exercise one: focus

Why do it?

Drawing is both a verb and a noun. Something we can do and something we can make. Drawing meditation begins with understanding the difference and concentrating all efforts on the doing and completely ignoring the making.

This is because once we focus on making a drawing we loose sight of what we are looking at and instead concentrate on what we are making.

If you watch a child draw they will spend almost all their time looking at the paper because for a child the marks on the paper and the image they make are what is important. If you watch and artist draw they will spend around half their time looking up rather than down at the paper because they are interested in recording what they see. In meditation we are only interested (at least initially) on seeing so we spend all our time looking at the object and no time looking at the paper.

By not looking at the paper we can fully concentrate on seeing. The arm, hand and fingers holding the pencil are there simply to aid the focus. By using a pencil to follow our eyes we become more attentive to the object we are seeing than if we simply were to look at it.

Do what?

Find an interesting plant to draw. Our brain likes things to be complicated and have lots of contrast, so a bushy plant with lots of leaves or a grassy plant with lots of overlapping stems is ideal. Put the plant on a table close to you.

You will need a piece of A3 paper taped to the table or drawing board or a hard backed ring bound sketchbook and a nice sharp B pencil. It is also useful to have a timer set for 5 minutes.

You are going to be looking carefully at the edges of the plant, its leaves, stems, flowers or whatever and at no stage in the drawing are you to look at the paper. Spend some time looking at the plant then choose a likely place to start the seeing/drawing. Look closely at the chosen edge and with your eyes only, slowly, very slowly, millimetre by millimetre follow the line. When you get to the end of the line, maybe it hits another line you will have to decide where to go next. It makes no difference just set off and follow the next line with your eyes.

After a minute or so of this go back to the start and this time you are going to repeat the seeing very slowly but this time use are going to use the pencil to follow your eye’s journey. So look at the paper and decide on a good place to start, bearing in mind this is the only time you will be able to look at the paper for the whole drawing. So for instance start at the bottom left if you intend to follow edges to the right and upwards.

When you are ready and relaxed, set your timer, look back at your starting point and start to follow the edge again but this time trace the journey of your eye with the pencil, again millimetre by millimetre. when you come to the end of an edge simple choose another and set off again. You can lift the pencil from the paper and put it down where you think the next line might start but you must not look down at the paper until the timer sounds.