A Drawing is a Record of Your Lived Experience.
When I’m out drawing, I try to remember to resist the temptation to spend an hour looking for the perfect view. Anything can make an interesting drawing. If you’re in Paris, you don’t have to draw the Eiffel Tower.
I was trapped under an awning during a rainstorm recently and drew a picture of the car parked across the street. It’s a funny, awkward little picture, but it ended up being my favorite drawing of the day.
I want my drawings to be a record of my experience in the world while I was drawing, complete with raindrops, smudges, and spills.
My art setup is lightweight and portable, so that I can draw absolutely anywhere—standing up, sitting on the curb, on a street corner, without a table or an easel or a stool. But if I’m tired, or my back hurts, or it’s cold or rainy, I’ll go where I need to go to be comfortable, and draw what I can see from there.
If something looks blurry from where I’m sitting, I leave it vague. If a telephone pole is blocking my view, I draw the telephone pole.
That’s what the drawing is for, after all—to record a moment in my life, complete with its aches and pains, adverse weather, less-than-perfect eyesight, obstructions, and particular vantage point.
Speaking of vantage points–I was in New Mexico once, looking for the landscapes Georgia O’Keeffe painted. I was particularly excited to see what she called The White Place, these chalky cliffs she painted over and over. I had a postcard of her most famous White Place painting with me, and I walked around the area, trying to line up the contours in the painting with my own view
I backed up to a spot that seemed just right—and stumbled into a tree. Of course! She’d picked a spot in the shade. It probably had less to do with finding the perfect composition and more to do with getting out of the harsh desert sun.
I sat down in the shade and started to draw, but when I was about halfway finished, I realized that I was in the wrong spot. The right-hand side of the drawing looked accurate, but the rest of the view didn’t match O’Keeffe’s painting at all. What was I missing?
So I got up and started walking around again. Pretty soon, I was able to line up the left side of the cliffs with the left side of her painting. I walked around until I had that half of the painting in perspective and…
I backed into another tree.
When the sun shifted, O’Keeffe simply stood up, walked around, found another tree that offered some shade, moved her art supplies over there, and adjusted the painting to fit her new reality.
If you don’t believe me, believe Georgia O’Keeffe: Your lived experience is exactly enough. It is exactly the source from which you should draw (or paint, or sing, or dance, or write, or sew, or speak, or make) right now.