The essence of Zen Seeing/Drawing?

“It is in order to really SEE, to SEE ever deeper, ever more intensely, hence to be fully aware and alive, that I draw what the Chinese call “The Ten Thousand Things” around me. Drawing is the discipline by which I constantly rediscover the world”

Frederick Franck, from his book “The Zen of Seeing, Seeing/Drawing as meditation

 
You caught the qi of some people, their direction, gesture, composure, thinking. […] What we want to see and get in touch with is the realization that we are all one, connected, and when we do that, no matter what the line looks like, some expression of the being, of life, registers.

Holger Wendt (a Swedish drawer who followed workshops with Frederick Franck) in personal communication about a drawing I made

I believe that in order to really SEE (as opposed to just looking at) you need to be fully relaxed (physically as well as mentally: shouzhong – a quiet heart/mind). This makes it possible to SEE with your whole body. To illustrate this, I will briefly discuss two techniques that Franck touches upon in his writings about Zen seeing/drawing. These are: contour drawing and gesture drawing. In his classical book ‘The Natural Way to Draw (Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, 1941) Kimon Nicolaides explains these techniques extensively. Franck must have known this book.

About contour drawing Nicolaides writes: ‘imagine that your pencil is touching the model instead of the paper. Without taking your eyes off the model, wait until you are convinced that the pencil is touching that point on the model upon which your eyes are fastened […] Then move your eyes slowly along the model. As you do this, keep the conviction that the pencil point is actually touching the contour’. Touching, not just looking at.

About gesture drawing Nikolaides states that in gesture drawing you do not draw ‘what the thing looks like, not even what it is, but what it is doing. Feel how the figure lifts or droops – pushes forward here – pulls back there – pushes out here – drops down easily there’. ‘This applies to everything you draw’. ‘Even a pancake has gesture. There is gesture in the way in which a newspaper lies on the table or in the way a curtain hangs’. ‘To be able to see the gesture, you must be able to feel it in your own body’.

Nicolaides writes: ‘In learning to draw, both kinds of efforts are necessary and the one makes a precise balance for the other. In long studies you will develop an understanding of the structure of the model, how it is made – by which I mean something more fundamental than anatomy alone’.

I guess this understanding comes close to what the Chinese (and Holger Wendt) call ‘catching the qi’ of the thing, plant, animal or person you draw, their direction, gesture, composure and thinking.

This ‘catching the qi’ may get the meditator/drawer in touch with the realization that we are all one and connected. Then, no matter what the drawn line looks like, some expression of the being, of life, will be registered. I believe this touches upon the essence of Zen Seeing/Drawing.

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