BLOG: Drawing From Nature

DAY 2, 2014


8:00 a.m. We enter the forest, stop, and together ask permission to know and be known by this place. We walk a while up the branch through thick Rhododendron thickets. We stop to listen for bird song. The woods are silent. We sit quietly under a spreading hemlock and repeat the exercise from yesterday "layered seeing." After twenty minutes they come - wood thrush, wood pecker, and many others we can't identify. I tell them an old Chinese saying:


"When you go out and name

the ten thousand things

that is folly.

When the ten thousand things

come and confirm you

that is wisdom."


Today we are here to open our selves up and gather in and then begin a gentle conversation between us and those ten thousand things.


I read a portion of my essay "CENTERS OF PLACE, ATTENTION, AND ATTRACTION  - PART 3."

We walk and listen to the rhythm of our breaths, feel the morning breeze on our cheeks following us up the cove, beginning to let go of all the distractions in our daily lives, until we feel comfortable in the rhythm of walking, breathing, listening, and gazing.


We find a place that attracts us.

A Smudge of Self:

Inside and outside (however you want to divide them up, or to erect walls between them) are not separate worlds. Their permeability makes them both one world, one place.

Find a place that attracts you. Sit. Using “soft eyes” gently explore your surroundings. Gently ask out loud permission to be here, to know and be known by this place.

So right now, close you eyes and focus on what you are feeling right now. If it’s a flurry of just thoughts keep looking at them till you feel the feeling that animates them. Focus on that feeling - the tone and color of it. Imagine what shape it might remind you of. Now open your eyes and with soft eyes gaze and wander around you waiting to see that shape out there that links to that feeling inside. Explore that shape out there. Now, with your finger smudged with charcoal, smear this shape starting in the center of it, onto a page of your sketchbook. If your shape has sharp intricate boundaries add that with pencil.

This experience you’ve just had is neither just inside your self, or outside in the world. You might say it’s betwixt and between. Your inner feeling informs that shape out there - even made it possible to identify it. And respectively, responsibly, that shape out there shapes your feeling inside.

You can now play with both that shape “out there” and the feeling “inside.” Dramatize one or the other, exaggerate, try variations. add a color. Go look for similar shapes out there and draw them, then reflect and imagine what feelings they conjure up “inside” you.

At the end, sit, and gaze about the space you have now explored. Out loud, give thanks to this place for allowing you to know it and be known by it.



Find a place that attracts you. Sit and using “soft eyes” gently explore your surroundings. Gently ask out loud permission to be here, to know and be known by this place.

choose some natural object that attracts you.
Place it in the center of a page of your sketchbook.
With pencil and colored pencils, allow a drawing to appear as an expression of that object - lines and shapes and colors extending out from it, as if that piece of nature were the artist. Start with your dominant hand, but later try with your non dominant hand. Let the images arise. Try several drawings from this object.

afterwards - have each student discuss what they saw and felt as the lines and colors emerged on the paper. Avoiding psychological interpretations, ask other students to ask clarifying questions and offer observations.

At the end, sit, and gaze about the space you have now explored. Out loud, give thanks to this place for allowing you to know it and be known by it.


Layered drawing - layered seeing - layered stories - layered time:

Find a place that attracts you. Sit and using “soft eyes” gently explore your surroundings. Gently ask out loud permission to be here, to know and be known by this place.

Find a rectangle of forest floor that is the same size and dimensions as a page in your sketchbook. Mark the corners of this space with 4 sticks driven in the ground. Choose four colored pencils. Sit and gaze around your marked out area on the ground with soft eyes. Ask respectful permission of this marked out place to be there and to know and be known by it. Don’t take an inventory of what you see, just let your eyes wander and notice. Let the area speak to you, and listen to what it prompts in you - patterns, shapes, thoughts, references to other things. Let all these come and go. Then close your eyes. Focus on your breath and take easy deep breaths.  Now see in your mind’s eye this marked out space on the ground. Explore the shapes and edges there. Let your mental eyes flow thru it. What you’ve gathered in your mind’s eye are the things that are naturally attractive to you. Now open your eyes and gaze at your blank page. See the array of shapes that were in your mind’s eye. Take one colored pencil and slowly trace on your page the edges of that array of shapes and edges and lines. Take your time.

