Monday, March 26, 2012

Still Life with Bananas

12/28/11, Copic Multiliner SP pen, watercolor
In the past five years or so, I’ve taken several drawing classes. Inevitably they involved the instructor setting up a still life made up of a few boxes, some draped fabric, a dusty vase or bowl from a thrift store and a lamp to cast strong shadows. Intellectually I understood the value of drawing this type of still life. But in my head, the voice was saying, “This is friggin’ boring. These dusty vases have no meaning to me. Isn’t there a more fun way to learn this? I’m hungry… I wonder what time we break for lunch.”

I’ve come to realize that those still lifes weren’t inherently boring or uninspiring. I was the one who was bored and uninspired because I was looking at them from the outside – an arrangement of commonplace, meaningless stuff that looks similar to commonplace, meaningless stuff I’ve seen before. To draw a still life successfully (and I define success as finishing the task while remaining fully engaged), I have to look at it from the inside.

Imagine you are a worm inside a banana. You can’t really know the shape, consistency or color of that banana until you crawl around for a while. And if you were really a worm, you wouldn’t even be identifying that object as banana. It’s just the three-dimensional space around you with a particular form, color and texture. If I look at any object with a crawling-around attitude, it becomes something to visually explore (line line line curving line dark spot) rather than identify with a label (bananas on the counter = boring and uninspiring). And the magical part about visually crawling around is that the banana I’m drawing no longer looks like every other banana I’ve seen (or tried to draw before). It becomes a unique collection of specific lines, shapes and shadows, and suddenly I’m fully engaged.

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