So many things that we think we see are actually collective memories of what we have seen intricately woven into an abstract that we can easily see, understand, and describe.
Sometimes I think the singular task of the artist is to simplify.
No matter the age or experience of any artist, the challenges are the same: How can I take the overwhelming bombardment of my senses and simplify them into a pleasing and understandable expression? How can I process this, (whatever the subject matter may be) run it through my own particular DNA and have something of myself in it? Something unique and original. Maybe something that no one’s ever seen before. Even me!
For the visual artist it might be describing a face, figure, or a landscape. Where to begin, you might ask? It’s impossible to process, you say. Too much information! Yes, it is. But you can handle it.
Take a tree for instance. After all, it’s just a tree. Stop and look! Take a breath, and really look. Now, See! Not passive observation, but Seeing! You can hold your pencil, but don’t move. Look! What do you really see? Study for a moment. Look at the form, the construction, the connecting masses, the light, the shadow, the intersecting planes, the tens of thousands of leaves. . . Amazing! Now take hold of the lever, (in a bind use your ear) jiggle it, and flush away. Close your eyes. Turn your head, shake it if you must, like a boxer standing after an 8 count. Come round to your senses again.
Now, you can look back again. But squint this time. You can tighten the grasp on your pencil, but only slightly. Don’t get lost in the details. Ignore them for now. Remember your primary task—–simplify! Abstract. Simplify!
Okay, here comes the important part. Ask yourself, what does it suggest? Allow yourself to ruminate; roam around in the dark, dusty, closets in the long-forgotten hallways. Peer into the attic. Knock away the cobwebs and unfasten the spiders. Did you climb a favorite tree as a kid? Did you build or play in a tree-house? Fall out of a tree? Pick apples from a neighbor’s tree, (secretly liberating them after dark?) Play Kick the Can by the tree in the front yard?
Gather your collective subconscious memories and add them to your present conscious perceptions. Let these ingredients stew in your kettle and then sip the brew that’s there. It should be hot broth, not tepid, not cool. It should be a stew of all the trees in your subconscious cellars, attics, front and back yards combined. Now, look at the tree you’re about to draw.
You may find the grip on your pencil tighten again. That’s fine, but wait one second more. What do you see? Close your eyes tightly, then open. Look at your subject again with fresh peepers. If it’s blurred and slightly out of focus, all the better.
Take a breath. Loosen your grip, it’s gotten too tight. Looser!
Now draw! Put something of yourself into it.
Draw the tree!
After all . . . it’s just a tree.