The Artist’s Way – week six

Overview

Cameron wants us to press flowers and collect rocks this week.

I’ve never pressed flowers, and I don’t intend to start now. Plus it’s mid-September, so flowers are a but thin on the ground, but I found a few, plus some interesting leaves, and took photos instead.

In the same vein, I’m not keen of taking rocks out of the environment. They have a job to do and I’m not going to deprive some poor bug of its home because I think it’s shiny.

Happily, I can take all the photos I like:

Morning pages

I’m still not doing the morning pages regularly. Because time is tight in the mornings, they often get left to the end of the day, which means they often don’t get done.

I spent some time writing about the nature of god, why I can’t believe in Cameron’s Creator, and what I do believe in, then I reread the instructions and discovered she wanted me to write about ‘creative luxury’. This isn’t the the first time the instructions have been inconsistent and I doubt it will be the last.

I will confess to resenting the time spent writing the morning pages, because my brain insists I could be using the tine to do something, as if writing isn’t a) something, and b) really flipping useful.

Artist’s date

My creative luxury is time.

I’m in a very fortunate position where I can afford to buy myself almost whatever creative toys I like (my desires are usually limited to a particular colour of paint or a new book), but actually finding time to use them is another matter.

I indulged myself on Friday, splashing around with Brusho and Inktense pastels and generally having fun. I’m not expecting anything good to come out of these sessions, but I’m allowing myself to fail, and that’s a luxury I haven’t allowed myself before this course.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – part 10

After the skill of perceiving edges, spaces and relationships comes the skill of seeing shadows, of making things appear three-dimensional.

Edwards calls this “light logic”, which isn’t a term I’ve heard anywhere else, but it makes sense – light and shadow obey very simple rules and can be reasoned out logically if you have the knack.

Exercise 30
Drawing an Egg Lighted from Above

“The perception of edges (line) leads to the perception of shapes (negative spaces and positive shapes), drawn in correct proportion and perspective (sighting). These skills lead to the perception of values (light logic), which leads to the perception of colours as values, which leads to painting.

Edwards has us repeat the trick of turning the picture upside down to help break down areas of light and dark into abstract shapes to be duplicated.

Exercise 31
Charlie Chaplin in Light and Shadow

The high contrast portrait of Charlie Chaplin shows us the was that the brain is able to extrapolate from incomplete data. I was thinking about pareidolia at this point – the psychological phenomenon in which a person can see a familiar pattern (eg: faces) in random patterns – but I don’t know if this would apply to seeing a face in a heavily distorted image of a face.

No matter how your style evolves, however, you will always be using edges, spaces, relationships, and (usually) lights and shadows, and you will depict the thing itself (the Gestalt) in your own way.

Edwards touches, briefly, accidentally, on what I would consider to be the most fundamental skill in drawing – that of knowing when to stop. They joke about artists needing someone to stand behind them with a sledgehammer and, on reflection, I can see the merit in that.

The mark of a trained artist is not the ability to stop in time, apparently, but the ability to crosshatch. Most of us start out with scribbling, but once you push through that, your Hatching technique is as much a signature as, well, your signature. Edwards suggests practicing crosshatching various geometric shapes, which is definitely something I could add to my warmups.

Edwards mentions that children begin drawing faces in three-quarter view around the age of ten, when they try to capture not just the likeness of the subject, but also the character. This creates a conflict with the symbol system they’re used to using, as the rotation of the face forces them to deal with asymmetry and the foreshortening of features on the far side of the face. At this point the only thing to do is to draw what you see, not what you want think you see.

Edwards points out that the space between the inner corner of the near eye and the bridge of the nose is a particularly important – and difficult – proportion, and that getting it wrong can throw off the whole drawing. Likewise, the placement of the ear has changed since the profile drawing, forward towards the face – now, the distance between the eye level and chin is equivalent to the distance between the inside corner of the eye and the back of the ear.

Another common pitfall is to widen the far side of the face and then, realising the face is too wide, to narrow the near side, resulting in a portrait closer to a frontal drawing than a three-quarter view.


