It’s nearing the end of a very challenging year. What am I saying? It’s been ‘three score years’, in fact! Almost four since my mother died. Then there was also a pandemic to navigate against the landscape of my autoimmune disease. A friend almost died in hospital during the first wave, an acquaintance did succumb and another friend got singled out for Long Covid. We were vigilant, cautious, at times terrified. In the end, we also got nabbed by the virus -thankfully, a later, milder version. But now, I am so very tired. Bone tired and burdened by the losses, past and anticipated. The femicides, the ecocides, the famines, the wars, the discriminations, prejudices and blindnesses. And the heart falters and trips over itself. Palpitations are normal, I read. And the mind feels clogged up by all the facts and bewildered by the speed of human devolution. But we are lucky, luckier than most and let’s never forget that! We have survived and here we are! Almost the end of 2022. (Almost the end of most things, actually).
A spontaneous invitation from “my brilliant friend“, Taryn, to visit the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, “to walk, talk and draw”. She is far more disciplined than I am- which is a brilliant strategy, in and of itself. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”, as Anne Dillard wrote. So I quickly said “Yes!”, even though my body was pleading to stay at home. She made it easy; picked me up (our one and only, ancient car was at the mechanic) and provided me with free access, using her plus 1 membership card (ours has long expired). It was early. Hardly any visitors, easy parking, gentle sunshine… We walked and talked for a while, looking for a shady spot, away from the sprinklers, with a good view. We decided that most of the benches in Kirstenbosch need repositioning -for the views.
Finally, we settled on a sloping spot by the stream, where some Egyptian geese and their goslings hang out. No bench but a good view of the towering mountain. Taryn chose to park off under the dappled shade of a tree. I walked a bit deeper into the trees looking for dense shade. (My dermatologist’s admonishments ringing in my inner ear).
I find myself in a secluded spot where I feel I have stepped outside of Time. I am in a suspended present tense. Lost and found in this Here and Now…
The stream is on its way to the ocean, its path blocked by boulders. But water has a way of getting through despite the obstacles. (Note to Self: Be like water.)
I find a smooth rock to sit on. Out of my basket, I fish out my A4 sketchbook, two soft 6B pencils (in case the lead of one breaks off and I don’t feel like stopping to sharpen it) and an eraser; not as an instrument for correction but as a drawing tool. (William Kentridge taught us that.) I’m ready to draw now.
How to do a drawing meditation?
I start by looking at the scene in front of me for a few minutes: staring at it without blinking until my eyes glaze over, then I re-focus, noticing the whole structure of the composition; virtual verticals, horizontals, diagonals or arabesques. Deciding on a focal point where the eye is drawn to. Half closing my eyes to filter out the distraction of textures and details...
I find that my mind is already creating a story to keep me interested and involved. I identify with a particular rock: how different it is from its neighbours, a meteorite perhaps, landed from elsewhere, from far away -like me. And yet it looks immovable, as if it’s always been here, as if it belongs. Do I belong anywhere? I belong to myself!
I notice the bench on the raised bridge in the furthest part of my composition. A pity there’s nobody sitting there at the moment. But gradually, its emptiness grows on me. It becomes an absence and a presence all at once.
While my Monkey Mind swings from one thought to another, I plot out the basic elements, very lightly, so that, if need be, I can make adjustments easily.
The Inner Critic soon wakes up and starts giving warnings. Some of the advice is good: “Don’t rush!”, “Don’t start with details”, “Build up the whole picture to the same level at every stage”, “Look where the light is coming from”… The Inner Critic is trying to protect me from disappointment. However, if you don’t heed some of the good advice, the Inner Critic can quickly become scathing and toxic: “What’s the point?”, “It won’t look like anything”, “You’ll end up throwing it away, so why bother”, “You aren’t a real artist”…
The trick, for me, is to plod on regardless. I find that it helps to placate the Inner Critic:“Yes, you’re right, this isn’t going to be a chef d’oeuvre. I’m just doing this as a way of slowing down. It’s a drawing meditation. No big deal!”. By minimising the purpose of what I’m doing, the pressure is off and the pleasure increases.
Once the basics are on the page, the fun begins as I feel it’s now safe to be more free, more playful. My gestures speed up and become bolder; drawing becomes handwriting. (Most signatures have flair: “This is who I am!”, they declare. So I aim for a signature-style drawing.)
I make peace with the fact that I can’t draw everything I see. It’s important to make choices: Less is more. Hint at things without spelling them out. Find a descriptive scribble for pebbles, a different one for foliage.
Then comes a moment when the drawing is “good enough”. Easy to stop right there. It’s time to leave. I take a surreptitious shot of the scene on my phone camera. I know this is “cheating”. But artists “cheat” all the time. We take shortcuts because ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Nobody cares. We don’t care either!
I intend working on this some more, once I get back home. I want the experience of this place and the practice of drawing to return with me to the home realm, to elbow out a space for this kind of casual, carefree creativity, in the midst of the domestic bustle. It’s important for me to challenge myself and to push beyond my finishing point; to dial up the contrasts, burnish the darkest tones, to use the eraser to bring light back in other areas, then draw on top of the erasures. Push, push, push! Now, the Inner Critic is encouraging me. We’re friends now. “There! You see? I knew you could do it!”. “Yeah, right! Could’ve fooled me, an hour ago!”.
Now for the discipline. I phone my friend, Taryn. “Are you free for another walk, talk and draw session? How about Monday 8 a.m?”. Yes. Just say, yes!