Blog 6 – Round Drawings – an exercise from The Creative Eye

1. The day before

The Danes have a new way of entertaining their employees at get-togethers.
Today I am off to teach 40-45 people to draw the nude model in 1½ hours. They are staff at a discoteque and this is their annual Christmas party. It is to be a surprise – they have not been told what the “event” will be. The first time I called the boss, who is arranging it, he was hung over and wanted to put off the call, but I did nail him down the second time. He has agreed reluctantly to go along with my drawing exercise . I told him I could not teach people to draw a nude model in 1½ hours, any other way. He says there must be 2 models.

CH7 p168 2 round drawings, colour and black

CH7 p171 The round drawings

So we are going to do Round Drawings, going from one to the next and gradually developing the one pose from all angles , returning to our own drawing at the end to put in details. I’ll show them copies of drawings made this way in adult life drawing classes, where I have taught this exercise successfully many times.

As we are so many, we’ll need to form 2 circles. The boss said no, it is on an old stage and it has to be a horseshoe in front of the bar, with people at tables. We ended up agreeing on the horseshoe. The models will hold the same pose but it will be seen – and drawn – from every direction.
I have to persuade them to draw very little – just a short vertical mark – in the core of a tense, standing pose where the arms are away from the torso. I’ll will give them stumps of coloured chalk-pastel. After the first 5 drawings (they will move to the right) I‘ll let them extend their marks – into the head, through hips and thigh, shoulder and upper  arm. Always extending from the core.
I will draw too, show them everything.
The other time I did this – a similar event with 35 actors – I gave them too many dark chalks and the drawings got overloaded and heavy. But it worked well. Today, with over 40 drawing, I have chosen light, bright colours.

Chalk drawing in light bright colours CH7-Y1

Chalk drawings CH7-U1

It may be a terrible failure.
My son, also an art teacher, says “If they won’t listen to you, just leave.”

Maybe it should be like Musical Chairs and anyone who won’t comply (which usually means, draws too much) has to leave the game.
Why did the boss insist on 2 models? It may not matter. Now the female model tells me on the phone that she can’t lift her arms and is bringing a broomstick to lean on.

I am excited.

2 The day after

It was a disaster  – but everyone was happy so I was the only one who suffered. Got up there by train in the windy cold to a little street in Elsinore with the 2 sweet models and the stuff, and it was all dark and we could not get in. Finally the proprietor heard us and opened a gate and took us up a metal outside stair – it was indeed a discothèque – the one they all work at – and it just was dark, and pounding with music and happy shouts and laughter. There were my “students” all 43 of them, sitting around tables having eaten and still drinking steadily. Both the boss and my models tried to persuade me not to bother trying to teach them but I was stubborn and still hopeful. The boss would not have the tables cleared, as people would need their drinks, though he agreed to turn up the lights a bit and even turn down the background pounding. He had told me there was plenty of light, but “plenty” in a discothèque means just enough to navigate. Everyone was tanked and gleeful, rising off and on to ‘skål’ and shout. I laid out the materials and waited to be introduced but the boss explained that he had done so (it was impossible to hear him ) and just to go ahead.

The uproar was continuous. I did manage a few instructions before I realized it was not going to work. The models were cool, standing in a narrow space between the tables, and the kids respected them, anyway. Me they scarcely noticed past goodnaturedly putting up with my presence. Towards the end, half the people were wandering around and no one noticed the prize drawing I chose. Everyone was sweet tempered. They enjoyed marking up the painstakingly prepared blue paper with the bright coloured chalks.

I am mad at myself that I forgot to photograph at the end. Afterwards as I was trying to find my bits of coloured chalk and stack the boards, some soaked with spilled wine, what lights there were went off and the music and strobes went on and I just wanted to get out. On the train back we three talked about various disasters in our trades of teaching and modelling.

blog 1blog2The next morning, Looking back at my pretentious plans and instructions, I can only sigh.  Two drawings that came back with me by mistake show the separation into objects that is the brain’s pleasure. In the first, one can see a very good attempt at the “core”, but the curls on the model’s head came next – to the brain they were important- so they were added to the drawing, away off on their own.