Exercise 34
Drawing a Self-Portrait in Light and Shadow

The Artist’s Way – week five

Overview

This ‘week’ involved a long holiday – a week in Vienna followed by a week with friends – so there wasn’t much time for introspection or privacy. My morning pages suffered accordingly, but I’ve been reading voraciously (albeit off my reading list, but reading is reading). I’ve been physically exhausted by the heat, mentally exhausted by translating/coping with the language barrier, and emotionally exhausted by the lack of exercise.
I am surprised by how much better I feel having got away from work. I think it’s the change in routine and the relaxation of stress – much like the reading deprivation, reducing the amount of input I have to deal with is something I should be seriously looking at.

The biggest issues I’ve faced this week have been:

  • Making time to write my morning pages
  • Keeping with the weekly schedule

Morning pages

An improvement over last week – I managed two days! Out of six weeks, but still: two days is better than none!
If I’m honest with myself, I’ve not made this a priority and not really worked at making it a habit. Next week, I’m going to make a serious effort to nailing this. The pages have been useful and, when I get to them, I enjoy writing them.

Artist’s date

Okay, so this might have been a cheat – for my birthday, my parents bought me a Big Cat day at the Jessop’s Academy, learning how to use my DLSR. It was a fantastic experience and I’m much more confident about setting the aperture and ISO and not just resorting to some flavour of automatic. Next up: shutter speed!

Verdict

The exercises were moderately easy this week but, despite my lofty announcement that “I’m doing this on my own schedule”, I feel like I’m missing out on a lot by leaving such large gaps between weeks.

I’m going to take a week of making time to write the morning pages (at any time of day!) before starting week six. Try to reinforce the foundations before building any higher.

The Artist’s Way – week four

Overview

This was the week of the reading ban. I decided to update the instructions, given that my copy of TAW was published in 1992:

  • No books
  • No news or articles, via online or print media
  • No phone games
  • 10 minutes of social media/day

The other news to come out of this week is that, via a sequence of coincidences, I have developed a new Special Interest: runes.
After helping out at DragonFest at West Stow Anglo-Saxon village, I chanced upon Lauren Panepinto’s Muddy Colors articles on art and magic [1] [2] [3] and, as a result, I ended up picking up a set of rune stones and starting to read voraciously (after the reading deprivation, obviously).
Between learning the the staves themselves (in all four variations), memorising the ideographic interpretations with all their nuances, learning how to write in runic (and thereby adding Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic to my ‘to learn’ list), boggling over the rune riddles, learning about runic cryptography, practising making bind-runes, and figuring out how I could use a combination of those things in my art, that’s given me quite a lot to play with. And that’s just the rune-work! Let’s not get into my decision to make a Lenormand deck and start tinkering around with sigils.

Reading deprivation

The main thing that surprised  me about this exercise was that I didn’t miss reading books. For anyone who knows me, especially anyone who knew me as the kid who mastered walking, eat and even brushing their teeth while reading, that’s pretty shocking! I definitely don’t have a book-reading issue, but that’s been replaced by a phone-checking problem. I used the Leechblock plugin to curtail my browsing on a desktop and Extreme Power Saving mode to short-circuit the habit of checking apps on my phone and, although my social media use dropped off fairly easily, I was compulsively checking my messages (I decided I ought to be able to talk to people and not drop off the face of the Earth for a week, a mistake in hindsight – if I hadn’t been able to check at all, I might have found the task easier). I worried that I was setting myself up for future issues by simply adding interesting articles to Pocket to read later, but since coming off the deprivation, I simply wasn’t that interested in the articles and deleted them.
Being disconnected from the world definitely improved my mental health and it’s a practice I’d like to repeat periodically.

The biggest issues I’ve faced this week have been:

  • Keeping to my 10 minute social media limit
  • Checking messenger as a substitute for reading/games
  • Remembering to turn on Extreme Power Saving mode
  • Restraining myself from buying too many books
  • Keeping myself focused on the projects I’m already working on
  • Making time to do my morning pages

Morning pages

A complete wash: between the 4th of July and the 23rd, I didn’t do any morning pages.

