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Drawing as a Sacred Activity: Simple Steps to Explore Your Feelings and Heal Your Consciousness

Drawing as a Sacred Activity: Simple Steps to Explore Your Feelings and Heal Your Consciousness

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by Heather Williams

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In the tradition of such successful books on creativity as Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and The Artist's Way, artist and teacher Heather Williams presents a step-by-step approach to personal development - and artistic satisfaction. Many people - including Heather Williams - were never encouraged to embrace their creative side, and this shutting down of part


In the tradition of such successful books on creativity as Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and The Artist's Way, artist and teacher Heather Williams presents a step-by-step approach to personal development - and artistic satisfaction. Many people - including Heather Williams - were never encouraged to embrace their creative side, and this shutting down of part of their inner life can create conflict. This book is an invitation into each person's creative instincts and is designed to lead gently toward developing both artistic and spiritual qualities.

The book is divided into three sections: Pencils & Perception (observing and drawing what you see in the physical world); Crayons & Consciousness (drawing the interior landscape of memories, emotions, dreams, and patterns); and Ink & Intuition (drawing on the intuitive wisdom within yourself). This book is not intended to make everyone a commercial artist, but it will help readers to see and be in their world more fully.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Williams combines her natural teaching abilities (she's a California high school instructor) with a lifetime devoted to art in this encouraging guide. Readers are urged to find sanctity in their drawing. Many exercises explore expressing feelings by drawing with the nondominant, less intellectual hand. Williams emphasizes, perhaps too frequently, that readers should be patient and gentle with themselves during their artistic explorations, and she reminds all-thumbs aspirants that "there's nothing wrong with stick figures." This accepting book is packed with dozens of exercises and hundreds of evocative drawings, thus favorably recalling Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. Not to be used as an instructional drawing guide, this is recommended for all self-help collections.

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New World Library
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Drawing as a Sacred Activity

Simple Steps to Explore Your Feelings and Heal Your Consciousness

By Heather C. Williams

New World Library

Copyright © 2002 Heather C. Williams
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57731-727-2


pencils and perception

exploring your feelings toward objects, nature, and people


the adventure of seeing

Every day in every city on the planet people in drawing classes gather around arrangements of flowers, drapery, or a live person — and draw! They spend hours exploring the adventure of seeing and drawing.

Drawing accelerates and quickens a kind of seeing that allows you access to a part of your mind that is different from the part you are accustomed to using. It involves a different kind of thinking. Any time that you exercise your mind in this way, you see something new. And this experience is very refreshing, even liberating. It can also be very challenging to the way you have come to think of things.

Perceiving accomplishes at the sensory level what in the realm of reasoning is known as understanding. Eyesight is insight.

• • • Rudolf Arnheim, Art and Visual Perception

No machine or technological wizardry can get inside your head, look out at the world through your eyes, and describe what you see. This seeing business is very personal, which is why I say that drawing is an individual adventure of seeing. Only you stand inside your thoughts, behind your eyes, aware of what you are seeing, feeling, and thinking. Only you can go where no one has gone before — on an inner journey to explore and see the world as it is — as energy, as consciousness.

When you first begin drawing, you are challenged by the limits and distortions of your ordinary left-brain way of seeing. This is the scary and irritating side of drawing. I've seen many people hit the wall, so to speak, when they come up against the fact that their ordinary way of seeing just does not facilitate drawing. Even artists who have been drawing for years have to shift their thinking to draw what they see.

People should learn to see and so avoid all danger.

• • • Buddha

It is good to know that other ways of seeing are available to you. There are parts of your brain that easily embrace visual information. When you know what to look for, you can draw what you see.

Lawrence Wechsler wrote a book called Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees about the life of Los Angeles artist Robert Irwin. In it he quotes Irwin as saying, "Physicalness is experienced perceptually." In other words, forget the names of the things you are looking at when you want to draw or paint them. Instead, look for perceptual relationships. This concept is the basis of my drawing classes.

In this part of the book you will learn how to see. By practicing the basic directions in the warm-ups and by doing the drawing exercises, you will find yourself very naturally drawing a felt sense of what you are looking at. Your drawings will express your natural style, which, fortunately, is already within you. You do not have to invent it or create it out of thin air. It can be drawn out of you with practice, patience, willingness, and lots of love.

This kind of perceptual drawing may initially stretch your mind, but once you get into the flow of it, it will become much easier, and it will also become therapeutic. You will have to open your heart to yourself while you are learning. You will have to let love be your goal rather than academic standards, your mother's approval, gallery sales, or just plain old self-imposed notions of perfection. Your heart sees things as a child does — very simply. This kind of looking and drawing opens your heart so that you can see the world as it is. It is far more beautiful than you can imagine.

Remember, no matter how old you are or how young, no matter how knowledgeable you are about art and drawing or how ignorant you are about such things — your point of view is very important. Your point of view is all you are working with — no matter what you are looking at.

trusting your eyes

Although trusting your eyes is simple, it can be challenging at first. Even after years of drawing, I still have to consciously remind myself to relax and simply look for vertical, horizontal, and diagonal directions, intersections, and relationships.