The line drawing shows how the brain wants us to draw well-known objects  – arm, leg, head, torso with its sub-objects, breast and bum – on their own, and even includes the broomstick, and they are joined together by the contour. It is really a good likeness of the chunky model.

blog3

The third drawing certainly moves through the legs up into the torso in a beautifully accurate way, though the looped arms. like 2 handles on a jug, have been seen for themselves.

If only I had collected them all! These drawings also have the enormous plus of being “thrown off” just for fun, without shyness or ambition.

PS for serious  information about this exercise, and how to draw the whole, flowing body without being snagged and sabotaged by known, named, salient objects, read  The Creative Eye, chapter 7.

 

 

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Blog 5 On the Visual Field – about the peripheral exercises.

 

The Physical response

You’ve been  learning about the visual fileld and making some drawings of the edges of the field –Peripheral drawings. This last blog about the visual field is about that happens physically when you draw in this way

Some people end up feeling extremely tired,  others experience a kind of wooziness, even nausea. I feel heat at the outside edges of my eyes – the skin towards each temple. Photophobia – an adverse reaction to light – is noticed by many. In a room with neon lighting it’s specially difficult –– you are hyper-aware of reflections and glare. This may not be on the periphery, but it is a constant irritation. The plant begins to blur, or tremble – some people notice a white halo forming around it.

On the positive side, you may well become conscious of the immense depth, as well as the size, of the field – how far the cursor has to travel across and into a deep background to reach the peripheries. The room became like a huge, gray swimming pool – perhaps the way a very small child, if you sat her down at the door, would see it, and want to crawl out and explore it. If you’ve allowed yourself, you  can even go a step farther and draw the entire field in using this kind of seeing – you exerience what is called  ‘visual flooding’   and the results are wonderful.

CH2. p.44 student peripheral drawings

CH2.G1

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are student drawings.  Look too at these drawings by Rembrandt and Giacometti  – I am      convinced that they saw,  and drew, this way.

Giacometti space

Rembrandt sketch

 

 

 

This is because actual, physiological changes occur in your eyes when you use your peripheral vision. And when you get back into ordinary seeing mode, something else has happened that isn’t ordinary at all – there’s a very real intensification of depth vision or stereopsis.  For those who have depth vision and never, or hardly ever, use it, the aftermath of this exercise is a revelation. It is a new way of seeing the world.

Right after these exercises, get up and move around the room – or take a walk. You will find that everything stands out in space, as if furniture, people, trees were cut out of cardboard. This intensity of depth vision will last a while and gradually fade. 

The structure of the eye   CH2-F

The eye is a sphere. Light enters the pupil and strikes the retina, the layer of receptors at the back.

These cells, like the cells in the cortex  itself, are devoted to certain visual attributes and indifferent to others. At the back of the eye, the location of each cell is of prime importance – they form a kind of map of the visual field; it’s obvious that a cell would have to be in the direct path of light from a specific part of the field to be activated by it.

 

Rods and cones

The retinal cells are called rods and cones because of their shape, and have different functions. The cones are concentrated near the centre. Here the main focus of the light is concentrated. In normal vision, fully 80% of the visual brain busies itself with information from this area, which actually receives input from only 10% of the whole retina.

These 6 million cones are specialized for wavelengths that we see as colours – yellows nearest the centre, others spread across the retina and blues farthest out. The cones decrease in number the farther out they are located, and there are none at the peripheries.

The rods are much more numerous, numbering 120 million. The further from the centre, the more they gain the monopoly, and out towards the peripheries they take over completely.

What were you doing?

When you paid attention to the peripheries, you were activating the rods of your eyes. And if you felt physical discomfort in doing so, there were physical reasons.