Artist’s date

I don’t know if I did a specific artist’s date this week.
Unfortunately, I wrote my checkin in stages, so I’m writing this bit nearly six weeks after I started. I can see from my planner that I made more of an effort to get out of my own head, meeting friends and working on physical, non-art projects – my rocking chair is dismantled, sanded, and ready for new springs, which I ordered this week. Interesting and tiring and fulfilling, but not ‘play’.

Verdict

All in all, it’s been a big week, and discovering an interest in runes and the rekindling my lapsed spirituality gives me things to think about in Week Six, which has a stronger than usual emphasis on faith.

The Artist’s Way – week three

Overview

This chapter has been a nightmare.
Not through the exercises it’s asked me to do, but for multitude of reasons, including the death of a friend, which meant that a lot of things got deprioritised.

Thinking through who I admire and why, some (most) of my choices felt superficial. I know that they were based on the public persona of famous people, but I look up to the persona, not the person. I still love Ray Bradbury’s prose, even though I disagree with some of his personal opinions, and I’m pretty sure Carrie Fisher and I would have very little in common, but – based on what I know of her – she seemed amazing.

In the last few days, I’ve also started dreaming again. Nothing that makes any sense, and nothing that I can recall in the cold light of day, but I did recall having a dream for the first time in years.

The biggest issues I’ve faced this week have been:

  • I’m pretty sure Quirk and Robbie are on their way out. It’s sad, but I tried my best. Apparently potting trees from the wild has a very low success rate. They might come back, once they’ve had time to recover. Only time will tell.
  • Real life taking priority. Everything in its own time, but it’s still a little frustrating.

Morning pages

I feel better for writing them, but I’m not sure they’re reaching as deeply as they need to. I definitely felt better about my bereavement after writing about it, but I think there’s more deep-seated stuff that I need to excavate and the pages aren’t touching it yet.

Artist’s date

I honestly can’t remember what I did for this. At one point, I said I was going to learn a magic trick, but I haven’t yet. I baked, maybe? Had a lie-in?

Verdict

This week dragged on so long and it’s been such a mental and emotional rollercoaster, I can’t remember most of it. I know I said working through this in my own time was fine, but I think I’ll try to pick up the pace!

The Artist’s Way – week two

Overview

This one got off to a tricky start. I didn’t re-read the chapter, and so missed out on some of the instructions, and took two weeks to complete this one. It’s okay, I’m doing this on my own and I can go at my own pace.

This chapter, Cameron talks a lot about “crazymakers” (her word, not mine). People who turn up at inopportune times and wreck your plans with utter disregard for your feelings or wellbeing. I don’t seem to have any in my life – they sound like the sort of ‘friends’ I’ve avoided or excised – so, instead of trying to disentangle myself from them, I examined my own behaviour. After all, Cameron said that such people are often blocked creative. I don’t thrive on attention – quite the opposite – and the idea of upsetting my friends genuinely concerns me. I could stand to do better (everyone could, probably), but the person I sabotage the most is myself.

The biggest issues I’ve faced this week have been:

  • Morning pages

Morning pages

I had a chat with my therapist about them and he thinks they’re probably useful. He also suggested only writing two of them if time was an issue. I was hesitant – I’d noticed that I start to uncover some significant thought processes around the one-and-a-half-pages mark and didn’t want to jeopardise that, but he reckons that the brain – when confronted with a finite amount of time/space – will put off doing the important work until it absolutely has to and that, by shaving a page off my writing, I’ll come to the same conclusions half a page earlier. I’ve been trying that for a few days, and it seems to be working out.

Artist’s date

I planned to go somewhere new this week, but life intervened and I ended up gardening instead (making hay while the sun shines). It’s been a while since I gardened and, in one of those fantastic coincidences, a chance conversation has reignited my old interest in bonsai at the same time that my weeding uncovered some oak saplings that had planted themselves way too close to the house, so I’m now the caretaker of two potted oak trees.

Quirk and Robbie
Quirk and Robbie

Because I’m a shameless nerd, I’ve dubbed them Quirk and Robbie. Quirk (in the foremost pot in the photo), and is a single root ball with with four trunks; pragmatic and fmily-orientated. Robbie (in the hindmost pot) may have become detatched from Quirk while I was digging them up, but is now an independant young thing looking to establish his own identity  (having given them name and personalities, their inevitable deaths as a result of my incompetence will crush me, but that’s future me’s problem).

