Red Thread Letter #874
Why Drawing Matters
My mother Caron was an illustrator who could duplicate what she saw. She had an innate ability to render real life, even from her mind, without looking at a reference. One of my favorite things as a child was to watch Mama draw an original drawing for me to color in. I can still remember the feeling…asking, her doing it, and my reveling in coloring the original drawing from my mother’s hand. Mama had a ‘curve’ to her line that I tried to emulate as soon as I could hold a crayon.
I loved Mama’s drawings of elegant women – she was a fashion designer and manufacturer with my Grandma Eden. Mama could also free hand draw elephants, giraffes and kitties. It was a wonder to watch her black line move around the page and make astonishing beauty.
Last year we went through her portfolio of drawings, some of them being over 60 years old. I admired more than ever, the curve of her line. The precision, the arc, the clear path to beauty that her pen and pencil take. Having been at this a long time now, drawing that is, I am astonished at how her line moves.
We found a drawing of me as a teenager and we paused to talk about it, and about me, and who I was and am. This drawing is just a few lines, done in barely a few minutes. I remember her drawing this and how much I loved it – seeing myself this way in this image.
Then there is Sue, my second mother, she too was an illustrator. Her first real art gig at 19 was to be an artist for Stanford in San Francisco as a biological illustrator for the George Vanderbilt Foundation. She had learned from her guardian, the artist Lenore Thomas Straus for years, and Lenore got her the job. Sue was a biological illustrator for university textbooks for over fifty years. I grew up surrounded by her drawings of bones, fish, cells, DNA, plant life, water, rocks, bark, and of course, the horizon dotted with trees. Her work was devotional in nature, a relationship with life that she thought of as sacred. Sue said “We are all sacred beings and the art we make is sacred”
When doing her own work subject-wise, Sue ‘illustrated consciousness’. She used her biological technical illustration to render the ideas of consciousness within women’s bodies and minds. The landscape was contained within the body and mind of the feminine. Demonstrating in image, and a most potent message – visualizing our imagination in relationship with nature. Here is one example of Sue drawing a flower.
Mama Caron’s line flowed around her ideas like water into the hem of a garment that would eventually become a dress worn by thousands of women. Sue’s line dotted in pointilism scaled the ridge and raised up the moon with the precision of seeing the actual. Yet Sue’s work also interpreted the life-force held within each living thing she included in her compositions. She honored life with her pen. Her drawings become the foundation for painting, sculpture, and teaching.
Both of them kept visual journals. Here is a page from one of Sue’s many composition books. Both of them showed me how to ‘work at my craft’. Neither one of them ever questioned if I was an artist.
My mamas gave me a foundation for drawing, and for loving drawing. But there was one big challenge: I couldn’t draw what I could see. I still can’t. When I work with images from nature that are external, I ‘make an offering’ towards their shape. I interpret it intuitively, how it feels to my body, and let the pen lead the way. I have always drawn, but rarely improved, even with practice, rendering what I SAW out there.
Yet I knew I was an artist, and so I kept at it. As kids we were provided with quality drawing tools and paper, always. I realize now how important that value was to my family – because times were very lean, all the time. But we were rich in paper and pen. And we visited the museum and galleries on a very regular basis, it was a big deal to go view art, then draw at the museum.
Even as an adult, before Sue passed on, we would visit museums together. Here we are at the Louvre in Paris with Mona Lisa.
I am remembering a breakthrough drawing I had at about 8 years old. I was sitting in the back seat of the car with my cousin Bridget. I can see the car, the day, and us in the car, as if it is a movie playing. We were looking at trees out the window and drawing them in our journals. We had a big Pentel set – you know the yellow box ones that snapped close? I loved those. I had a green pen and I was drawing grass line by line at the base of the tree. Then I realized I wanted to do something else, to feel something else. Suddenly grass wasn’t fun for me. I stopped. I drew a single line, it was the face of a mother and her child in the sky. I felt the power of the curve of my own line for the first time.
Fast forward to ten years later. I am in art school. I am trying to draw the trees again and not really wanting to – or being able to.
I didn’t understand how it worked, how to see it and have it translate through my hand. I put the pen down. I wondered if I was really an artist, and if I wasn’t, what was I? So much seemed to focused on the capacity to DO what you see. I couldn’t draw the way they asked me to, not very well, and not compared to the others around me.
I added calligraphy and photography and rounded out my skills. Yet something was missing. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t remember the 8 year old doing her own line. Had I forgotten? Had I forgotten myself? Is THIS what art is about – duplicating what you see? I kept at it and began to lose heart. I tried everything, but did not now where to look for how to FEEL myself as an artist.
I worked full time, and went to school full time and partied at every other time I wasn’t working or studying. I practiced living what I thought of as ‘an artist’s lifestyle’. I performed at poetry readings, made logos for my friends’ bands, dressed like an eccentric in my cowgirl boots and faux fur, made posters for activism. Everything but my own art.
By 1994 I had enough of the life I was living. Something was missing. I decided to go home to the tree dotted ridge and live on the mountain we affectionately call Terra Sophia with Sue, and my mom Caron who lived one ridge over. I wanted to begin again. This photo was taken years later, coming back to paint my Alchemist in one of the most sacred spaces I’ve ever known.
About two months into the mentorship with Sue, I had almost decided not to be an artist. Sue wanted me to have the foundations like Lenore had given her, and like almost every other artist she knew of. The foundations of drawing were essential if you wanted to be a painter. I was still frustrated and felt empty about my own art even though I loved being with Sue. (Read our story in the Feast Table of Love book). Mountain life was running through me and I felt so much more free than in my city life even though my soul felt challenged by image making. I chopped wood, and carried water. I began to throw pots and make sculpture and began to work on a show that would eventually become my first show.
