Drawing update – the cormorant

Hello all again, here is my first post after a while, and I wish to share some insights in my drawing process and a few thoughts and observations here and there.

First sketch

This first version of the drawing served the purpose of getting myself familiar with the shapes and proportions of the bird in the picture. I draw birds only seldom and I have no model in my mind to follow, so I have to take some extra preparation steps before diving into the final drawing. Cormorants are water birds, but they lack the substance to make their feathers waterproof, so they spend quite a lot of time standing like this to dry.

Every start is a blank canvas. How do I know how much of my previous experience will be useful? What awaits me this time?

Rough shading

I copied the outlines of the sketch on a new piece of paper, with a light pencil, and started filling the spaces with a uniform and quite light shading.

That looks familiar, I guess that’s a good sign.

Adding the first darker layer

This part had been my favourite. It required me a change of mode, because I fully focused on the shapes and the contrasts between the various parts of the picture, and forgot about the big picture. The fact that this layer of darker and more detailed shading took a long time made it even more valuable to me.

The magic is in the details. Observing while staying still, almost disappearing, and the observed live their life undisturbed. How I loved that feeling when I was out in the field, silent spectator, invisible to the wildlife (if they acknowledged me, at least I hope I was considered a harmless human)!

Taking shape…

The middle part of the bird required me a marked change in texture. I was initially having a hard time rendering the small ruffled feathers of the neck and the shiny feathers of the shoulders. I was very hopeful for the tail, but it didn’t come out as I wished. The point in the whole drawing is that I always added shades and never erased: some parts would have been way easier to fill up with a dark tone and then edited by erasing the tiny light strips of the feather spines – but I went for the slower and less forgiving path.

Am I trying to prove to myself and you that I’m worth it? Do you need that? I guess not, but it’s a very old habit of mine and it will take some more time to fade.

Almost ready…

I was pretty happy with how it turned out. It looked sort of flat, but it’s how I prefer my drawings to look like. I like when they don’t reflect the picture or the reality as close as they could. I want them to be a filtered representation, and the filter to be visible. So I could have considered it done, at that point.

There is rarely the chance to get anything 100% ready anyway. We would wait the whole time in front of a stalling progress bar.

One more layer of 6B pencil – signed and done

Here is the final step, one more layer of dark pencil to enhance the contrasts. I didn’t smooth out the hatching lines on purpose, and I wished I had used a coarser paper. Time to visit one of those wonderful stationery shops where you get in needing nothing and get out with a bunch of incredible stuff!

That’s my gift, my time, my attention, my patience. The little shared moments shine like fireflies.

Thanks for reading, and see you at the next update!

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Happy New Year 2019 and a few updates

Let’s start 2019 with a post packed with good news and wishes for the year that just started!

Last year was definitely challenging, but ended with a great positive note: in December I went back to work, back to the 106-key keyboard:

At the new job I found an atmosphere where I can keep healing at my own pace, while contributing to the company. As my first task, I chose to continue the development of a small software package. As I explored the code to get familiar with it and decide where to start making changes, I slowly saw how much I can see that software as a mirror – so that taking care of the software became a way of healing myself, by carefully picking the parts I could replace while keeping the program functional. I could have decided to rewrite it from scratch, but I didn’t feel brave enough to start something 100% mine, nor to abandon the thread of functionality of the current code. It will not be a straightforward task, but I know what I have to do, and I know it will be an enriching experience.

Being employed again means I suddenly have a lot less practical worries about the future, and therefore I am quite optimistic for the upcoming year. I will need a bit of time to adjust to the new routine, and to keep playing music with my mind fully present (sorry Sven for our last concerts where I was barely paying attention!). I have mixed feelings about my job taking so much of my energy and attention, but at the same time I have already seen how I can make it a meaningful and fulfilling practice.

For other activities I have no specific plans. As usual, I would like to draw, craft, knit, play music and meet horses more than last year, but I prefer to follow inspiration rather than goals. Let’s see 🙂

That’s all for this post! I wish all my readers a great start in the new year, and the strength and peace of mind to keep navigating their lives’ rivers.