Verdict

All things considered, this was a pretty chill week. The topics of my morning pages are still varying wildly – ideas for The Story With No Name one day, musings on mortality and grief the next, and whinging about how tired I am the day after. It’s a process and I am finding it useful; the switch to two pages doesn’t seem to have affected that too much.
I rated adventure and spirituality as the weakest points of my life this week, and I’ve been trying to think of ways to fill them up. Meditation has, ironically, been pushed out of my morning routine more often than not because the morning pages ran long. That said, the weather’s nice so I’m in the garden more and been trying to pay more attention to my environment during my my lunchtime walks, and I’m feeling more grounded in reality than I used to.

The Artist’s Way – week one

Overview

Having started this week with an attitude of “get it done and get to the good stuff”, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how cathartic some of the exercises have been. The artist’s date – a page from a ‘mindfulness’ colouring book – was particularly refreshing, and the exercise to write a letter to a champion led me to look up my old art teacher and find he’s still exhibiting.

The biggest issues I’ve faced this week have been:

  • writing the letters – short tasks are easier to fit into a busy schedule and, psychologically, ‘writing a letter’ is not a short task. When I actually got on with it, each letter was 20 minutes, tops.
  •  actually finding all the tasks – the Core Beliefs exercise, referenced in later weeks, is hidden in the middle of the chapter and I had to go dig for it. Lesson learned for the future – re-read the chapter before diving in.
  • finding time to do the morning pages. Cameron says leave 30 minutes, but I’m clocking in about 50. My regular morning routine is suffering because, despite getting up earlier, I only have time to do my pages before rushing off to work. That said, they’ve led to some noticeable mood shifts, so they’re clearly unjamming something in there.

Morning pages

My fight with the morning pages led me to look up other people who have struggled with them and found that there might be some contraindications for neuroatypical folk: Morning pages might not be the artist’s way

I don’t know that my pages have led me to dwell on negative thoughts – beyond how blasted tired I am – but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Artist’s date

As far as the artist’s date activity goes, I also haven’t done anything resembling play for a very long time – a dearth of time and a surfeit of stress means all that went out of the window years ago – so I’m cribbing date ideas from Ellen Bard’s list 101 ideas to boost your creativity.

This week’s date was a page from a colouring book. I’m sure the spooky ghooosts and creepy castles were seasonally-appropriate when I bought the magazine (back in 2015) – like I said: it’s been a while since I just let myself play around. It was really quite pleasant.

And then I immediately regretted wasting an afternoon on such frivolity. Baby steps.

Verdict

I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m feeling generally positive. This week wasn’t too rough, except for the damage to my morning schedule. I’m looking forward to next week.

The Artist’s Way – overview

I’ve owned a copy of The Artist’s Way for maybe ten years, but never actually started it (I did two days of morning pages when I first bought the book but immediately fell out of the habit and never picked it back up). Such is the life of a lot of my textbooks and workbooks. But I’ve decided that 2018 is the year I scale the foothills of my to-read pile; TAW is on the list, so here we go.

I’m starting by reading through the book before beginning the program, and I can already feel this is going to be a slog.

I understand that The Artist’s Way is based on a 12-step program and that surrendering to a higher power is part of that, but I’m not as religious as I once was and the frequent references to God/a creator are off-putting. In the early chapters, the tone is overly reassuring – bordering on coddling – and I feel spoken down to. Maybe it’s something other people will get more out of, but it’s not my thing and reading it was more a case of pushing through than actually enjoying it.
The early chapters didn’t throw anything up that I felt strongly about; I’ve been seeing a therapist for a while now, so maybe I’ve already worked through some of the baggage these chapters are designed to help with. Certainly, week one’s “write a letter to the editor in your defence” sounds like behaviour I would have indulged in a long time ago, but now it just seems silly. I’ll still do it – I’m either going to go through the program properly or not at all – but I don’t know how much I’ll get out of it.

Weeks three and four sound much more difficult. The idea of being ashamed of creating, of seeking impossible acceptance, already raises some feelings, and I’m so immediately opposed to the idea of reading deprivation that I know it’s going to throw up something profound.
The weeks get harder as they progress (obviously), digging deeper into things I thought I’d dealt with already but just reading the chapter immediately flags these up as something I’m going to have to work at.

