The following is an excerpt from Making Marks by Elaine Clayton.
Reframing: A new way to look at drawing
Drawing is a pathway to unconscious knowledge. There are two fundamental ways drawing functions as a catalyst for accessing deeper self-knowledge: first, in the creation of a drawing and then, in reflecting on the creation. Drawing (and how we think and feel about it) has to do with perception. To draw is to feel, to emote, to express thought and feeling through line, shape, texture, and colour. Comprehending or perceiving what has been drawn means finding meaning through thought, emotion, memory and association. We perceive uniquely based upon our response to our environment and experiences, and that uniqueness is our own world of knowledge. Drawing engages cognition, the logical mind, while also waking our senses and inviting our emotions and thoughts to flow. Our conscious mind begins to work in unison with our unconscious mind. Making marks in a relaxed, meditative state allows the brain to function in harmony, opening us up to our full potential. Drawing fearlessly, with a sense of playfulness and pleasure in expression widens the possibility for us to think and to feel harmoniously as both hemispheres become fully activated. Unconscious or unknown truths come into our awareness as ideas, solutions and realizations. Through drawing, we realize what ideas or beliefs we were not aware of having. The conscious and unconscious—logic and intuition—are linked by the act of drawing.
For this to happen, you must make marks without “self-editing.” Try to draw without hovering over yourself, directing, or criticizing yourself before you even get into a spontaneous, creative flow. You may have experienced this kind of loose, free-style drawing when you were a young child, or perhaps more recently in an art class or on your own. Most likely you have drawn on the margins of paper, enjoying the marks you were making, commonly referred to as a “doodle.” And part of the reason you enjoyed these “doodles” is because you were relaxed about it; the marks you made were only for fun, or to help you endure a long, boring lecture at school or a meeting at work. Maybe you were doodling because you were nervous or anxious; spinning out what seemed like little insignificant drawings made you feel calmer inside. However, this kind of so-called insignificant drawing is tremendously significant. Even the smallest mark has a universe of information in it. The process you engaged in while doing these little drawings is incredibly powerful. By making marks with a relaxed or self-soothing disposition, you were in a special relationship to yourself. You opened the floodgates to your imagination, your infinite potential to create.
Something happens when a mark is made, and this is where the gold is. You can change an open surface or blank piece of paper. Your choice to create a mark where there was nothing before has power; that force in and of itself is symbolic of life, human experience and free will.
Let’s change the language!: No such thing as a “doodle”
Many people in my workshops have described hearing derogatory comments about their drawings—some bad enough to make them stop drawing altogether. Even well-meaning remarks can sting. Comments vary from things like “What a silly doodle!” or “That drawing is not very good” to even worse, “That’s a bad drawing, it doesn’t even look like anything.” Somebody may ask a child, “When are you going to stop fooling around and get serious?” implying that making art is a diversion, an irresponsible choice compared to more “respectable” ways to spend time and energy. The criticism people have about drawing is based on whether or not the viewer perceives the artist to have correctly captured his subject. It may also indicate a basic lack of appreciation for time spent making art.
Hearing these judgments is a natural result of growing up in a busy world that’s becoming more technical each day and less focused on “old-fashioned” art forms. Compared with fast-paced computer technology, drawing may not seem significant or useful. Teachers and parents try to raise children to be good self-advocates and help them develop the skills that will best prepare them for adult life. Believing that students are best served when they are educated with an emphasis on technology, science and math, school culture veers heavily in that direction. Technology so rapidly advances and changes, it is indeed essential that time and resources be given to it to prepare and allow children to participate and innovate in a technological world. However, this means that when a school budget is cut, art is often the first thing to go, while technology-related classes and resources are given a priority. Making art is not as urgent as keeping up with technology. This choice seems to tell young people that drawing is not important—which isn’t true at all. Drawing does not take away from learning other skills: in fact, it can enhance a person’s sense of self. Drawing provides an opening for the artist to relax, quietly focus, elevate mental focus and cultivate the mind more fully. It’s a natural way of entering into a state of calm where we can bring forth our imagination and intuitive sensing and thinking skills. Drawing alleviates tension and also gives us the kind of bliss that arrives with other forms of meditation.
Calling a drawing a “doodle” conveys a very big message: a doodle is not a drawing and it is not important. We might as well call drawings “thingamajigs.” Long ago I stopped using the word doodle while I was teaching. That word simply did not reflect the respect and enthusiasm I had for my students’ work. I think we should change the language. I like to use the term “stream drawing” instead (and in this book, “intuitive stream drawing readings”). To me, what people call “doodles” are wonderful drawings, and they deserve a name that honours what is special and significant in them.
I give full credit to my math coach/artist friends Connie Henry and Polly Wagner who helped me align with a word that I felt had more integrity than the term “doodle.” One day, I explained to them what I was doing with stream-of-consciousness drawing. I said that sometimes I felt like drawing was not respected or understood in our culture, and described the condescension I heard around the topic of drawing, giving me the impression that even the very formally educated may not understand the value in drawing. I explained that the lack of respect for it as an intelligent practice devalued and diminished artists, and discouraged many more people from trying to draw. I thought certain words—like “doodle”—blocked people from entering into a profound, intuitive process when they draw.