The way and the shortcuts

I was thinking about how setting a goal shapes the way one takes to reach it.

Where am I going?

Let me pick an example with music, my most familiar environment. Let’s say my orchestra plans to play a given difficult piece for next concert. That goal will influence all rehearsals, filling them with a detailed plan, that includes the progressive steps to the full execution of that piece: separate rehearsals per section, focus on getting to play to the required speed, focus on expression, and finally playing the piece properly from start to finish.

When difficulties arise during rehearsals and it starts to look like we are not progressing as fast as we thought, it’s time to find shortcuts. We simplify our parts, play a little slower than required, remove details. This is where I start to diverge from how one is expected to work. I rarely think about the goal directly, it is for me more of a part of the landscape that I sometimes remember to look at, but my interest is on my immediate surroundings, on the atmosphere at the current rehearsal, on what I can do right now. I’m relieved that someone else is responsible for keeping the boat sailing straight towards the goal, because I just couldn’t! My work is more of a fractal exploration, without direction, with the focus on how I walk, and no eye on the time – in this mindset, shortcuts simply make no sense. I observe and I accidentally also take part to the rehearsal. This is where I’m not offering any grip to the usual motivation talks which sound like  “Don’t you feel the pressure, the urge to reach the goal?”. No, I don’t. It doesn’t mean I explicitely avoid it, but simply that it will be the side effect of me having the space to wander at will. I first had to prove that my random exploration takes me to the goal anyway, before I was given the trust to be left free alongside the bridled horses, apparently aimless, for the surprise of some.

I felt that this can be a good parallel with how one works with animals, for example during horse riding. I sometimes get the feeling that the rider has a goal in mind and gets to the point where the test approaches and they start looking for shortcuts, but that is where+why the horse loses connection – because the horse doesn’t seem to think in terms of goals, and the proposed shortcuts look like forced steps that take attention further away from the flow of observation, of being in the present. This gearing up tends to make things work both worse and slower, it requires even more shortcuts, and that brings the opposite of the desired effect!  It takes a lot of trust to stop this vicious cycle when the deadline is approaching, but re-focusing on the present seems to me one of the few respectful and efficient ways out.

I hope that makes sense! Let me know if that resonates with you, I’m curious to read about your experiences with deadlines, goals and shortcuts.

My Patreon account is now live!

Hello all, I am proud to announce my first post on Patreon!

I have opened an account where I will post a set of sketches every week about a given subject (from wildlife to plants and nature in general), accompanied by a bit of behind-the-scenes insights, and tips on how to observe and make your drawings look more realistic. I look forward for your support and your comments about my work!

Follow the link from the picture below to access my page:

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Raining, finally

It finally rains again, after a very dry summer. It seems that autumn has arrived suddenly, yesterday in the space a few hours: sudden rain, wind, clouds, temperature drop of nearly 15 degrees Celsius. It made a refreshing changement and a few evenings with wonderful skies.

I have impatiently waited for autumn, as I do almost every year. Now that the weather changed, I feel a new energy, the one I remember from my childhood, when autumn meant going back to school: new books, new topics, new pens and pencils, warm clothes, quietness indoors. I am ready to celebrate autumn and new beginnings, with the joy that others associate with spring and the rebirth of nature. I celebrate the red and gold of falling leaves, the arrival of autumn groceries (I love pumpkins!), the coziness of staying indoors and taking care of the house, the joy of getting ready for winter, when nature stays dormant for many months. Autumn is for me the bountiful harvest at the end of vegetative season, the fireworks of nature, a season of bright light.

Quick update

It has been a while since last post, thanks to a bit of vacation, an internet-free break before the upgrade to the new contract, and some good bits of offline progress. I’ve been reading insightful books; I have baked a few breads despite the scorching heat, which greatly helped the leavening process; I’ve been drawing more, and am preparing a significant announcement about my artsy activities… stay tuned for next update!

