In college, I had a drawing teacher that made us sketch eggs for two weeks. That meant 12 hours of studio time, plus – to meet her homework assignments – about the same amount out of class. She was tough, and I hated those two weeks.
Give it a shot – about 24 hours of practice, sketching eggs with graphite, charcoal, pen. Once you move past any initial mind-judgment of boredom, and then the inevitable frustration at how tough it is to actually do the egg form justice, you will begin to feel the roundness of the shape, the smoothness of the surface, and the subtleties of how light and shadow envelope the form… all mixed in with intense frustration at trying to translate the poetry of that sensation through the gesture, pressure and grace of your hand and tools. You will notice how the paper does or doesn’t please you, the medium, the setting, the rendering. You will move through a full gamut of your own inner voices and sensations. And, over the hours, as you step back from time to time – you will begin to see that your ability to transmit what you see and feel to the page has indeed improved – if not in accuracy, then in your own voice and style of translation.
At least this was my experience with the egg exercise almost twenty years ago. She was a tough teacher, an excellent artist, and I have never forgotten the teeth-gritting truth behind the beauty of her lesson. If you’re an artist, do the work. Learn your tools. But above all else, put in the time to let seeing become feeling. With even the ordinary finds in life. In the cracks of a devoted practice, sometimes we build our skill, sometimes we find our voice… but always, we expand our capacity to feel and communicate story… that of the object and our tools, and also our own.
I’ve never been a notably strong illustrator, and I’ve never been particularly interested in highly realistic renderings either – even in photography (which was one of my majors in art school). Most of my art is about tapping into feeling or an essence of the ineffable. But there is nothing quite like sketching from life to practice being present with your life, grounded here and now, receiving, translating, integrating. To be able to reach out and make contact with the objects adds a layer of relationship that appeals to how I process.
This sketch page from my art journal is from a couple of weeks ago, when I decided to spend Sunday morning sitting at the kitchen table sketching with my tea.
While I was doing that, Steve came in from outside with that egg – our very first duck egg.
I might just be sketching eggs again soon.
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