Rods are not happy in bright light. They do best with twilight or a dimly-lit room, so it’s no wonder you felt irritated by the light when you drew. The rods are most comfortable with ‘gloom’- twilight, moonlight, half-darkened interiors. Blues and greens, detected farther away from the centre, tend to become more intense in the dusk. Rods are also slower to respond to bright light, and can easily get overloaded – this explains your photophobia. Rods are also slowest to recover from a flood of brilliance – going out into bright light ‘bleaches’ the world of colour and tone for a short time, and has to be adjusted to. The reverse is true when you set off at night into the woods and have to wait for your eyes ‘to get used to the dark’. The rods pick up the mist of steady background luminance. They like being taken for a walk along the river at dusk, when everything is in shades of gray. Maybe you didn’t notice the lack of colour as you drew – you were using black and gray on white anyway – but if you think back, you might realize that no, you didn’t notice any colour out there. There was none .Check it out if you like.

 

Place a bright-coloured object (say a red shirt) at right angles to a mirror Stand back so the shirt is in the centre of your visual field and the mirror (with the shirt in it) is at the periphery. Check out the peripheral shirt.

 

Those who claim to be able to see auras have probably trained themselves to deactivate their focus, and if the long rods of their eyes are particularly well-adapted, perhaps genetically predisposed, the central shimmering created by the unfocused cones can be perceived as colours. This kind of seeing has a moral association – it cannot choose and judge so it is more likely to avoid being distorted by personal preconceptions.

Simone Weil equated attention with prayer (attender means to wait in French). She wrote that it is ‘a special way of waiting upon truth, setting our hearts upon it, yet not allowing ourselves to go in search of it.’

What was going on?

By removing your attention from the focal point, you were de-activating the cones, denying them their customary top-dog position. You could not actively go in search of the periphery – that would have meant moving your eyes and would not work. So you set your heart upon it by paying attention – that special way of waiting upon truth.

When attention takes over, the chatter of the mind is stilled. Think back to your experience as you drew the peripheries, how the room became remarkably silent. You can also remember other experiences in your life, and in your art, when you have paid attention. The ability to step aside, to be empty, to disappear, is the essence of creativity.

In Castaneda’s Tales of Power the sorcerer told the apprentice to walk for hours in the chaparral, gazing before him with his peripheral vision, until the chatter in his mind was stilled.

When I read this, I wondered what would happen if one were to draw this way – the result was the peripheral drawiing exercises.

For more about vision, read  ‘The Creative Eye,’  the book these exercises are taken from.

 

 

The Visual Field 2: Continuing the exercise

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..

An adventure

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?

Attention

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.

The cursor

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.

Close your eyes

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.

drawingthe peripheries - exercise about the visual field.

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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.


Difficulties

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.

First exercise – The Creative Eye

Exercises from the book “The Creative Eye.” 1. The Visual Field. This is the second blog and first exercise.
You don’t need any drawing materials for this one. Just sit back and see what is before you. It you’re reading this off a screen, look up (or back up) so more of the room or area you are in can be seen.

What you see before you is your visual field. Try to experience it without choosing anything in particular. If you’re in a lighted room, you’ll see various objects in it, varying tones of darks and lights. Colours correspond to objects or areas. If someone is there and moves, you are aware of it, and if it’s someone familiar you hardly register it. You experience space and depth by a slight shifting of boundaries against backgrounds, or by the blurring of more distant objects and the clarity of those nearby. Ask yourself, where does vision cease and there is nothing?

testing th visual field

testing the visual field

*Try this: raise your hands and gradually move them farther away from the centre of the field,as you continue to gaze forward. Eventually it happens – you can’t see your hands any more. Explore (without of course shifting your gaze) these vanishing places – overhead, to the sides and along the lower edge of the field. These are the boundaries of the visual field – the peripheries.

Your visual field is yours alone.
So, don’t move your eyes; keep them in ‘neutral’, and let them continue to rest and gaze quietly. If you turn your head or move your eyes, it slips about and changes. As you become aware of it, you’ll be less inclined to allow it to move. Just look. Your focus is in the centre of the field. Now, keeping it there, gradually let yourself become aware of what else is present in your field of vision – till you are able to hold the whole field in your awareness.
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This brief act of looking is the first exercise. You are setting out on an exploration of the act of sight, and of how your own, human vision – special to the species, special to you – is central to your art and your creativity.