Drawing on Gratitude

It’s Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. as I write this post, and it seems everyone in America is writing about gratitude in some way or another.  I’m going to write about gratitude, too, even though you won’t see this post until Friday or Saturday, when the dominant theme will have moved on to “leftovers”.

But first, I have to talk about drawing. (I promise there’s a connection!)

Ink drawing of cedar tree and full moon.
Just draw.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know I like to offer lots of tips for image-making even if you “can’t draw” (or think you can’t). I don’t want worries that your drawings aren’t “good enough” to stop you from exploring your creativity, so I try to give you other less-intimidating ways to include images in your journal.

But today I want to try to convince you that, even if you “can’t draw”, you should.

Go out into the world and draw. Or curl up on the couch and draw. Draw your favorite coffee cup. Draw the ice-covered branch outside your kitchen window.  Draw your sleeping cat, or grandchild.

I know what’s stopping you, especially when you got to the bit about drawing your sleeping grandchild. Thoughts like What if my drawing looks more like a cabbage than a child? And it probably will—because I can’t draw! At least, not that well!”

Did your mind go right there? I bet it did! Mine did, and I do this stuff for a living. (Well, okay, I don’t draw portraits for a living, but I have drawn and painted enough of them to know I can achieve a good likeness, and my mind still went there!)

No matter how much lip service we might give to the notion of valuing “process” as much as “product”, one of the most common things people say in praise of a “good” drawing is “It looks just like a photograph!” 

Why is that the standard by which we should judge a drawing? And, if that’s the standard, why bother drawing at all?

In fact, we generally don’t bother. We snap photos with our phones instead. And miss out on the tremendous power that drawing has for enhancing our appreciation of life and the world.

Drawing focuses your attention in a different—and deeper—way than simply looking.  Or taking snapshots.

Instead of drawing to “make a drawing”, what if you tried drawing as an expression of gratitude?  Instead of setting out to make an accurate rendering, what if you used the act of drawing as a way of offering your reverent and loving attention to the subject of your drawing?

Watercolor of a blue mud dauber.
Gratitude for a wasp?! Well, yes. Although I know wasps play an important ecological role, I’d never appreciated having one in my house. But because one day I took the time to really look at this one, I discovered (a) they are very beautiful—an iridescent deep blue-black, and (b) because they are solitary wasps (and can’t afford to get in a fight they might not win), they are not aggressive. And they have taken over the nests of the yellow and black mud daubers, which ARE aggressive. So, now instead of freaking out when I find one inside, I can calmly catch it with an upturned glass and a piece of cardboard. This one was very docile as I transported her back outside.

A lot of people keep a gratitude journal.  There are several Facebook challenges going around in which people are invited to post 3 things or 5 things each day for which they are grateful.  And many of us took time to reflect today on what we are thankful for.

These lists are a wonderful way to remind ourselves of our good fortune, but this weekend, I challenge you to go deeper.

Choose something (or someone) to honor with your reverent attention and gratitude.  Instead of approaching the act of drawing as a test of skill, try drawing as a way of lingering over something with loving affection.

Instead of drawing with a noisy inner dialogue of self-criticism, focus your attention outward and draw with a heart full of gratitude for the beloved form or cherished details of something  or someone that enriches your life.

Am I arguing for “Process over product”? Not really.

I believe the truly important “product” of art-making is not a painting, or a sculpture, or a symphony.  Making art can be powerfully transformative, regardless of what the marks on paper look like.  The truly important “product” of art-making may be our own transformed selves.

So, please try it. Even if you “can’t draw”, just draw. Draw “badly”, but joyfully, reverently and gratefully.  I promise you’ll be glad you did.

Ink drawing of two crows.
Yes, they wake me up sometimes, but I love the exuberance and quirky personalities of my local “murder” of crows. It sounds like they are yelling to each other “Yay! Another day! Wake up and enjoy it!”