Drawing successfully, just like painting successfully, relies on your ability to really ‘see’ your subject.
Specifically this means being able to observe the relationships between the different parts of what you observe.
I’ve recently read a fascinating book called ‘The Zen of Seeing: seeing/drawing as meditation’ written by Frederick Franck in 1973.
In it Franck proposes that:
We do a lot of looking: we look through lenses, telescopes, television tubes..Our looking is perfected every day- but we see less and less…
He describes how ever more gadgets ‘from cameras to computers from art books to video tapes’ serve give us a greater sense of separation from the world around us that we perceive – turning us into ‘objects’ that look at ‘subjects’.
And if that’s what Frederick thought when he wrote in the early ’70’s I think we can take a guess at what he might think of us today, zoned-out on our smart phones for hours a day!
He describes this kind of looking – the usual everyday kind – as being all about judging and labelling. A useful and necessary survival strategy – but one that leaves us feeling separate from our surroundings.
‘When I “look” at the world and label it’s phenomena, I make immediate choices, instant appraisals- I like or dislike, accept or reject what I look at, according to its usefulness to the “me”.
‘Seeing’ on the other hand is when your complete, unwavering, attention is on your visual sense, allowing you to cease choosing and labelling what you see, and to become absorbed instead in all the detail and visual complexity of the world around you.
And in this absorption, for a brief time, the usual perception of “me” and “not-me” are suspended and a deeper connection is felt with what you see. It’s this state that Franck is referring to as the ‘Zen of seeing’ – as a meditation.
Franck has a specific technique he calls ‘seeing/drawing’ to get you to enter this ‘seeing’ state and radically improve your observation skills.
I had a go at it this week and I thoroughly recommend you try it too.
You can observe directly the world around you, but I think it can work just as well observing a quality photograph too if you prefer.
That’s what I did. And if you want to use the one I used, I’ve included it here for you to download (opens in a new window). You could even try painting it too if you like.
Other than that, all you need is a pen or pencil and paper.
Here’s what to do:
- Look at what’s before you (the photo or the scene) and then close your eyes for a couple of minutes
- Open your eyes and look at what’s in front of you again really intently – as Franck says, ‘feel that you are alone with it on earth! That it is the most important thing in the universe’
- Take a pen or pencil loosely ion your hand and whilst you keep focused on what you’re observing, let your pen ‘follow on the paper what the eye perceives’ as if with the nib or lead you are ‘caressing the contours’ of the outline edges of all the different component shapes of what you see.
- Don’t look down and check what’s happening on your paper – it really doesn’t matter! Just don’t let your eye leave what it is seeing
- Do this for at least 20 minutes or for as long as you keep noticing more to what you are seeing
You won’t come up with a masterpiece! Check out my tulip seeing/drawing:
But I’m sure you’ll have a really interesting experience where you start to really ‘tune-in’ to seeing and ‘tune-out’ your thinking about what you look at.
If you try this I’d love to hear how you get on in the comments below.
Or do use the comments to let me know if you’ve tried anything like this before.