Week seven is about perfectionism and jealousy, two things I thought I’d grown out of, but – even just skim-reading the book for an overview – I’m remembering feeling jealous of people for this or that as recently as a few weeks ago. Maybe it’s not something you ever grow out of , but we’ll see what’s under the surface.

Week eight is going to be looking at anxiety and procrastination. The notion of being too old is something I particularly struggled with in my 20s , and I still have Feelings about this topic, apparently.

Weeks nine and ten are about confronting fear disguised as self-recrimination, and self-sabotage respectively. I have an inkling this will be another emotional fortnight; I can feel the shape of the things I’ll be dealing with in these areas, even if not the fine detail.

The later exercises had less focus on letting go and letting the creator work or, at least the focus was less obvious. The last two chapters are about support systems and self-care and there’s an refrain that reminds me of a number of other books on creativity and the process of making art – that great artists share and they support each other. That the process of making art is an end unto itself, and that any fame and fortune that might or might not come with that is incidental.

My therapist said that all the self-help books in the world are just reiterating the same thing over and over but contextualising it differently. The trick is, he reckons, to find one that resonates with you.
A quick read-through suggests to me that TAW is more self-help than creativity manual, but it’s got a reputation and I’m reading it as part of my artistic development, so it goes on the blog.

All in all, I think I’ll definitely gain something from working through the book (even if it’s just shelf space after I pass it on), but only if I’m open to the ideas within and willing to put in the work. Each week concludes with a check-in, which I’ll be blogging about.

On with week one.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – Chapter 9

Chapter summary

Portraiture is a challenging field, both because everyone knows what a face looks like and will be able to tell when something about it is off, but also because our symbolic language is geared towards faces, even to the point of seeing faces in random patterns (a phenomenon known as pareidolia).

Because of the challenges in observing the proportions of a face and reproducing them to such a degree that the face is recognisable, and the struggle to overcome the intrinsic symbol language, combined with the immediate feedback in recognising when a face isn’t correct, realistic portraits are ideal subjects for practice.

Because of these challenges, students often feel that drawing portraits, particularly recognisable ones, is beyond their reach, but drawing a head requires no more skill than drawing anything else.
The problem with portraiture is the same problem with any drawing requiring “painstaking accuracy” – that we naturally enlarge things we feel are important and reduce things we feel aren’t. This occurs in the brain as part of its basic data processing, long before we try to put pencil to paper, and helps to winnow the useless from the vitally important. This isn’t great for drawing but, happily, it can be overcome with practice.

We tend to overcompensate particularly when faced with optical illusions. Edwards offers an exercise wherein the artist stands in front of a mirror at arm’s length, and observes their reflection. Although it appears to be live size, if they then make a mark on the mirror showing the positions of the top of the head and the chin and step aside, the marks will only be a few inches apart.

This reduction of less important detail leads to two major issues: placing the eye line too high on the face, and misplacing the ear in profile.
The eye issue occurs when the student shows themselves to disregard the height of the forehead and visible scalp.

Exercise 27
Madame X (after John Singer Sargent)

From person to person, the position of the ear doesn’t vary by much, which makes it a key landmark when determining the width of the head in profile. The distance from the chin to the corner of the eye is the same as the distance from the back of the eye to the edge of the ear.
Visualising an equilateral triangle can help cement this relationship in the minds of the student.

When drawing portraits, remember the following points:

  • Focus on complex edges and negative spaces until you feel the shift to the visual processing mindset
  • Estimate the angles in relation to the vertical and horizontal
  • Draw what you see, without labeling or identifying elements
  • Draw what you see without resorting to symbolism and assumptions
  • Estimate the relationships between sizes
  • Observe and record proportions as they are, recognising the brain’s habit of changing things to suit it.

