Why I Draw

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I have what you might call a ‘nervous brain’. I sleep lightly, start easily, and am prone to bouts of prickly anxiety that creep up to my scalp. A cup of coffee sends me into low orbit. Pretty sure I’ve never sat through an entire horror movie without bolting to the lobby at least twice. I’m sensitive.

And look, if you live in this overstimulated modern world, particularly in the imaginatively jam-packed New York City, you may identify with some of these symptoms. For example, your blood pressure may rise a little bit just reading sentences like: “We are being delayed due to train traffic ahead” or “the president has issued a series of tweets”. There are lots of methods folks use to salve the generalized anxiety of modern life  – various psychoactive substances, talk therapy, meditation, yoga, long distance running – and I’ve used them all at one time or another. But the thing that never fails for me is drawing. Drawing makes me feel better every time I do it.

Drawing is really hard, cognitively speaking. My drug of choice – life drawing – demands a special kind of inner calm. Transmuting a slice of the pulsing, breathing, seething, sweating three-dimensional reality around me onto a fresh sheet of paper requires every brain cell I have available. Is the curve of that shoulder accurate? Did the model incrementally reposition her/himself? Does that smudge of graphite do what I want it to do? How many minutes left in this pose? Where did I put that eraser? Do I have time to make the torso a little longer? The repetitive manual tasks of sketching soothe my frazzled nerves. The slight friction of pencil drawn against paper tooth is deeply satisfying. I get so busy solving the immediate problems of my drawing that I don’t have time to think about anything else my nervous brain might latch onto. There’s not enough leftover processing power to fret about whether I remembered to send a work email or if I’m eating too much bread. Drawing takes so much of my concentration that it cleanses my mind of all other worries. I lose myself in the lines.

When the pose is finished and I look away from the model, the world is transformed for me. I look at the triangles formed where the rafters meet the ceiling in a whole new way – I know just how I would draw them. I can appreciate the way the overhead light falls onto a chair back, the specific color of the stage drapes, the angle of the open door. My brain continues to flatten everything I see into sets of shapes and areas of color. It’s as though the whole visible world is organizing itself to pose for me.

I’m addicted to drawing now. Even when I’m packing up my supplies for the night, I’m thinking about the next time I will be able to draw. I always walk out into the cool embrace of night with a deep sense of calm relaxation. Drawing works every time.

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  1. I like the thoughts expressed in your article. Yes, I too emerge from drawing feeling renewed and refreshed. Is it because when drawing we use the spatial, right side of our brains that is not involved with trivia?
    As a dyslexic I find left brained activities such as reading and small talk to be slow and difficult, but to be engaged in right brained activities such as drawing, designing and geometry, that’s where I find peace and freedom.
    Hilary Page http://www.hilarypage.com

  2. You explained it for me! I’ve always enjoyed that vision after drawing, but couldn’t quite explain it as well as you did. It’s like everything looks like a drawing, or a possibility. I used to make copies at the Met, and after I packed up my gear and walked thru the galleries, the paintings would look 3D. If someone spoke to me, and I replied, the paintings would look flat! Using a different part of our brain for sure. If more people could experience life this way, the world would be a better place for us!

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