Snake or stick? What makes us so anxious about this question? Fortunately, in an actual snake or stick situation, the answer comes automatically, a product of selection in a long history of having snake or stick situations. ;-)
We have this type of brain that is fixated on pattern details and visual nuances. Because of our natural ability to recognize intricate patterns and the associated meaning, we are here now and on our way into the future. Pattern recognition and associating an array of symbolic meanings to an object or concept is a good thing and our success as artists certainly depends on it.
Should I freeze perfectly still so I won't be noticed? Should I throw a rock and try to kill it? Should I make a run for it? Ah yes, the persistent drip, drip, drip of cortisol that screams, 'Danger! Danger! Danger!' I know it well. It is an ancient paradigm that no longer works in most modern situations.
So it is a special problem in sketching and job #1 is to calm down and relax. Whether out in the field or in the studio (where usually there are fewer snakes) we have to relieve ourselves from active duty and high-alert. If we fail to do so, we risk short-circuiting our entire creative process.
In my view, the sketching process is all about applying the right sense of touch in order to 'draw' to the surface of the paper something inventive, curious, original, surprising, and fun. The thing about sketching is, content emerges gradually because it takes time to make a connection.
As artists, we need to be patient and open to premature patterns that are only partially defined and are as yet unrecognizable. In process, a sketch is a hazy cloud, a bunch of blurry smudges and smears. And visual ideas may develop through several stages before they take on substance and a refined look. Creative development is a situation of possibilities, the cross-roads of vague lines and partially erased shapes that fade in and out. We work out of the unknown and that is normal.
We work from the unknown to the known ...general to specific. The tiny details by which we define and recognize our world are so often a last minute task for the artist even though the overall creative process may take hours. Too early in the process, if we get hung-up on the visual nuances that make something 'realistic' (either a snake or stick), we short-circuit the whole imagination/visualization process.
For a remarkable illustration of the snake or stick question (in the most literal sense), check out the PBS series, Big Pacific, Episode 2 - Violent.
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Hi, Chris here. I’m the author of the Artist's Kayak blog.
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