Thursday, August 23, 2007

"It is in the empty spaces between the dots that the illusion of character arises"

Learning how to draw changed my life.

I'm not saying that I became a great artist. And I'm not saying that after reading Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and signing up for "Drawing I" with David Barnes at the Newport Art Museum, that I had any true intention of changing anything. The entry from my journal that day says this:

November 21, 00
I'm curious to see if drawing brings me ideas and characters, if drawing will prompt me to write. Or gives me new insights into actual stories, not just the general theory of writing. I would think the emphasis on seeing in drawing would serve me well as a writer, help me with detail, as well as proportion and relationships. And the idea that we often do not see because we label and generalize is very applicable to writing–that’s how bad poetry is written, clich├ęs, stale characters. If nothing else, I think drawing could be a great method of turning off my left brain before each writing session, of relaxing, of being receptive.

Then came this:

February 2, 01
Drawing class was rewarding yesterday. We worked some more on proportion and perspective and I think I finally have gotten the idea of it. My last drawing of the day turned out pretty well. I've been working only in charcoal, but today I brought drawing paper so I can move off of newsprint and use a pencil also. I also bought a drawing board to secure my paper. I peeked at my drawings from yesterday and they give me great joy. I'm so pleased with them, as raw as they are, because they seem so alive.


March 13, 01
“A painting–like writing–is a problem with too many solutions and not nearly enough rules.” W. J. Innis

“Readers naturally try to connect the dots you’ve drawn; it is in the empty spaces between the dots that the illusion of character arises. Those voids between points are taken to be the mysteries, the vagaries, the tinctured nuances that lie at the heart of human personality” M.T. Anderson


May 02, 01
After drawing class. Feel like I’ve been beat with a stick. Struggled so hard and I'm so far behind. I keep hoping for that magic moment when it will all click and I’ll be great, but it isn’t going to happen. I’ll never be fabulous, never even scratch the surface. I hate being unable to do something I love. It’s like I have a brain disorder, and what my eye and brain see, my hands won’t draw.

Except sometimes, they do. Sometimes, I lose track of time and I'm just drawing. But how to get there? Practice, practice, practice–I know the answer. Practice, so that when the fear comes, I'll recognize its ugly face and the feel of its hands on my neck. I know you Fear, I'll say. I know you can’t kill me, and I know I can’t get rid of you either. I can only walk on despite you. I don’t even think it helps to spit in your eye, to challenge your hold. I must embrace you, Fear, know you intimately–all your tricks.


May 30, 01
The only thing I have to do is convince myself it's worth holding on, and that it doesn’t matter how stupid I look. I'm willing to look stupid in order to learn how to draw, to learn how to write a novel. Was this all it took? A willingness to be humiliated? No, but that’s a big chunk of it. What will I do one day in class if I never break through? It hasn’t happened yet. I always manage to relax, to see, to make something happen.

Because it isn’t about me, and my skill. It’s about being open to the world, to its beauty, which is always there, no matter if I'm personally blind or not. Some days, I see a small portion of it, other days, the light is dim; on rare days, it's brightly, brilliantly lit, but it's always there. To serve.

And finally this:

July 18, 01
Now I look back at my drawings, flipping through the pages, surprised each time by the intensity of the faces, how much I remember of their making. How many times I re-drew that man’s hand. What a delightful shade of green he wore. How I captured his white hair just right. My drawings aren’t just drawings. If they were, they would be judged awkward, adolescent, thin. They are, instead, a record of their making. A record of battles engaged, skirmishes won, whole armies of selves lost.

See–I'll be able to say to my grandchildren–see–this is who I was and how I lived. They might say, “Grandma. It’s just yellowed newsprint and look–you made the nose all wrong.” But maybe not. Maybe they will take out a pencil and lie beside me and draw, and I'll know they know how to live.

How I saw the world before:

And after:

Drawing Power: Everyone needs it.


  1. So illuminating! Reminds me of the quote: "Moments of silence are part of the music." The spaces between the dots and the moments of silence are where the "art" emerges (where the reader/listener thinks/imagines, and the heart is engaged) to make the experience complete.

  2. Nice blog; drawing is such a tonic when writing is proving difficult (YA). I attend a drop-in life drawing session once-a-week,and I think it helps keep creativity alive.

  3. I love that M.T. quote, and I love Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Rock on.

  4. I wish I'd found a class to keep going to after we moved. For me, drawing always inspired me to write. It's what kept me going through my first novel. But the public nature of drawing class! Ah-yah. Still scares me. At least with writing, you can hide all your scribbles until you're ready.

    P.S. There was also one of my journal entries where I said: "Now I know what it feels like to say s--t for thirty minutes while I draw." :)

  5. Oh, and I can't tell who made that first comment, 'cause the name's covered up, for some reason (covered up with other letters), but WORD to what that person said! One of my favorite quotes from studying theatre was: "A play is interrupted silence."

    If I knew where that particular theatre text was, I'd credit the author, but you'll have to just trust me that I didn't make that up.

  6. Sara, your journal entries are so thoughtful and literary! I'd be embarrassed to ever post mine ("Probably should go grocery shopping today. I've put it off as long as I possibly can. I need bananas.")

    Thanks for this window into your world, including the drawings. You're so talented in so many areas!

  7. I LOVE to draw and paint. I never thought about using it as a tonic for my writing. I may have to do this on slow days.

    Your drawing is very well done. You shouldn't beat yourself up. Most artists look to the flaws for the beauty of the finished product. The flaws are what make it artworthy. Nothing is perfect and it is all how you portray it, not how anyone else THINKS you should portray it. Have courage - join a group or class. I am sure you would be surprised as to how supportive these groups are.

  8. Robin said: "your journal entries are so thoughtful and literary!"

    So it would appear, Robin, with the magic of careful editing. :) I'll have to post something completely raw, so you'll be reassured. The fun of a journal to me, is that no one is watching, and if I want to rave on, I can. Once, I wrote a three page riff on the various meanings of "run." Yeah, that would make good blog reading.

    But I do find that I can later clean up some of the material and actually use it. Most of my poems happen that way.

  9. I have ALWAYS wanted to take a drawing class, but never got around to it... maybe I'll find one. I'm not really an artist, but... the whole process sounds so much like the process of creating any art, that it really is worth the exploration. And oh how I love that MT Anderson quote!!

  10. Thanks for sharing these journal entries, Sara. You, adventurous soul!! I love it!!


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