Connie said, “Why don’t you call it stream drawing?” Her solution made perfect sense to me. It’s the best way to describe what’s really going on when we draw with ease and open flow, tapping into our stream of consciousness and creative source. I realized at that moment that I had found the perfect replacement for the d-word! Thank you, Connie and Polly!
Drawing is a fundamentally transformative personal process. We need to use good language to describe it, or we risk missing the gifts it can give us. Maybe it’s time to take drawing more seriously, as an act of personal and meaningful empowerment and something integral to our souls as individuals and members of humanity.
Changing the tide: How to cultivate a relaxed attitude about drawing
Though I hope to inspire you to avoid less-than-ideal terms like the d-word, there’s a special power in not taking every mark too seriously. A mark maker, in order to experience the gratification of making a drawing with real emotion in it, need not be too precious about it. But I believe we can have a dignified way to describe drawing and still maintain a carefree, loose and easy attitude. We can still enjoy that sense of freedom while making them. One of my greatest teachers, the late artist Fred Gregory, used to make that exact point with us in art school. Nothing was more serious than drawing; yet we couldn’t take a finished drawing too seriously. He taught us to draw with vine charcoal and wipe the drawings away after we created them. Vine charcoal is light and easy to smudge off, so only the ghost of the drawing remained, a light impression of what had once been bold marks. We would then start the next drawing on top, wipe it away, and continue working on the same piece of newsprint. Fred also had us rub out our paintings, too, during life study, to make the point that the process was more important than the product.
I learned from him that I have to be ready and willing to know that the experience of mark making is more important than the final product. Being overly precious and delicate about it does the artist no service. And so, I must admit, I realize that using silly-sounding words like the d-word to describe that loose way of drawing may allow us to feel more loose and free than if we used some formal term. “Doodle” might better describe our sense of joy and release while drawing—the d-word may have an upside!
Hopefully the term “stream drawing” will signal to you to breathe and truly go with the flow when you draw on napkins or on paper or walls. The bottom line is, if we’re relaxed, we draw better. If we feel no pressure or threat of criticism, we flow right into creative bliss: the brain is not in survival mode. When we’re not self-conscious or uptight, the brain can function at its best. During stream drawing, we can revel in the power of the brain to charge up, while slipping into that creative zone that’s so rewarding (no matter what we call it!).
Drawings, whether on margins of paper or on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, have an infinite transformative power in them. Something profound happens when the hand, heart and mind work in harmony. In my mind, those moments are the most promising and potentially enlightening. The process we undertake in creating these drawings is valuable. It’s time to stop belittling a profoundly powerful action we have (literally!) at our fingertips.
We can use drawing to get into that creative, empathic place by taking it seriously and not too seriously, all at once. The process of discovery held in drawing is powerful and delivers us to our own uniqueness. Our acts of drawing provide opportunities for us to make discoveries we may not have made otherwise.
So let’s get playful and forget the criticism and labelling. Let’s be open to free expression. Drawing is a lot like dancing. You don’t have to be “good” at dancing—or drawing—to benefit from it. It makes you feel great. It helps you celebrate your life.
Drawing has a multitude of purposes
While exploring this intuitive process, it’s good to remember that there are many ways to draw and different reasons to use drawing as a skill and tool. Drawing has always been a part of our history as humans; it’s part of how we understand ourselves. Humankind has always used drawing to tell stories and describe our perceptions of our reality, from the first cave paintings to illustrative journalism. Drawing captures the truth of our existence, conveys emotion, and transmits information. All forms of drawing and painting are extremely valuable because they can deepen our emotional awareness, often bringing life to a subject even better than a photograph.
A lot of people avoid attempting to draw because they believe or were taught that drawings must “look realistic.” These realistic drawings—known as renderings—are valued for their exact (or close to exact) depiction of a person, place, or thing. As an artist, studying and visually describing people with light, shadow and texture is sacred to me; yet, while realistically executed drawings (still-lifes and portraits) are wonderful to create and behold, they’re not the only valuable way to draw.
It’s easy to understand how we came to think that drawing is only “good” when it realistically depicts a scene, event, or person’s likeness and that it’s “bad” when it fails to achieve this. A drawing does not always have to be judged a success or failure based on whether or not it’s a good rendering. There are different kinds of drawings and the process is what matters, as well. A rendering will not be successful unless the artist is completely in the flow while creating it. Stream drawing is a great way to feel the relaxation necessary to make any kind of drawing.
Even serious realists know that the quality of life will be absent if they do not first approach drawing in a loose and easy manner. This is true, no matter how masterfully the art was executed. Therefore, the stream drawing method is one that benefits everyone, from personalities least inclined to be artistic, to the creators of the most exquisite art on Earth.