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Life Drawing

 

In wanting to get back into drawing and art, I'm trying to change my approach.

In the past, I would draw the distinct hard outlines of the subject. It's easier this way. We define the objects in our vision by their easily seen outskirts. But that's not how it is in reality.

I work in an office that has a ceiling of hanging fluorescent lights. These lights have gray metal frames and a gray metal mesh that house the tubes. The light casts its way upward to the 2' x 2' white ceiling tiles, and the network of these is broken only by an air duct every eight tiles. The hanging lights are spaced about every five tiles.

Now if I were to draw this normally, I would draw fine lines to represent the ceiling tiles, vectoring their intersection at some great distant point. Blank paper between the lines would represent the tiles themselves. The lights would appear harder, more strongly defined - dark pencil shades for the gray metal. Ta-da! Look at what I did, Ma!

But that's not how it is. The tiles, in shadow about four tiles from the lights, are about as dark as some of the gray metal of the lights themselves. The gray metal appears in various shades, ranging from deep gray to almost white, depending on its proximity to the light.

And so to draw this accurately, I would need to draw it without seeing the outlines. My pencil only needs to color the shades, the shadows. How these shades blend into other objects is irrelevant to the truth of the scene before me. No lines required, really.

We tend to see life in terms of hard lines and fixed objects. Children draw in this way. They outline the body in stick figure and we clap and hug them for their great depiction of the world.

I don't think our ability to portray our world changes much as get older. We still draw in stick figures in the way that we depict people in our minds - but in truth these people are shades of shadow that blend into the world around them. We look for the hard lines: Republican, Democrat, home owner, apartment dweller, big truck, well-groomed, bad hair, etc. The simple definitions for the quick sketch that gets the point across.

It's much harder to draw the shadows. Almost awkward. The picture doesn't look quite right.

But I notice that if you move the picture further away, it's actually quite accurate. The shadows blend together nicely and the picture is a solid representation of the scene as it is in truth. And funny, but the lined drawing, when seen from an increasing distance, loses its accuracy.

I was walking through Target with Bari last night, grocery shopping. I was being myself, bouncing around and humming/singing, being goofy.

"You're so weird."
"I'm just me. I'm having fun. I love grocery shopping."
"You do that, Dad."

10 minutes later, we were in the checkout and Bari wanted to buy herself two new CD's, but didn't have the money.

"I can give you some of the money that I would have spent on your Christmas present," I offered.
Her eyes lit up. "Really?"
"Here," I said, handing her two twenties. And off she ran.

I met her in the truck and on the way home she's blabbing about seeing a couple of football guys in Target, how she planned to finish her Spanish when she got home, how she loved the idea of getting home to listen to the CD's. And then I turned the truck into a neighborhood.

"What are you doing?"
"Look at all the Christmas decorations."
"Dad! It doesn't happen often, but I want to get home right away to finish my homework - and listen to my CD's."
"Same distance, different route." I told her. "I'm being sentimental."
"Well, you're a sentimental guy."
That surprised me. "Me?" I'm not normally into Christmas decorations. "You think I'm sentimental?"
"You're a thinker. You can't be a thinker if you don't care about things. People who don't care about things don't think about them."

Life is surprising. This morning I rode my bike to work in 20 degree weather with wet hair and short sleeves - no coat, hat, or gloves. My skin was shocked, but it felt exhilarating.

As I approached my normal parking spot for my bike by the west entrance to the building, I came up behind a woman who seemed determined to ignore me. My initial thought: she's either timid and afraid of me pulling up behind her and doesn't want to look at me, or she's simply unaffected and I'm of no importance to her - she's uppity.

I dismounted and parked, then walked in step behind her. She walked through the carded turnstile doors and I followed. As she turned to climb the stairs, she spun toward me, half-smiling and her face full of question.

"Aren't you cold?"
"A little, sure."
"How far do you ride?"
"About a mile and a half."

No one is drawn well with hard lines, eh?

 


Tags: my life
by Brett Rogers, 12/8/2004 12:00:00 AM
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