A reflection on mutual attention, regard, inner space

Long post ahead! Enjoy this giraffe picture first 🙂

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A few days ago I read Regardez Moi, an intriguing post from TeresaA about a horse clinic she attended. She reports how Nikki, the clinician, explained how she doesn’t use the term “respect” anymore when it comes to horses, in favour of “regard”. The latter term involves more the tuning of the horse’s attention to the person (and vice versa), rather than recognising some form of authority or leadership, or demanding compliance – “regard” can be seen as a communication agreement, before anything else can happen.

My own understanding of what she describes in the post is summarised in this schema, where an individual is surrounded by a circle, that includes and protects the individual’s personal space, time, resources and choices. Outside of it there is the external world, where many things happen, from which some of them try to reach the individual. The inputs are accepted when they pass through the circle’s doors:

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Stimuli, inputs and requests from the outer world bounce off the circle walls, or come to the doors of an individual’s space and try to enter. The individual can use various strategies:

  • letting all inputs through the doors, and decide how to deal with them once they’re in (maybe thanks to abundant time/resources? or for fear of being mean when turning them away? or because the circle itself is incomplete or broken, so that inputs come inside as they wish?)
  • let some inputs in, keep others out, according to time/energy availability (preserves the individual when needed/wanted)
  • keep all inputs out a very strong circle and locked doors; pick very carefully what can pass the doors (the individual would feel overwhelmed, or unsafe, or is unable to properly process the inputs once they’re in)

“Regard” seems to me the label for “accepting inputs”, “be ready for communication”, “keep doors ready to be opened”. I find that this term applies well to the middle situation of the previous list, where the individual feels able to accept and process inputs, and is therefore willing to listen. Denying this regard means ignoring, refusing the communication right away, being focused on something else, being unreachable.

I wondered what can make one unwilling to accept inputs, for example because of fear or habit, and I found that the initial model was too simple. It doesn’t deal with what happens after the input has passed the doors. I have extended it and added a second circle inside:

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The inputs can now pass a first door, get into a middle space that is managed by the individual, but that is not the core space, so it’s more like a waiting area. The individual decides then which of these inputs can pass the doors to the inner core, the truly personal space. From the outside perspective, the inputs passed the visible doors, so they have been accepted by the individual, and they are confident they will get some dedicated attention and feedback.

I am aware that this involves the maintenance of two attention gates, and it seems easier to use only one: that is, ignore everything (keep doors locked) until it’s the right moment to pay full attention to them. It is very safe, especially if one is not so good at managing the doors, so that everything that passes the first door is likely to run free in the inner space and feast on precious personal resources. But what would a single gate mean for the external world? That it  would need to repeat its requests until the “attention lottery” grants the prize – which can be never. The external inputs/requests have only a vague idea of how to increase their chances of being heard, because it all happens inside oneself, and the data they get are “no answer at all” or “full answer”, with no apparent pattern. It means that they will multiply their attempts and make the pressure even worse. (Job applications anyone? People or companies who don’t answer to mails or the phone?)

I find that both schemes rely on the ability to say no to inputs. The “no” in the schema is represented by an input going inside through the door, then back outside. If saying no is not possible, the only way to limit the input overflow is not to let them in at all, no matter how urgent they think they are. The two-circles scheme makes it possible to say: “I have noticed this input from outside. I have given some attention to it and I’m deciding what to do” while the input is not yet in the inner personal space. Then one can say either yes (and the input comes through the second set of doors) or no (and the input leaves the waiting area and comes back outside).

The two-gate model allows external inputs to get an answer quite fast, that is either a no, a yes-now, or a yes-in-the-future. I would like to work in that direction, because I feel that (at least some) external requests need an answer soon, at least a short one, out of politeness and regard. Some close friends provide me this kind of feedback, and I feel at ease with them, because I know I don’t have to ask more than once, and they are confident they can say no anytime. There this a sort of elastic connection and mutual consideration that I cherish a lot.

Enough for today… I’m still reflecting on this topic and will likely write more about it, thanks for reading so far!