Questions to ask when drawing portraits:

  • Where is the point the hairline meets the forehead?
  • Where is the outermost curve of the tip of the nose?
  • What is the angle of the forehead?
  • What is the negative space between the hairline and the top of the nose?
  • If you draw a line between the top of the nose and the chin, what is
    the angle of that line relative to the vertical or horizontal?
  • What is the negative shape created by that line?
  • Where is the curve of the front of the neck, relative to the crosshairs?
  • What is the relative space between the chin and the neck?
  • Where is the edge of the ear in relation to the corner of the eye?
  • Where does the head join the neck?
  • What is the angle of the back of the neck?

Using negative spaces and relative measurements, anything – including a face – fits together like a jigsaw.

Exercise 28
Drawing a Profile Portrait

I couldn’t get a family member to sit still long enough to draw, so used a stock photo: Source

My copy of the workbook ends this section with a drawing of an American flag, or other striped object. The intent of this exercise is to highlight the importance of drawing what you can see, not what you expect to see, but I felt the point was somewhat lost on a non-American audience (owning a national flag is largely considered ‘a bit weird’ in the UK).

I substituted in a striped t-shirt, but I don’t feel like I had any preconceived notions of what it looked like and drawing it didn’t feel like it required much in the way of mental gymnastics. Short of buying a union flag specifically for this purpose, I’m not sure how I would fix the exercise.

Exercise 29
Still Life with Striped Shirt

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – Chapter 8

Chapter summary

Edwards’ third basic drawing skill is seeing relationships between objects, enabling the artist to accurately depict perspective and proportion. So fundamental is this skill, Edwards likens it to grammar, and I can see why – without a grasp of these relationships, a picture cannot hang together, regardless of the artist’s skill in rendering.
Edwards opts to skip teaching the reader about vanishing points and the mechanics of perspective in favour of sighting.
Sighting is a multi-part skill, comprising firstly of sighting angles relative to vertical and horizontal markers, and secondly of sighting relative proportions. Each measurement is made relative to a constant so that the brain is comparing ‘thing’ to ‘thing’, instead of naming objects or measuring absolute distances. The use of ratios enables the student to overcome their known reality to accurately recreate the illusion of reality on the paper.

Exercise 20
Sighting an Open Doorway

Linear perspective is a relatively recent invention, originating from Renaissance Europe. Other cultures developed their own approach to spacial relationships, notably the stepped perspective of Egyptian and East Asian art, where depth is represented vertically and objects higher up the page are understood to be further in distance from the viewer. Distant objects are often rendered the same size and with the same level of detail as near objects.

Exercise 21
Sighting a room corner

Albrecht Dürer’s perspective machine (illustrated by Dürer’s own Artist Drawing a Nude with Perspective Device and Man Drawing a Lute) was a simple frame, strung with a grid of thread or wire, and held at a fixed position. A marker on the frame ensured that the artist was always viewing the sitter or scene from the same point (something I have struggled with while doing the exercises in this book). By recreating what is visible through the grid in the manner that it is visible the artist is able to create accurate drawings, using foreshortening to create the illusion of objects receding into space.

Exercis e22
The Knee/Foot Drawing

Something that I struggled with throughout this chapter is sighting angles. I’m far more comfortable sighting the ends of a diagonal, or points of a diagonal, and joining them up, and need to practice sighting angles, at least so I  can compare the two methods.

Notes on sighting angles

  • angles are sighted against vertical and horizons constants
  • angles are sighted on the picture plane. Care must be taken to maintain the integrity of the plane
  • creating the illusion of reality will always involve close observation of perceived forms  and the rejection of known forms (symbol language).
  • use the triangular negative shape created between the constant and the diagonal to accurately describe the angle.
  • do not determine an angle to be at 45°, 30°, etc. I do this currently, but Edwards explicitly counsels against it.
  • when deciding between a vertical or horizontal constant, Edwards recommends whichever will make the smaller angle.
Exercise 23
A Still Life of Books on a Table

Advice for perspective drawing

  • work from part to adjacent part
  • keep checking relationships
  • use negative spaces – focusing only on positive shapes weakens a drawing
  • areas of light and shadow are signed in exactly the same way as the shapes

“If in your drawing you habitually disregard proportions, you become accustomed to the sight of distortion and lose critical ability. A person living in squalor eventually gets used to it.”

(Robert Henri, The Art Spirit
Exercise 24
A Still Life with Ellipses