A couple of days ago, I met a kindred-spirit-kind-of-friend at Kirstenbosch botanical gardens, as the gates opened at 8 a.m. I hadn’t been for months and months, since B.C (before Covid-19), in fact. I felt I was entering the realm of a sleeping queendom. And there was also that feeling of returning home. Everything looked blessed; alive and new, bathed in the early morning, spring sunshine; gentle on our faces, kind to the eyes.
We walked and talked; softly, as if not to disturb. Meandered a bit, then chose a shaded bench, sat down, sighed... Breathed in the smell of earthiness, becoming aware of the sound of running water and frogs croaking from the Bird Bath nearby. We took out our sketch pads. I hadn’t done this for a long time either... My friend showed me her Palomina pencil, the same brand Hemingway used to write all his books with. I tried it out and perhaps, knowing it’s illustrious pedigree, it did feel special: sharp yet gliding, which is the whole point of a good pencil (pun intended!)!
We settled into companionable silence.
First just noticing; scanning the scene to choose what to include on the page. A viewfinder would have helped... Instead, I started with the strongest structural lines in front of me: the two sinuous tree trunks framing the scene. Then noticed what lay between them and lightly plotted them out on the page like landmarks. Found the focal point: another bench on the opposite slope, bathed in sunlight, half obscured by another tree. Noticed how resistant I was to drawing the man-made structure of the bench: its “right or wrong-ness”. Natural shapes being more yielding and forgiving. Some people walking past paused and smiled to see us. May they also be inspired to do the same...!
There is something so soothing about drawing. The “monkey mind” unfastens itself from distractions, slowing down to pay attention to abstract relationships: the shape of one thing against another, the play of light against shadow, the textures and most of all, in Nature, the inherent life force in all things. I slip into just Being; into the “Here and Now”. My gestures and lines mimic the upward striving of trees and my drawing acquires some of that same life force. My own life force leaving traces of itself on the page... Time stops. Time out of time. Kairos, as the Greek would call it. The page is filling up with marks. I half close my eyes. If you see less, you perceive more. The important structures stand out. I dial up the contrasts: make the dark areas darker so that the white of the page reads like sunshine, not paper. I pay attention to the edges of things; how one thing meets the other. The tonal or textural differences between them making each other stand out and yet being in relationship with one another as well.
Suddenly I am stiff, sitting on the hard bench. I could have carried on but It’s a good place to stop. We show each other our drawings. We smile. At what we channeled onto the page. At each other; our separateness on the bench, our different drawing handwriting on the page. At our togetherness in this simple activity of transcribing space and inhabiting time out of time by tuning in; paying attention to the interconnectedness of all things. Through drawing I am back in sync with myself and the world around me. Well, maybe not all the world, but with the original source: Nature.
We picked ourselves up and walked on.
Until another shady bench beckoned. Just one more, we agreed. This time, aware of time running out. Soon it will be time to leave. This changes everything. Faced with the majesty of the iconic mountain and the overwhelming intricacy of visual information, a feeling of panic rises up. Courage! I talk myself through it. First plot out the biggest structure then notice the shapes within shapes... then this, then that... It all looks disjointed... and we don’t have all day... I let go of precision, of accuracy, of likeness... drawing is not photography after all! I rush, scribbling furiously, looking at the mountain more than the page, trying to capture its folds, it’s fault-lines, it’s mountain-ness. I use the rubber as a drawing tool and then I draw again on top of the soft mark of erasure. This is drawing as handwriting; it could become calligraphy. I wish the page were bigger. I wish I had more time to capture urgency. I’m beginning to enjoy myself. But then it’s time to go. I will come back. I will return to the garden of Eden; to be restored to my “factory settings” through the mindful awareness of drawing.