lines he has made somewhat visible, some more than others. Each line represents just how he saw that figure at that point in time. He has left a wonderful history of his decision making over time in one drawing. It is as if he is saying they are all just approximations anyway-choose which one suits you best. Diebenkorn’s drawings radically changed the way I approach drawing and in this process I have almost freed myself from my rule yet can still use the rule in a productive way. I can aim for the perfect line but I can now also allow many of my lines to sit uncensored. I can allow these uncensored lines to open up possibilities rather than see them as mistakes. I can appreciate them as responses to certain points in development of the drawing.


I am constantly working to pick out just the most important details. Only the things I want the viewer to pay attention to. I know that the eye can only read so much, so I have to be selective. The eye brings its visual memory to an image so that it is able to fill in the gaps with what it remembers should be there. I rely on the sense of order that the eye is compelled to have. Each viewer has a different visual memory and some viewers need more or less information than others. I have to find the critical balance between leaving areas understated and giving enough information for sense to be made. I am looking for ways to shatter the realistic mirror so that the viewers will have an opportunity to also find themselves in the image. I have to leave room for a conversation with the viewer. They leave spaces for the viewer to bring their own and perhaps different experiences to the image. This will hold their interest. The viewer is not immediately part of the picture but must work their way into it as their eye moves around and through the lines and shapes, ordering and sorting and making sense of them. If I fill things in too much, there will be no room for a dialogue between the viewer and the image. There will be no room for joint ownership, no effort required and no commitment from the viewer. However this notion is made more complex when I consider different audience needs. An audience with a strong background in Fine Arts needs, even demands, less explicit information than the lay person. Meeting the needs of one excludes the needs of the other.


Working deeper into the drawing. Three basic elements come together when I draw. There is my observation of this model, my memory of all other models and people, and there is my imagination which searches for the meaning, the sense I can make of combining this experience with all the other experiences I have had. I combine these three elements into this unique drawing. I draw on my memories of the many legs I have drawn previously; from life, from the anatomy laboratory and from other artists. I combine this knowledge with what I see now and add my own interpretation through my dialogue with the medium and model. Of these three elements my imagination is the most important. It is my imagination that works to draw from all the possibilities to sort, order and create this unique drawing. My dialogue is not a verbal dialogue, I have no words in mind, just images, thousands and thousands of them and each one hugely complex. If I were to think about and name each one and use words to create my drawing I could never draw.


I draw on the work of other artists for the insights they give me about the use of technique and for another perspective. In this way I do not study great art works in order to gain some kind of abstract cultural literacy. I study the work of artists like Deibenkorn as I might have a conversation with him. I follow the traces of his marks and relive the process of making the drawing with him as I imagine he might have made it. I deconstruct his work and in so doing reconstruct my own drawing process and understanding.


In order for the form to be convincing I must know intimately what lies beneath the surface and how it affects the surface. I must know what it is that is giving shape to this form. I must know anatomy; how the bones fit, where the muscles begin and end and what happens when each one flexes. I draw on my hours of painstakingly detailed drawings of bones and layers of muscles and tissues in the anatomy lab. I use this knowledge to massage each part of her body as if to bring it to life.


The legs keep moving as the model shifts in her seat and moves her feet around. Each time I pin one to the drawing surface she moves and it becomes misaligned. It is a problem I cannot solve just now so I leave it open. For a while she will sit with three legs.


This model is defining the composition for me. She appears sitting forward on the page and, as in life, she gives a sense of presence. She is placed well centered on the page, it feels right for her to be there although I know that to center the figure is not compositionally interesting. Her body seems grounded even though there is movement in the feet. The animated marks reflect the animation in her. I have a woman as strong, centered, grounded and animated.


The state of being open to the drawing process is so intense it cannot be sustained continuously. It ebbs and flows throughout the life of the drawing. I can sense it coming and allow myself to flow with it. If I hurry it, it disappears. When it was not there I used to panic and get frustrated. Now I have learned to shift my focus and start working on a different part of the drawing. I pick an easy bit and relax into it. When I am relaxed again, when I have put myself in a place of success, when I have let go of the right and wrong, when there are no hopes and fears, then the flow returns and I am able to approach the troublesome spot anew. I do not even do this consciously I only know I do this through watching myself(on video) move around the drawing, watching the patterns of my work, and trying to puzzle out why I moved when I did. I seem to move when something catches my attention, when I get stuck or have an idea to try. This is not something I can will to happen. I have no mental self-talk as there might be in other occasions in my life. It is something to do with the rituals embedded in the process, a working understanding.


Some models I have worked with sense this energy flow. They have described it as a sense of presence that compels them to attend to that part of their body I am drawing. I have even had models who unconsciously flex a tiny muscle in the area I am drawing and suddenly I see that part I am struggling with more clearly. I have learned to use this phenomenon and will sometimes ask the model to move a little so that I can understand the muscle structure better. Of course the reverse can happen too. Sometimes the model is tired or tense or just needs to move and this restlessness transfers to me so that I can no longer draw. In this way drawing the model becomes a partnership. Amy feels her role in this partnership is to keep us always aware of her. When she is not reading to us she tells us stories of her life, her beliefs and her ambitions. She talks and does not seem to mind that we are all so self-absorbed in drawing that we cannot answer. She is restless as well as animated but she does not create a tension so I cannot draw, rather her movement brings life to my drawing. I have to work both with the times when she is still and when she is moving. She is the one who, with her restless energy, dictates which part of her I will draw and for how long. She forces me to tune in to her even as I objectify her with my looking. She will not be stereotyped. In her I see both strong and sensuous lines, strong contrasts and soft relaxed tones.


Critique of my drawing as I live it takes place in the ongoing work of the drawing. It attends each action simultaneously. Each mark put down is evaluated and adjusted and balanced. The drawing becomes a balance between spontaneous action and adjustment of that action. I have had to learn to value marks not for their mimetic accuracy but for their descriptive qualities. I look for how they fit the picture as a whole. I hold my gesture drawings as a benchmark for the descriptive flow and keep in mind that ‘less is more’. If I wanted you to know what Amy looked like I would take her photograph.  But I want you to know who Amy is and through her know other women too, so I am drawing her.


Critique of my drawing when it is finished is done in relation to all my other work. I have no such thing as my best drawing. Rather I have drawings that mark points of growth for me. Sometimes they come as gifts, surprises, sometimes they are hard won with tears of frustration. These marker drawings I hang in my studio remind me not only of the lessons I have learned but also put my journey in perspective. Each drawing marks a point in time but it is the journey that is important for me. If I ever arrive I will probably cease to draw. My goals in drawing continually shift, always seeking new understanding through drawing.