One day I was sitting by the fire drawing, because Sue said I had to draw every day. I had started to pray while I drew, to the Mother. I was just starting to be in a relationship with the Divine Mother, I called Her, Mama Mary. Drawing became a devotion to life and work and the feminine. At that moment, my line started moving and changing. I followed the end of the pen with my eyes as Sue had taught me.
What emerged from that moment still makes me quake in my boots. What emerged from that moment has created a lifetime of sacred work with hundreds of thousands of women over 22 years now. (I shared the image on the recent Magic Makers call from my first book, Color of Woman.) The image I was seeking was INSIDE. Not outside. For me, outside, in nature was a reference for the interior imagery, not the other way around. OHHHHH!!! All of my content was inside, and I could find it through using the pen. HOLY MOTHER of LIFE! The lights came on. Literally came on in my WHOLE SOUL. I cannot express it any other way than it completely changed WHO I WAS SHOWING UP AS, TO MYSELF. I dropped in. It would be several months of ‘landing’ into myself.
KAPPPOWWWWWWW – There I was.
How drawing could offer that level of soul experience awakening, I do not know. How can I say it another way – like there is a tiny string of twinkle lights in the brain that are connected with accessing a part of our mind and consciousness. They don’t turn on if you don’t access that part of your brain. You can access that part by choice if you know about it – otherwise creative process will usually get you there. The tiny lights wait for your visitation to turn on – but we may never go there. I did. But I almost didn’t. I thought I had to have talent to go there – but I was wrong. Joyfully wrong. What took me all of my life to find out, that the images are INSIDE, I can now tell you and show easily.
Thinking back I can’t remember my Mamas ever telling me to look inside. Clearly – they both were. They referenced inside and outside like all artists do. But they didn’t really use the words: ‘Your content is inside. Make art to reveal your hidden information that belongs to only you’. But now we do. Once I got it I began to reflect to them how we could teach art, with this awareness of the internal imagery as the foundation – not skill. There was some pushback, but in time, they got it and worked with me to communicate the most sacred message I can imagine for the individual.
You are a whole world of beauty and content that is only yours. When you self-express, that beauty can be revealed and shared with you and with others. When you bring LOVE and intention to that revealing, you and your art change and amplify. Those around you are also changed by what they see in your revealing.
This way of living, and working is a lifestyle change that makes the twinkle lights twinkle. This is personal and collective medicine and healing available to all.
As a community let us continue to draw lines around our thoughts. Yet let us do more than that. Let us tell everyone we know the significance of drawing to awaken, to reveal, to know yourself, and to liberate the hidden worlds within. If you have children at home, please tell them today – their images are inside of them. They don’t need skill to reveal the internal images, just begin.
Skill is just one tool connected with art-making but it isn’t the most important one. The most important tool of art is to make art however you make art – whatever your hand does, let it come forth. Witness, observe, give shape and language to the invisible.
The hidden rooms inside of us seek the twinkle lights of consciousness coming to life. Together, we can begin to understand that drawing, and art of all kinds, isn’t just for artists. Creating, is what we do, who we are. When we don’t allow ourselves this most essential human right, a huge part of us doesn’t come to life. We deeply need a world of people with their twinkle lights shining a way forward, illuminating the hidden rooms of the world that seek expression.
“I am weary, my soul, my wandering has lasted too long, my search for myself outside of myself.” ~ Carl Jung, The Red Book
We must be responsible to image and imagination and our image of ourselves. The entire world of marketing and propaganda runs on image and language to dominate and keep in place the worldview they are promoting. The ads you are served, the food you buy and eat, the places you study and spend time, what you watch, are all aroused by image and language carefully designed to get you to ‘feel and do’ something. When you wake up to your own internal way of seeing and being, you aren’t as taken in by all of the messaging imprints. You begin to make your own messaging when you draw a line around your own thoughts.
“There are forms of oppression and domination which become invisible – the new normal.” Michel Foucault
Image and language used together to promote an agenda, are like a new normal that is often used against humans to get us to conform and consume. Image and the way IMAGE is used is one of the ways humans have communicated since the beginning of our lives in early cave art.
I am asking our community to awaken to the internal image living within them. I am inviting each one of us to do our own work to reveal our hidden rooms, at least to ourselves. We are a world in need of people who are aware of the power of image and language, who are willing to tell an alternate story to the dominant story. Perhaps, most of all, to live out WHO YOU ARE, you must express yourself. Let’s draw.
A Letter from the Red Thread Cafe on Sunday morning. Kitties at my feet and my husband in the kitchen making coffee and the mid-winter sun rising softly.
How does reading this message make you feel? What comes to mind and heart? Share with me in the Red Thread Cafe or App. I care for us, for you, can you feel it? I can. That is why I write to you, tell you stories and invite you to tell your stories.
With great big love and a black feather quill…
In our work with Intentional Creativity we’ve been emphasizing metacognition, and specifically metacognitive drawing, since 2019 as a way to invite our students to observe themselves as they are creating and gather insight from the observation.
This video, Metacognition: Cultivating Self-Awareness w/ Dr. Deepak Chopra & Dr. Tara Swart explores the cultivation of this practice. Cozy up with a cuppa and enjoy. Consider sharing what you learn with us in the Red Thread Cafe.