Just the other day I had a few minutes after church to sit in the outdoor patio and draw. A chair caught my eye, and I began to draw it. Pretty quickly I realized how rigid my drawing was and how limited and serious I felt trying to get this chair on my paper. When you find yourself drawing this way, stop! It's too confining, limiting, difficult, and serious to draw just the chair. Back up and look for lines that intersect it — the table in front of it, the plants and the tree behind it.

It is only through a sense of the right relation of things that freedom can be obtained.

• • • Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

In other words, look for relationships. Ah. I began to let the drawing unfold through me. I relaxed and fell into the part of me that is interested in seeing lines, directions, and relationships.

Instead of drawing things, draw the field in which the things exist. The field includes both the object that attracts your eye and the objects that surround and interact with it. Draw a direction of the arm and a direction that intersects it. Believe it or not, this makes drawing far easier and much more exciting. You are just using a different way of seeing.

Drawing the field instead of just the object helps you to focus in a soft and lighthearted way. Chairs, trees, lamps, even people can be thought of as hard, substantial, and serious objects, yet when you approach them in this new way — as a field of relationships — they soften. And you soften. Lift yourself out of your ordinary judgmental way of seeing things and focus on what is before your eyes. Be playful. You will see how powerful and simple it can be when you trust your eyes and your heart.

Frederick Franck says in his book The Zen of Seeing, "Don't 'think' about what you are drawing, just let the hand follow what the eye sees."

The real study of an art student is more a development of that sensitive nature and appreciative imagination with which he was so fully endowed when a child, and which, unfortunately in almost all cases, the contact with the grown-ups shames out of him before he has passed into what is understood as real life.

• • • Robert Henri, The Art Spirit

In other words, the rules for drawing begin with trust. Trust your eyes. Trust your hands. Trust your heart. And lighten up! Perfection is not the goal. Academic standards, gallery standards, parental standards, and university standards are not important here. Meaningful connection is the goal.

In mathematics there is one right answer. But in drawing there are many right answers. Mathematics primarily exercises the left hemisphere of the brain, while drawing primarily exercises the right. Electricity needs both positive and negative. So do we. It just so happens that the right hemisphere is kind of like an orphan in the world. Few people claim it, nurture it, care for its expression.

When we practice not making assumptions, we learn to see objectively — we don't justify anything, we don't judge or condemn, we don't take positions for or against, we don't lie to ourselves to protect our self-image. We simply see things as they are. Looking at things objectively and nonjudgmentally opens up a pathway out of the dream of hell.

• • • Don Miguel Ruiz, from Science of Mind, February 1999

Gertrude Stein asked Henri Matisse whether, when eating a tomato, he looked at it the way an artist would. Matisse replied: "No, when I eat a tomato I look at it the way anyone else would. But when I paint a tomato, then I see it differently."

A student who had never drawn before said to me after reading my manuscript and practicing on her own: "I can make sense of the outside world when I see in this way. I feel safer in the world."

"The activity of art is the activity of transformation," says Jan Valentin Saether, the master narrative painter and Gnostic priest with whom I apprenticed for five years in Malibu, California. The real power of art is that it provides each person who practices it with a basis of internal trust for dealing with the world. You do not change anything out there; you change your view, and then the world changes.

why feeling is so important

Feeling is important in drawing because it brings you into the present moment with all the particulars that exist in that moment. Hands, eyes, thoughts, and feelings all work together as one, connecting you with your world.

You have ideas about trees and people. Ideas are general perceptions. Most of the time we see quick versions of trees and people — just enough to steer clear of them when we are walking or driving.

A young boy points to his father and says, "Daddy." He doesn't say that about every man. When you slow down, focus, and draw a particular tree or a particular person, then your feelings enter into that picture. There is no doubt that your feelings affect your objectivity and perception. Drawing your objective feelings is a positive way to relate to your world.

When you draw, you become a channel, a midwife, a vehicle, if you will, expressing things in life that are real yet they are not completely or fully present until you see them. This section of the book guides you to become more aware of your unique view of the world. No one looks through your eyes but you! With awareness you can make changes, see things more clearly, see what is really there.

You can see the grace and weight of a tree or person. You can see that it has a place in the world. You also notice other things, like the bumps and knobby places on the tree's bark, the way it thrusts up out of the ground. You notice the pain in the man's eyes and the tilt of his head.

Drawing helps you open your heart and develop a deep, loving, and lasting relationship with what you are looking at. This relationship, like all relationships, asks something of you. It asks that you accept it as it is.

looking with soft eyes

When you look with soft eyes, you can connect with what you are looking at. Seeing with softeyes enables you to imagine you are feeling the edges, the coolness or warmth, the pressure and weight of the form — whatever it is. Every form has edges you can see. Relax and feel and allow, rather than intellectually labeling the object and then trying to force that label to magically appear on the paper.

