Drawing: Man on a Path

Man on the pathI’ve said before, and will continue saying, that drawing is a secret superpower in the twenty-first century.

This image came to me in a dream, first of all: a picture of a man walking down a path, with a fjord-like scene behind him of mountains and a cloud-scape.  My impression or intuition says that this is an alternate image of St. Cyprian, the magician-turned-bishop-saint who became so popular in Scandinavia for his grimoire on being a better magician.

But really, if you look at the older image of Cyprian (produced in Paper by Fiftythree.com, with a fat finger) and compare it with this one, you can see how my drawing skills have improved in the last few years.   A lot of it, I can attribute to practice with Zentangle — doing a lot of pen-work improves the quality of your drawing capabilities immensely.  Of course.  The more you practice something, the better at it you are likely to get.  Even so, the ability to create pictures, even ones as stylized and ‘not-quite-realist” as this man on the path is — it’s more a series of standardized or premeditated symbols rather than a realistic interpretation of what’s there. The tree on the hillside are a Chinese way of representing trees at a distance; the pebbles on the path are merely a sketch of pebbles, rather than a realistic interpretation of pebbles.

Zentangle landscapes And yet.  When I compare what I’m currently doing, with, say, the drawing script for the eighth mansion of the moon, or the advice to the artist I gave while making the Hanged Man card, or even the MagicianI can see that I’ve gotten a lot better…. but that I’ve given up color.

And so this is my own work that needs to be done; I’m going to have to go back to the drawing board and the painting easel to work on color, and color theory.  I’ve tended to avoid color in part because the photocopier at school doesn’t allow for color prints of things — and projects like the Latin bestiary and the god pages (like Vesta) emphasize line over color. So there’s Work that needs to be done here, even as I can celebrate what I’ve already learned.

But that doesn’t explain why Drawing is a Secret Superpower.  I’ve said that Visual Thinking matters, but it’s a hard sell in words, no matter how many ways you frame it. And it’s difficult to explain if you don’t believe me in the first place, because a wordy philosophy is useless for describing why drawing matters.  So I have to give a counter-example in pictures, and tell you a story:

Foundations in U.S. Vs Egypt
Digging one hole, or four?

Today I was outside at a cafe, and a guy I know from Egypt was talking with one of his neighbors about how they build houses on foundations in Egypt vis-a-vis the United States.  Here we pour a concrete slab, or we dig a foundation; there they sink pillars into the earth at the corners of the rooms.  But the guy he was talking to, his neighbor, didn’t understand.  So I drew them this picture on the left, in pen, and Egyptian sketched in pencil the framework of the house over the inked-in foundation holes.

Foundations in Egypt
An underground fortress within a trench system or a quadrangle of moats

Even that wasn’t really enough, so I flipped the page in my sketchbook, and drew the second set of models as Egyptian explained further in words…

The upper part of this second illustration is what the concrete poured into the foundation would look like, as if you had poured aluminum into an ant hill, and then dug it up.  And the second illustration is a more refined explanation of how they dig foundation holes in Egypt, with trenches for the walls, and pillars at the corners of the house.

And suddenly, Neighbor got it.   He understood what Egyptian was trying to tell him.  And that changed the terms of the conversation, from discussion about “what is a pillar?” to trench vs. pit construction, to discussions about “what is a cellar or a basement?” to discussions about earthquakes in Egypt, rebar reinforcement in concrete in Egypt vs. the US, to comparisons of the underground construction in Egypt to castles or fortresses, to discussions on US-Israeli-Egyptian relationships…

In other words, drawing shifted the conversation from discussion about what words mean, to higher-order questions about how countries and people should interact with one another.  It removed language barriers and established common terminology and shared comprehension of complex 3-D models by moving those discussions from words to pictures, from conversation to concrete images.  But I couldn’t have made these on-the-fly pictures if I didn’t know something about drawing already.  And I couldn’t have opened the way for people to talk to one another if I didn’t know how to create images, both deliberately and off-the-cuff.

The Magician, of course, has several ready-made exercises to help them grow as an artist: The Western Zodiac is divided into twelve Signs that rotate through twelve fixed houses; each Zodiac sign has an image associated with it, from a pair of twins to a  pair of scales to a pair of fish.  There are seven (or nine) planets that move through the Zodiac, and each of those has a traditional image associated with it.  And there are at least 84 images, too, representing the planets in each of their particular signs (there are also possibly images for conjunctions of dual planets, like Mercury in the Sun). There are seventy-eight Tarot cards, and whether you draw out Pamela Colman Smith’s images yourself, or work from the list assembled by the Golden Dawn… there’s a lengthy curriculum in drawing, right there.  There are thirty-six Decans of the Zodiac, which can be used either as a system in a Palace of Memory, and twenty-eight Mansions of the Moon, which have their own range of images (and I’ll just point out that I got a lot better in the last three years, didn’t I?).  In all, I’ve found at least two hundred fifty images from the Western Magical Tradition to help get an occultly-leaning person started in drawing.  I think that this plethora of descriptions of images is partly about working with Palace of Memory techniques; but it’s also partly about training artists in a culture without art schools.

Non-occultists have a harder time, of course. There are fairly expensive workbooks that say things like, “draw a friend” or “draw a shoe” or “draw a park bench” or “draw a cat”, and give you three hundred sixty-five exercises.  Among the best such books I know, especially for complete beginners, is Mike Rohde’s Sketchnote Handbook.  But I don’t think that’s the only place you can begin.

In the meantime, dear readers… if you’re not growing your skills as a drawer, a sketcher, an image-maker… chances are that you’re not growing your skills as a designer.  You should work on that.

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One comment

  1. […] to think how practical that is; incorporating visual or aural elements might be nice. I partially blame Andrew for that, though the lack of non-discursive elements here has been on my radar for a […]

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