Last week a bird flew into the window. I drew it before giving it a proper burial under the cherry tree.
The last nine months have been quite intense. Starting a new job and dealing with a grueling schedule has meant almost no time for creative work. Now that the school year is over, I want to devote more attention to my own projects again, namely three pieces that I intend to submit to an upcoming show. The truth is, I am desperately looking for ways to reconnect with my creative side. Every teacher working in a creative field, dedicating time and energy to their students, ask themselves: How can I be truthful, and helpful to my students if I don’t live a vibrant creative life outside of the classroom? As artists, we want to freshen up our designs, and to keep exploring, and this requires sustained and undisturbed periods of time.
For this particular project, the themes I would like to explore are decay, corrosion and rust, using mostly non-precious metals or even non-metallic materials (in combination with silver). Visually, I imagine something in the spirit of Edward Burtynsky’s striking large-scale photographs of industrial sites and man-made landscapes. I know what I want to do, and yet I haven’t been able to design anything substantial so far. A fast-approaching deadline and the prospect of returning to my job in September (so soon!) add to the pressure.
Now, I may have been in this situation before. I always seem to forget when I am in the thick of it. But I do have a cure for this, and it is…drawing. Of course, we’ll all agree that drawing is a therapeutic activity that allows for self-expression, and that as such it is always beneficial to us, visual artists or anyone for that matter. When I was 9 years old and home sick in boarding school, I would confide with my trusty sketchbook and draw. When I was lost and lonely as a newcomer here in Canada, I would draw. When I was in a lot of pain – and afraid, stuck in a hospital for several months, recovering from a motorcycle accident, I would draw. Drawing has always been my salvation.
What I mean by drawing is not drawing with a specific project in mind, like the pieces I am trying to create, but drawing anything. I draw whatever is in front of me or whatever is in my head, doodles, life drawing, anything, and I draw often, no matter what. When I feel like an untethered balloon drifting away aimlessly, like I do these days, drawing is always the perfect remedy. This is why in the last few weeks I have decided to embark, once again, on a strict drawing regimen, filling several pages of my sketchbook every day.
Tomato. Watercolour, pen & ink.
For me, the act of drawing – simply putting pen or charcoal to paper, moving my arm – is a truly tactile experience. As an artist, I feel compelled to explore and connect with the world around me, beyond just my feelings. In order to draw, to “see”, the subject, I must pause and focus. I need to be firmly grounded in the present. In the heavily mediated world we live in, with so many ways of removing ourselves from the immediate experience, slowing down and becoming aware of our surroundings is the first step for accessing our creativity.
The following are some examples of how I approach this. Please, be aware that these are simply exercises, not exhibition quality drawings, but I hope they’ll help illustrate and clarify my point, and show that you don’t have to be a Leonardo to benefit from this.
I like to draw early in the morning because I haven’t quite left the dream world and can still hang on to a few shreds of dream images.
Flying Snake Docking Station. Watercolour, pen & ink.
I also like to draw late at night (I like to draw anytime really). Sometimes I draw what just happens to be in front of me. Any technique will do, charcoal, colour pencils, pen and ink, markers, whatever.
Travel Plans. Pen & ink.
Sometimes I just doodle and draw whatever stories or characters show up on the page:
The Sea Captain and the Siren. Watercolour, pen & ink.
Sometimes I like to pick a simple object, a pebble for instance, a flower or something I have found on one of my walks, and to sketch it from every possible angle:
Sage flower, “Parcel Rock”. Watercolour, pen & ink, pencil.
I also like to “deconstruct” my subject, not to emulate Picasso or Braque, but just to find out how it’s made and how the various components (volumes, forms) are articulated and fit together – a process actually similar to what I do when I design a piece of jewellery.
Copper pan from Normandy. Pen & ink.
Even if I am drawing without a specific plan, I am still amassing shapes, forms, colours, patterns, textures, etc. This visual “reference library” has served me well in the past, many times over.
“Amour en Cage” (Japanese Lantern). Watercolour, pencil, pen & ink.
And yes, as we all know, in order to hone observation skills and improve hand-eye coordination, life drawing is crucial. When friends are not available, or my partner has run out of patience, there is always the cat. Sasha is not the easiest of models because he is not willing to sustain a long pose, except when napping, his “default” pose, which I have drawn way too often!
Sasha napping. Pen & ink.
So, this is some of what I have done so far. I have been diligently drawing in my sketchbook, and enjoying it. As for these new pieces for the show, as I was saying earlier, I haven’t accomplished much at this point. And yet, a connection has been made; these daily drawings have served as a bridge to my creative side. I have taken a few steps, like collecting materials and making simple models – baby steps. I am hesitant to say anymore at this point. This connection still feels tenuous. Drawing is the cure, but I am not quite cured yet.
I will keep you posted as to what happens next, whether it is successful or not.
(All artwork © Dominique Bréchault 2014)