This is the 3rd Blog – drawing exercises found in my book The Creative Eye, and continues exercises about drawing the Visual Field.
Awareness of the Visual Shield
In the last exercise, you saw – and were aware of – the whole Visal Field. You found you were looking into a large amount of space with things in it, inside a kind of oval or sloppy circle. Beyond which, in every direction, there was nothing.
Let your gaze rest
In this exercise, most people have trouble keeping their eyes (and the field) still. The field is your personal field and it won’t stay there like a mural on the wall while your eyes move around and focus on various parts of it. If your eyes move, the obedient field moves too. This is the first rule of the game: you have to let your gaze rest in one place.
Rest on what?
If you are in a life drawing class, it’s fun to have the model in the centre of your visual field. After all, she is what you’re there to draw, so it’s natural to rest your eyes on her. At home, just choose something (so as not to keep referring to it as the object, I will call it the potted plant).
Choose anything you like. It doesn’t matter what or even where it is – because as soon as you focus on it, it automatically locates itself in the middle of your visual field..
This exercise is an adventure – using your eyes, physically, in a new way.
Whether you decide to draw or not isn’t the main issue. But the drawings, if you make them, will be beautiful and will be the witnesses to your having seen. The first exercise is the seeing.
Fix your gaze on the plant (or whatever you choose), and allow it to rest there. If you want, shut your eyes and then open them to rest on the plant.
And, very slowly, become aware of the field spreading out in all directions – right to the edges, the peripheries. Explore them just as you did when your hands were out there appearing and disappearing. But this time don’t use your hands, use your attention. Your gaze is still resting on the plant. Your attention is on the peripheries, slowly moving around them till you have completed a whole circle.
Try this until you are sure you can do it – closing your eyes, resting them, opening them – at rest, on the plant – and then, without shifting your gaze, becoming slowly aware of the whole field,, right out to the edges, or peripheries. How much, and how far out, can you be mindful of without moving your gaze from its resting-place?
It is actually possible to look directly at one thing (potted plant) and pay attention to something else (periphery). This is called external fixation – your eyes are not directed there, yet your visual attention is.
You aren’t ‘seeing’ any more than you ever did. Yet, without moving your eyes, you have allowed yourself to receive much more information. You could compare the visual field to a computer screen: while you look at the middle, the cursor of your attention can wander out to explore the edges.
What is out there? At one point there is vision (something seen) and beyond it there is not. Is there a uniform blur and fadeout, or a sharpness, or a shimmering? Are some areas of the periphery different than others?
Again, go through the stages of this exercise. Remember that you are practicing a completely new way of seeing, and it may take several tries. The elementary rule is not to shift your gaze. If you do ‘lose it,’ close and reopen your eyes and begin again.
OK, let’s draw the peripheries.
Making drawings verifies this act of attention. The drawings declare: ‘This is what I have seen.’
You’ll need a few simple materials – a board, paper and some chalk or soft conté. Your field is large so the paper should be large too, at least A3 (9½ by 12 inches). Put it across your lap and a chair front of you. Across, because you have two eyes so your visual field is wider than it is high. Before you start, write on the top of the paper: ONLY PERIPHERIES.
Gaze exactly as before, but this time with the chalk ready in your hand. With eyes resting continually on the plant (and definitely not looking down at the page), draw only the peripheries.
When you have followed the cursor of your attention all around the peripheries of your visual field, drawing as you go, then you can look down.
It is fun to go into this exercise without any images to check out. This is your visual field, and only you know what you have seen.
Could you take this seriously? To draw peripheries only, not what you are looking at, doesn’t make sense. It is normal to be prejudiced in favour of your focal point, and only gradually, through two or three trials, to be able to redirect your attention outwards across the field.
More seriously, maybe you can’t quite believe you should keep your gaze at rest – you have to sneak a look at the sides of the room in order to get the details, reasoning that, if your head is fixed, your eyes are allowed to wander.
It’s hard too, at the start, not to be interested in your picture, and you may have kept breaking off your gaze to see what’s happening to the drawing. But this defeats the purpose of the experiment. Which is not the drawing per se, but the experience of a new way of looking at reality.
So-called “Blind drawing”
Drawing teachers have turned this kind of “blind drawing” – drawing with your eyes on what you’re looking at – into an exercise, but it has actually has been around for a long, long time. It is not extraordinary; it is the natural condition of attention. ‘What is this drawing? Rodin, as an old man, asked. ‘Not once…. did I shift my eyes from the model. Why? Because I wanted to be sure that nothing evaded my grasp.’
Drawing too much
Maybe you drew too much. In spite of writing ONLY PERIPHERIES you may have drawn a lot more Any whole object which you can name is not at the periphery. If you’ve done this right, your paper will be empty except at the edges.
Draw again and ask yourself, ‘What’s behind that? What’s farther out? What’s the very last bit of visual information I can see?’ This is where you should be drawing, away out at the very brink where everything disappears.
The mystic Simone Weil spoke of attention as ‘suspending our thought, leaving it detached, empty…as a man on a mountain who, as he looks forward, sees also below him, without actually looking at them, a great many forests and plains.’
Think about this beautiful description of what it’s like to be attentive – can your vision be like this?
If you take you time and draw seriously, you will start to notice and experience strange, new things. Keep your drawings. On the next bog you will see other peripheral drawings made in this way. You willl learn about the physical changes that occur in the eye when we draw like this – and much, much more.