The essence of drawing is that every mark on the paper should be one's own, growing out of the uniqueness of one's own psycho-physical structure and experience, not a mechanical copy of the model, however skillful.

• • • Joanna Field, On Not Being Able to Paint

A deep connection takes time.

What is most important to you right now? Whatever it is, do it. It might be to close this book and catch a plane or return to the papers on your desk. It might be that right now is a good time to sit quietly and really look at your world. You will be amazed at how rich your life really is when you stop for a few minutes and just be with what is around you.

When you consciously draw something that you are being with, the moment is eternalized in you, and every time you look at that drawing you remember that moment. A drawing allows you to share these special moments with your friends and family. This is often a much deeper level of sharing than just chatting and hanging out.

My kind of drawing is a deepening down to the belly of your life, to the very soul of your existence. It is a journey. It is an unfolding process. Your awareness is unfolding. Your sense of yourself is unfolding. Your beliefs about the world are unfolding. You are learning to be with yourself as you unfold and grow and change and expand. Truth is the part of you that is changeless. The kind of drawing you will learn about in this book helps you begin to be aware of this deeper part of yourself.

Warm-Up Exercises

basic directions: vertical, horizontal, diagonal

The world before your eyes may be so full of information that you become overwhelmed and do not know where to begin to draw. You must find a way to begin that makes sense to you. My students love the simplicity of directions. When they sit down to draw, they relax, soften their eyes, and look for one direction that feels accessible to them. From there they move on, looking for the next direction.

What do I mean by a direction? A direction is a vertical, horizontal, or diagonal edge of something, seen from your particular point of view. Objects (doors, trees, faces, fences) exist in space and time, while a direction or edge exists only in your point of view. For example, stand directly before a closed door. Notice that the top of the door appears to be horizontal. Open the door and notice that the top now appears to be diagonal. The door is still a door, physically and conceptually. But perceptually speaking, the direction changes, because the door has moved and is now at a different angle. You can only draw your point of view. You get in trouble on your paper when you try to draw the concept of door.

Place your finger on each line pictured here and trace the direction. Check them out for yourself. To me, vertical feels strong, spirited, independent, and quite different from horizontal. Horizontal feels peaceful, flat, restful. It feels different from diagonal. Diagonal feels odd, intriguing, mysterious, quirky.

On paper, each of these three directions serves a unique purpose. Each conveys unique attributes or characteristics. Each of these three directions is accessible, easy to see, and as easy to draw for beginners as they are for advanced artists.

The artist must train not only his eye, but also his soul.

• • • Wassily Kandinsky

vertical directions and attributes

No matter where you choose to look, you will find vertical directions: in tree trunks, table legs, doorways, lamp stands, sides of houses, fences, windows, picture frames, dressers, chairs, computers, boxes, and coffee cups.

Look up from this book for a moment and see the different vertical directions in your world right now. In your journal, make a list of all the vertical directions that you see. Contemplate the attributes of the vertical directions and edges of things in your world. For example, the attributes of straight and up come to mind right away. How about reaching for the sky, lift, support, alignment, strength? Think about how you feel when you stand up — in good health, independent, confident, positive, capable, secure in your individuality.

What attributes of vertical come to mind for you? List these attributes in your journal. What vertical attributes are evident in your life at this time?

What vertical attributes are not evident in your life at this time?

You can never do too much drawing.

• • • Tintoretto

In the following exercises, you can use 2B or 4B pencils, pens, or even crayons. Whatever you have is fine. I ask my students to use easy-to-find drawing implements, since everyone carries either a pen or pencil in their purse or pocket. Also a pen or pencil is familiar, thus comfortable, which is important when drawing. I do not want you to feel as if you are doing something strange and exotic when you draw, but rather that you are doing the most natural thing in the world — exploring your world and expressing your heart. I also ask my students to be open to using either hand when drawing. When one hand becomes too tight, too nervous, too tired, use the other.

These very simple warm-up exercises are indispensable to helping you access visual information in the world around you. The drawing exercises that come later ask you to look for things that you have learned about in these warm-ups. Take your time. Read a bit, then put the book down and look for the cues elaborated here. Elevate your drawings from mere exercises to visual experiences.

EXERCISE: Vertical Directions

1. Sit. Breathe.

2. Gaze softly at the world before you now.

3. Notice vertical directions: doors, windows, lamps, table legs, fences, walls. What vertical attribute do you need in your life at this time? Confidence? Strength? Good health? Alignment? Independence? A positive attitude?

4. Select something to draw that expresses this attribute.

5. Gently place your pencil on paper. Relax your wrist, arm, elbow, shoulder. Move your pencil in the same general direction as the vertical edge that you are looking at. As you draw this line, imagine and feel that you are drawing this attribute into yourself.

6. Wherever you go today look at vertical directions and feel this attribute growing in you.


Excerpted from Drawing as a Sacred Activity by Heather C. Williams. Copyright © 2002 Heather C. Williams. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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