March 23, 2014

Daily Drawing

An recent email exchange with a former student I thought I'd share:

Professor Muller! 

I was chatting with one of your NYU classmates [from a million years ago] the other day and she remarked that she is still impressed with the fact that you took an hour every day, during what I'm sure was a busy grad student schedule, to draw.  This idea has ruminated with me for a while and while I don't think I'm disciplined enough to stick to an hour a day commitment, it brought up a few questions I thought I'd ask you.  

What did (do) you draw for an hour? Is there a realm to start with and progress to? Inorganic shapes to organic ones? Big landscapes or thumbnail sketches? Free handing a perfect circle?

Drawing class [with Sal Tagliarino] taught me that I had been shortchanging myself all my life by believing that I can't draw … I will have to work twice or three times as hard/long to achieve what comes naturally to others, but I enjoy the idea of setting myself up with a program to improve my skills.  At the end of Sal's class, I saw marked improvement, but much like my basketball skills or my ability to speak Spanish, by not practicing I have lost

most of my achieved talent. 

I guess another question I should ask is how effective do you think a self-guided routine might be for someone like me? There's a perfectly valid reason for drawing teachers, and in the absence of one, might I do more harm than good? 

Sample cat picture
Thanks for taking a min to read this and for all the cat pictures you keep posting on facebook.




Great to hear from you! 

In truth I do try to draw an hour everyday, in a life otherwise devoid of discipline (I also try to do push-ups everyday - but it was a disaster when I tried to combine my daily drawing and push-ups, so don't do that).

What I draw is usually random, and sometimes the fun is to sit down at a piece of paper devoid of an idea or plan and just see what emerges - thoughts of 'I  am empty of imagination today' inevitably give way to 'Where did that come from? Wait, has it been an hour already?'

This morning's skulls
Most often I practice the relative proportions of the body, drawing skeletons from my imagination, layering on muscles, all in charcoal or conte crayon, in a big dusty mess. I generally do a drawing like that every day, taking no more than 5 minutes. These I do on scrap paper and throw away.

Skulls and dinosaur toys
Of course I often spend 12 hours a day drawing for my work, and so I sometimes start the day playing around with the images I am working on in a playful way, maybe going back and drawing some research or completely turning the composition upside down or drawing it with opossums for scale instead of people for scale, just to loosen up and ease the anxieties that accompany doing anything on a deadline for money.

Sometimes I've been interested in a particular artist, and I give myself the program of copying every single drawing from a book about this artist - I've down this recently with Goya and Moebius (the great French cartoonist I was obsessed with as a teenager).

Related to this are drawings I call (I've never said this aloud to anyone before) 'Stealing their Mojo' drawings: copying art I've come upon that provokes admiration or a pang of envy. 'Why is that so fun to look at in a way I'm always struggling after?"I think. I sit down and copy it, making notes to myself about what I discover. In my imagination I am picturing secrets coming forth from the artist and entering me. It's my self-empowering ritual. Also I draw a circle of goat's blood around me. 

Mastodon toy studies
I really do try to carve out an hour, almost always in the morning, before emails and phone calls begin, but I also have spent an hour after midnight, after everyone else - wife, cats, New York City - has gone to sleep. 

I suppose ten minutes a day is better than nothing, but at least half an hour, just engaging in an exercise. If you engage in it deeply enough, you find yourself carrying the ideas of the drawings around with you all day, and things and people you encounter all strangely have something to do with your daily exercise. 

I think it would be impossible to harm your artistry this way, if you are playful, and spend a moment analyzing what you've done. It's for no one but you! You can keep it, give it to your friends, or throw it away. Growth is guaranteed!

Go forth and buy a sketchbook! And none of this 'I'm not talented ' stuff - I was not anointed with a talent wand when I was born! Sheer, back-breaking work, yo!


Rebecca on brown paper, in progress

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