An assignment to make me better

This creature, hiding his hands for so long, grows a new protective limb; a second ribcage around the heart—an Odalisque refusing intimacy; allergic to vulnerability.

My hands are prettiest when they are smeared in ink, paint, any pigment; any evidence of my stock in trade. Drawing is my origin, my core. It’s something I have always done. Drawing is the root from which has grown almost anything that renders me useful or purposeful in this world. It can all be traced back.

Drawing is how I learned the world; learned to see things— to really see. That takes all the senses. The eyes see in one way; it is the most common, but incomplete. You cannot describe wind if you have never felt it. Figure drawing is an age old study— useful, necessary, but incomplete. To draw you must understand. The body, like everything, is a thing that must be explored to be understood. You need your hands for more than drawing; muscle memory holds the shapes of things more accurately than the eyes can see.

When I was a boy growing up on the farm, I drew horses. Almost exclusively for a time. It’s what I knew best, what I was most interested in, had most access to. Cats as well, I suppose. Never drew dogs much, though we had them too; they made less sense to me.

When a drawing is going really well, all decisions are executive. There are no meetings, no weighing. The decisions come from a place i have only transient access to. The best I can do, then, is watch the hands. They don’t make the decisions entirely, but their memory is smarter than me— they can tell you a lot if you pay attention. This is how the practice is the way to mastering. This is where I have failed in recent years.

I picked up a new Moleskine a couple of weeks ago with the intention of returning to the regular practice of what is my core; the intention of mastering what I’m made of. It’s what I need. And last night a friend proved a truly good one by ‘forcing’ me to begin. Pushed against my resistance, gave me an assignment, made it interesting. Pushed me the whole way, not letting me trail off, unfinished, good enough.

And I got to that place where the decisions make themselves, me not knowing anymore where things were coming from because they were coming from all of memory, with no load time. It was like swimming, or flying; like the first time you ride your bike after a long winter dormancy. Zac watched my hands even as I did, not knowing that I wasn’t driving anymore—just my hands, and some other pilot. It’s a powerful thing; a rare moment for me recently, but showing up more means it’ll happen more. It’s not like searching for gold, or oil.

I thanked him twelve times, thirteen times for the push, for being good enough to irritate me into doing what’s good for me; what I’m built for. I consider this one a collaboration, then. It’s not really about the drawing; it’s about getting to that place.

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