Drawing Without Looking

I first came across the idea of drawing without looking, indeed with the eyes completely closed, as a student, and found it incredibly liberating. It is exciting to feel the surface of an object and explore its nooks and crannies, its smoothness or softness, spikey bits or rounded contour, temperature and weight, and then convey those sensations into marks on paper, with a feel for the relationship between various areas of the subject in question. It requires considerable attention, but the drawings develop rapidly as there is no restraining ‘eye’ reflecting back to the brain, questioning every move and mark.

At College we were given an unidentified object to hold in our non-dominant hand behind our back, and with eyes closed we drew what we explored through touch on the easel in front of us. I was given a pineapple – rather heavy to hold behind my back, but instantly recognisable with its prickly skin. I was thrilled with the drawing which, although not figurative, I was told was the ‘essence of pineapple’! Such drawings are full of energy, often with a wide variety of vigorous marks. I was learning, as Picasso so famously stated, to ‘draw like a child’, responding to a whole sensory experience.

Drawing without looking at the paper, but concentrating on the object or scene you are drawing is another worthwhile exercise, and many artists do this much of the time. It encourages you to really look, to analyse the form, tones, colour, and commit these to paper without the feedback (potentially negative) that comes from looking at the drawing itself. A quick glance to check a starting point for a line may be required, but a continuous line drawing negates this ‘checking’ and maintains the freedom of the line. If sketching outdoors, try following a skyline or scene from left to right, starting at the left side of the paper with your hand following the movement and attention of your eyes, adding details as they arise, without lifting the pen or other drawing material from the paper. You may be surprised.

Recently I lead an online Zoom workshop on Experimental Drawing for Rhizome Artists’ Collective. Held objects were personally chosen fruit and vegetables, shells and other collected items. The more irregular items provided the most interesting drawings, and self-portraits proved most amusing! Continuous line drawings of interiors included cats and artists materials. It is incredible how easily recognisable a pair of scissors is from a few squiggles.

Much has been written about the possible influence of the R and L hemispheres of the brain, and how the current education system tends to develop the verbal, numerical and rational side of the brain (L hemisphere) over non-linear, non-rational, creative thought processes (predominantly R hemisphere). We can get stuck in trying to rationalise what we see, and judge what we commit to paper. These exercises help to free us from the interfering, correcting influence of the L hemisphere and allow us to ‘be’ in the present, hand reflecting thought and vision. It can be meditative, therapeutic and revolutionise your practice. Try it!

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