How many of you do things at breakneck speed because your to-do list is miles long? And does that tendency spill over into your writing life? Your artistic life?
Mine does. This week’s Artist’s Way work brought up an important reminder: slow down.
As part of my Artist’s Way journey, I’m learning to draw (see my Artist’s Way Check In #1). Being who I am means I often jump into things thinking it won’t take me long to figure them out. It’s not always the best approach. I really have to practice patience to stop myself from giving up on unfamiliar things, from deciding I can’t do this or that and moving on. With drawing, I had this idea that I could move through the lessons Shawn (my son/teacher) gave me fast enough to move on to picking up a paint brush instead of a pencil.
Silly me. Doing contour drawings – for someone who has never spent much time drawing – is a huge challenge in patience. It’s a very different way of putting things on the page than when I write.
When I write, I carry things around in my head for a long time before they spill onto the page. I mull words over, have interior conversations, work things out. Then I sit down at the computer and words fly out of my fingers. With drawing, I can’t do that. There isn’t a way to hold an object in my head and then have it fly out of my drawing pencil. The slow part is in the actual drawing. And the real-time observation.
Shawn sat with me at the Blue Moon coffehouse in Minneapolis last Friday and looked at the drawings I’ve done so far. I’m sketching mundane things just to learn how to use the pencils and the space on the paper. He looked at drawings of a brass bell, a matchbook, candles on a tray, and a Kleenex box. I was embarrassed by what I considered failed attempts while he saw a clear progression in my use of drawing tools. He saw success in how I looked at objects in space. And he said, very clearly, “You need to slow down.”
Then we looked at the drawings together. Shawn pointed to lines that indicated to him that I had sketched too fast. He could see when I began to draw more slowly. We sat at a back table in the coffeehouse while he showed me how he looked at things to make a sketch. We deconstructed the lamp on the table, looked at all of the shapes within the whole of the lamp. I now have a new assignment to draw the Kleenex box – my most successful drawing – a few more times with new information about how to place it on the page.
When I move back into my own territory as a writer, I can draw the parallel: I read poems all the time in which the poet has rushed through the piece, slapped down words that haven’t been fully considered, and sent it off before it was ready. Maybe I’ll start using Shawn’s directive to slow down as a more frequent part of the comments I offer to those whose work I read.
As for that chapter I just completed in The Artist’s Way, there is one line I’d like to share: “….creativity is grounded in reality, in the particular, the focused, the well observed or specifically imagined.” In order to get that focus, to observe well, we really must slow down.
Thanks for that thonk on the head, Shawn.