Now close your eyes again, take some deep easy breaths, and explore the drawing you’ve just made.

Now open your eyes, and look at the space on the ground again. What new do you see? Explore the area and notice what you didn’t see before. Close your eyes and explore that new layer of shapes and edges. Open you eyes and see those shapes and edges on your page. Pick a new color of pencil and draw that on top of the first drawing.

Do this process again, and once again, each time using a different colored pencil.

To go with layered drawing in different colors: we discuss the idea of layered stories, like of our own lives - each one having different layers - certain patterns and rhythms echoing through layers of them - giving/lending a certain diaphanous quality like looking into a river through layers of images floating there.

At the end, sit, and gaze about the space you have now explored. Out loud, give thanks to this place for allowing you to know it and be known by it.


Lunch along the creek, and a discussion of the morning's work. I discuss Christopher Alexander's approach to being respectful creative beings toward the world around us - that whatever we make, design, draw, paint, speak, write, or create must itself be a process of creating being like (and self-like) centers because this will encourage the world to become more alive, and that this process moves us consciously toward those things which most deeply relflect and touch our own selves.



The Metaphoric Self: Finding a place, finding ourselves:


Each one of us  has a constellation of characteristics which comprises the being we take ourselves to be.

List some. Ask students.

These traits are not a hodge-podge of stuff stuffed into our skins. They are arranged in a certain way, changing from time to time, day to day.  How I arrange these qualities makes me feel how I am on any certain day - which elements I give prominence to, which I juxtapose. These all create the pattern and rhythm of my daily life.

All together they create the space of our inner lives. Some things are packed close together, some far apart, some in stacks, hierarchies, some in boxes, some in orbits, some like those Russian dolls, one thing inside another, and so on. If some things are packed too closely I feel suffocated. Geometric formations are irritating to my often playful, improvisational spirit. For me I’m always looking for a gentle play between order and disorder, between the known and the unknown.

But not only are we composed of this inner space, we also exist in the larger context of place. All those inner qualities re arrange themselves when we are in different places - work, places of worship, home, in a forest. So where we place ourselves is just as telling as what gets placed and where. Some of us gravitate to the corners, some to center stage, some along edges.

So, the following experience will explore
1. what is important abt yourself
2. how you compose these things into a personal constellation
3. where in the world do we locate our best most valued self

Step One:  of all the things you are, think of a half dozen. Then wander around for half an hour watching for objects that strike you as resonating to these qualities about yourself.  Having selected a 1/2 dozen or so, now wander around to find a place for them to be. Be aware of your changing sense of well being as you wander around.  the sounds, the light, the shadows, amounts of space around you. At some point a certain place will just feel right. Don’t worry that the reasons for this are obscure. Your body knows.

Step Two: How to arrange these objects. Don’t make art. don’t be cute or clever. Just keep moving the objects around until you feel it’s OK. That’s it. No beg deal, no searching,  When you feel OK it will be because you will experience a correspondence between how the outside of things look and how the inside of you feels.

Step Three:  Up to now you have been working intuitively, a lot of the choices you’ve made have been without conscious predetermined deliberation. Now is the time for your  rational intellect to become acquainted with the intuitive wisdom that has guided you so far.

You will act as a host, and invite the other students to visit you place. It is important to set the conditions under which the others can gain access to your work and the meanings you have embedded in it. It may be that it should be viewed from a certain distance or perspective.

In addition you may also want to determine how your companions are to verbally respond to your work - the primary objective should be the expansion of depth and complexity of meaning the work has for you. You may just want to listen to your peers’ reactions to your work and for you to offer no rejoinders, no explanations,  neither agreement or disagreement. You have given them your work - it is a language of forms. In return they have given you  verbal expression of their experience of the work. This approach gives you the opportunity to to see yourself from some one else’s mind.

On the other hand you may want to ask questions that you are wrestling with about your work, thus focusing the concerns of your companions upon those of your own.

Or you may want to invite an exchange of views, ideas,and differing personal interpretations.

Or you may elect to to have the work witnessed in complete silence, or accompanied by a monologue by you. You decide. It your right to determine the circumstances through which your work will be seen and engaged with.

Step Four:  Make a drawing of your space and objects, high lighting the aspects that seem most important to you now.

When we are finished we sit awhile, and then give thanks to this place for knowing it and being known by it.