A few weeks ago I started going to an informal oil painting class in town. The first painting project is very structured – a still life of an apple and a pear. The teacher was reviewing the light sources and I had the sudden realization that, even though I had never painted before, I knew a lot of the concepts she was explaining.
Gustave Dore – a favorite of mine
It was a revelation to remember that once, long ago, I had spent a lot of time drawing. In school I was always doodling in my notebooks – epic scenes I stole from comic books and science fiction book covers. I was known as “Sleepy Dave” back then, the kid who never paid attention in class and did a lot of drugs.
I’ve changed a lot over the years and it’s funny to remember that I was ever like that. I did my last illegal drug almost twenty years ago. My drinking tapered off when I moved to California in 1998 and now I hardly drink at all. As you might imagine, back when I was young I had no interest in reality. Reality was boring – a world of teachers and rules and do this and do that.
Art back then was an escape but my adult view is the opposite. Now I draw and paint to open my eyes and perceive reality. All too often we get caught up in habit and responsibility and fail to see things as they are. Now that I am drawing regularly, I notice things. When I look at my daughter’s face, I recognize how her eyes are darker on the edges and the color lightens as it approaches the pupil.
When you start noticing things like this the mundane stops being mundane and starts being interesting again. I took the dog for a walk recently and my senses were overwhelmed. It was almost too much. Forgive me if I’m starting to sound like a beret-wearing Sensitive Artist but it’s true.
It’s nice to see things as they are rather than how I want them to be. There’s something Zen about drawing. When it’s going well, you experience a complete removal of the ego. You enter an state where nothing matters but the lines and colors. You forgot your worries, responsibilities and cares. It is a world free of pain.
Awareness of self and ego causes pain. I have relatives who have ruined their lives obsessing about themselves. They tried to drown it out with drugs and medication but it never works. You need to find the thing that allows you to forget yourself. The thing that will make you stop thinking.
My brother told me about this originally, “Stop thinking!” he advised. He does it by playing basketball relentlessly for 2-3 hours a day, longer on the weekends. When he’s on the court, he forgets he even exists. He’s in the zone. That’s how I get when I draw.