How much do we really see of the world around us, of its beauty, its complexity?
Even when we’re drawing something, how much of it do we really see?
How to See More
Today, I’ve got a very simple drawing exercise for you that has the potential to help you see as you’ve never seen before. More completely, and more deeply.
It starts with something very small, with taking the time to notice it, in all its beautiful detail.
And then drawing it.
Can you spare 20 minutes?
I’d like to encourage you to try this exercise, at least once, to begin with. See how it feels. Put aside some uninterrupted time. 20 minutes should be plenty.
Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Prepare your space
First, prepare a space to draw. A table is good, and you don’t need much. An ordinary sketchpad and a pencil or pen. If you’re using a pencil, make sure it’s sharp. If a pen, fine line drawing pens are best.
Make sure the space is clear of clutter, and comfortable.
All done? Great. Now we need to find something to draw.
Step 2: Find your subject
Go out into your garden.
If you don’t have one, or access to one, go somewhere where there is some nature, some plants. A park would be great. A hedgerow by a road will do just as well. A town centre where there is a tree or two, or some flowers in baskets. It doesn’t matter, anywhere where something natural is growing.
Now take a moment to calm yourself. Take a few deep breaths. Close your eyes. This step is important! Don’t rush it.
Now open your eyes and look around.
Your job now is to choose something very, very small.
A single leaf. A small flower, perhaps, or just a single petal from a flower.
Got it? Now take it back to your space.
Step 3: Look
Sit down. Remove all distractions. Log out. Switch off.
Place your subject carefully on a blank sheet of your sketch pad.
Close your eyes and take a few deep, slow breaths.
Now just look.
Begin with the outline. Let your eye slowly trace its edge, as if you were touching it, tracing it with your finger. Notice each small detail and change of direction of the contour. If it’s a leaf, trace the veins with your eye.
Step 4: Look again
Now do the same thing again. Look more closely this time. You can see more than you have so far if you try.
What can you find that you didn’t notice the first time?
Spend at least five minutes just looking before you try to draw anything. Five minutes may not sound like long, but it’s rare that we spend that long just looking at something. Five minutes can seem like a long time if all you’re doing is looking.
If you find that your mind wanders as you do this, don’t worry about it, just gently bring it back to focus on your subject. Set a timer for 5 minutes if it helps, so you don’t keep looking at the clock.
Whatever your subject is, let it become your whole world for five minutes.
Step 5: Draw
Now pick a point on the contour of your subject, and begin to draw its outline.
Draw all the way around, trying to make sure you notice and replicate each small detail, each tiny change of direction in the contour.
You can lift your pen or pencil, and you can look at your drawing. This isn’t blind contour drawing. It’s just about seeing.
Draw very slowly. No, more slowly than that. Feel the outline of the object. Be aware of your breath as you draw.
When you’ve got all the way around to where you started, and you’ve added any internal detail that you’d like to, stop and sit back.
If you’ve done this exercise right, you should be feeling a little tired after it, even if you only drew for a short time. If you do, that means you stretched your ability to focus.
Increasing your resolution
There’s something interesting I’ve noticed about our ability to focus on something; It’s a skill that needs to be practised and developed. You’d think that if you just decided to focus, that you could, as much as you needed to. But it isn’t so. Focus needs to be stretched.
If you want some inspiration, I’d recommend looking at some of Ellsworth Kelly’s beautiful, simple contour drawings of leaves and flowers. Here’s a couple to get you started:
What this exercise will teach you
This exercise is about increasing your ability to focus. Because once you’ve done that you’ll notice more of what you’re drawing.
There are also two very important bonuses you get for free:
- You will notice more of the beauty in the world around you
- You will connect with nature on a deeper level
My favourite time to do this is first thing in the morning, right after I’ve done my meditation, before anyone else is awake. It’s a gift I give myself, a beautiful and inspiring way to start each day.
The more you do it, the more you see – and the more beautifully you draw
Doing this once or twice will be interesting. But if you really want to see a difference, you’ll need to put some time aside to do it regularly, over a period of time.
At Creative Triggers, we’re doing this exercise through July for our monthly drawing challenge.
One of the most fundamental problems of drawing well is getting over the mental image of something that we have in our heads so that we can draw what’s really there. Anyone who’s tried seriously to draw knows this is true.
Seeing completely makes the difference between a truly beautiful drawing, and one that looks like every other drawing of a leaf (flower, tree, face, whatever).
Seeing more will make your drawings more beautiful because what you draw will be based on truth, on what you see, and not on what you assume is there.
So don’t be lazy. Seeing beauty is too great a thing to squander. Take the time to really see something, in all its beautiful detail.
Then draw it.
Thanks for reading,
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