BLOG: Drawing From Nature

DAY 1, 2014

8:00 a.m. A clear June morning. We start out into the forest.
A day of detoxification. A day to forget multi-tasking.
We leave cell phones and watches behind. I give them each, in case they get anxious, an emergency whistle instead.
Temple Grandin, points out how words overshadow visual acuity, and lead to schemas or models in our minds that we then apply to the world, rather than experiencing thru our senses and then organizing them.  SO VERY VERY LITTLE TALK on this first day.
So today we’ll try to do as little naming as possible. We’re going to take a long walk so that the chatter and distractions of our every day world get worn away, and we can become open to other subtler patterns and rhythms.
All along this trail there are signs and tracks left by beings. I don’t expect you to know this, and I don’t expect you to know how to recognize the signs they’ve left. I just want you to be open to recognizing something that may appear to you from time to time today and tomorrow.
As we walk, let’s talk as little as possible. I may stop along the way to point something out, but that will be about all. As we walk listen to your breath, your foot fall, your heart rate, the air on your skin. Don’t linger on thoughts, don’t hold onto them. Just let them come and go - like a fly bothering you.
What I want you to do is to be open to patterns and rhythms (both inside and outside). Don’t look for them. Relax into the rhythm of your walking and gazing, touching and smelling and sensing and feeling.
Why patterns and rhythms? Because they are not “things.” They don’t have names. They are relationships. And relationship is what communication is grounded in and springs from and depends upon. No relationship - no communication.
The “trick” will be to look for them inside at the same time you are looking outside. This can be confusing and unmooring. All I can tell you is that with time and practice, it becomes easier, more comfortable, and even relaxing and freeing from all the “ought too’s” in our lives.

Some poems to read along the way on this first day:
Lost, by David Wagoner
"Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you. "

            Take off all
            your clothed and
            clammy thoughts.
            Sit awhile.
            Make nothing up
            between the intervals of silence,
            but listen to them.
            Between each breath
            is a song you’ve forgotten,
            is always calling us
            to gather to this wild
            and shocking world.
            This music happens to us
            before we can ever think about it
            this song happens in us
            before we can ever say it’s impossible
            to listen before we speak
            of nothing or everything.
            ©Laurence Holden, 2010

                    - for Rob
                All things show their faces when we do.
                All things speak when we do.
                All things appear when we do.
                The first face, the first word,
                they blossom into all the others.
                They all are true.
               ©Laurence Holden, 2010

We stop in the forest where there seems to be a sense of place here.

Layers of Attention:
Go to a place that attracts you. sit. Ask permission to be there, to know and be known.
With soft eyes, gaze around the whole place to see its boundaries. Now close your eyes and in your mind’s eye gaze around this space, noting what you see. Now open your eyes and confirm what you saw. Now look around again with eyes open and take in more or different aspects. Close your eyes again and see that in your mind’s eye. Repeat several times. Notice how the patterns change each time.


At the end thank this place for letting you know it and be known.

Nature as Guide:
Go to a place that attracts you. Sit. Ask respectful permission to be there, to know and be known by this place. Now look around you with soft eyes. Go to the first thing that attracts you. Say hello - not silently but out loud. Touch it for one full minute. Pull on it gently, but not enough to hurt or disturb it. Note what thoughts and feelings come to mind during the time you are in this relationship. Thank it for allowing you to touch it and to be with it. Gaze around you and go to the next object that immediately attracts you. Do the same thing, touch it, pull on it gently. Thank it. Note again what thoughts and feelings you have. Then go to the next thing that attracts you.

Sensory Guided Nature Walk:
find a place. Ask permission to be there, to know and be known.
We are trained to be conscious of the world thru
1. sight
2. language
3. reason
we miss a lot this way. Divide into pairs. One person will be the sighted guide who will hold your hand and introduce you gently and safely to this place, the other will be blind. For 5 minutes be led carefully by the guide to sense, touch, feel, taste, hear, smell, roll in, crawl thru, hug things the guide finds attracts them. Occasionally the guide can focus your closed eyes on natural attractions she sees. She can signal you to open your eyes only for a second by squeezing your shoulder and then releasing it to signal you to close your eyes again.

After five minutes, switch roles. Afterwards we discuss the different experiences of leading, and being led, and what you were each drawn to.
When finished thank this place and the things you were granted to see.


Julie & Hilary

We stop for lunch atop Rainy Mountain. We rest, lay on our backs and watch the tree tops sway in the afternoon wind, and then we discuss the patterns and rhythms that have attracted each of us along the way. We have all followed the same path, but it has been a different path of experience for each of us. We discuss why this might be.

We retrace our path, and see everything from the "other side" going back down the path.
We stop in a place that attracts us beside a gurgling branch.

Seeing Through Words:
The natural world, including our own inner nature, contains attractions that hold it together and sustain it in balance. We are drawn to these meanings.
We are not lost here:
            "Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
            Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
            And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
            Must ask permission to know it and be known.
            The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
            I have made this place around you,
            If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
            No two trees are the same to Raven.
            No two branches are the same to Wren.
            If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
            You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
            Where you are. You must let it find you. "
                        “Lost,” by David Waggoner

Find a place that attracts you. Sit awhile. let your eyes scan the surroundings with soft eyes. look carefully around for signals of danger (bees, poison ivy, thorns, etc.). imagine you are meeting some one for the first time. say hello in a respectful manner. ask “how are you?” “It’s nice to meet you.” Ask it’s permission to be with it. remember Wagoner’s poem “Lost” “you must treat it as a powerful stranger. must task permission to know it and be known - the forest breathes. listen. it answers.
jot down two or three of your immediate experiences/impressions of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste: look for the strongest verbs you can find. write large and leave space between your lines. Your first thoughts are usually the most direct - so try to catch them before you think about them. Your thoughts afterwards are usually fraught with your thoughts about your thoughts.

“Go to pine if you want to learn from pine.
Go to bamboo if you want to learn about bamboo.
And in doing so, leave your subjective preoccupation with yourself.
Otherwise you impose yourself on the object and do not learn.
Your poetry issues of its own accord when you and the object have become one
when you have plunged deep enough into the object to see something hidden, glimmering there.
However well phrased your poetry may be, your feeling is not natural - if the object and yourself are separate - then your poetry is not true poetry but merely your subjective counterfeit.”

Every one gathers together again and we look over our phrases and sentences.
We edit it so that:
-all the verbs are action verbs
- we make the phrases specific,  change “I think” to what it IS you think.
- we make the phrases in the present tense: “I am touching now” “the bird sings”

Have each participant pick out the strongest, most direct phrase from each sense (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste) and draw a circle around it.
We gather in a circle standing, and read in a “round” one of our statements in this order:
First person:- sight
second person: - sound
third person - smell
fourth person--touch
fifth person- taste.
sixth person - imagine
seventh person - sight
seventh - sound
and so on, around and round.

And this way we make a group poem celebrating this place now and our being here.
We finish by gazing about this place and giving thanks for knowing it and being known by it.


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.