I’m taking a class to learn how to draw the body without using a photo for reference, and it’s a bit unnerving! I’m pushing beyond my comfort zone, which is good. I will take you along for the ride if you’re interested, but most of all I’d like to share the fascinating symbolic connections I’m discovering in the process.
One thing I’m learning is that every single thing we perceive in the universe is made up of lines and curves. That’s it. Simplistic perhaps, but true. Energy or action either moves outwards or inwards. And intentions generally move up or down, to the left or to the right. Hand-drawn circles are never perfect and erasers are the best second-chance tools ever!
What else? On paper, all bodies are made up of the same parts (of course in life there are exceptions), and they pretty much fit together the same way, no matter how well or how badly we draw them.
So… here’s my little “aha!” moment that happened while attempting to copy these little figures that the professor shared in his lesson. The “aha!” was about how small our really big concerns about our bodies actually are, when put into perspective. How unfounded, unimportant, unfathomably silly our angst about our cellulite, our pimples, our weight or our pointy elbows appears in the backdrop of this effort to reproduce the phenomenal complexity of a human being on paper.
I’m not minimizing anyone’s pain or suffering with their body image or their health or their weight; I totally understand the gravity of these concerns because I share them. But my struggle in making these little figures was an excellent reminder that our bodies are also, always, unfathomably awesome machines made up of many moving parts! And they function marvelously with little intervention on our part (think about the essential involuntary processes the brain commands like breathing and digestion).
So just maybe that thing we think is so wrong with us it not wrong at all, but just another aspect of one of the many manifestations of humanity in all its glory? Can you see how cute you are in my squiggly figures?
Drawing is really about seeing. What people enjoy about looking at art is simply seeing things in new ways, from someone else’s perspective, different than ours. But so many of us have this learned belief that you’re either an artist or not, you can sing or you can’t, you’ve got talent or you just don’t. But it isn’t black and white. Talent, desire, interest or a natural inclination towards creative activities certainly help, but there are still skills involved that need to be learned and practiced.
The body is made of up a series of shapes, just like a building or a landscape, and if we break it down it’s much less daunting… the head is an oval, arms and legs are basically sticks, the torso a block and fingers and toes smaller sticks. If we can give ourselves permission to try, humbly enough to not immediately expect exceptional results, we can all learn and improve our skills as our brain starts to see the lines, curves and shapes that make up the overall picture. Then everything around us can be turned into a picture!
This is my husband playing air guitar in the kitchen as he listened to his favorite tunes while cooking. While you can’t see the dynamism of his movements (he was really rocking it!), I managed to capture his form in the simplest way possible… his head is an egg-shaped oval, his arms bent sticks, and his fingers just smaller, curved sticks bent into action.
The drawings on this site, all mine, are mostly copied from photographs, because my process and my practice were about learning to see my body differently and to accept myself the way I am. I got good at it because I’ve been doing it for twenty years! But I want to make the process accessible, as my drive is to invite others to try this process. Because I want them to know the relief I have known from the self-judgement that kept me down for so many years! But obviously, it needs to be accessible.
I am taking a course to learning to draw without tracing photos. It’s a different process, and so I will do my best to share that process here. So even if you think you can’t draw (believe me, I sometimes think that too!) you will see that we can all, at the very least, learn to see… our bodies, and our lives… differently.
In this drawing I see me, about as real as it gets. After I traced the rough outline of my face from a photograph, I spent hours penciling in details and shading. Making hair look somewhat real takes time, but after years of experimenting, it’s no longer a pain, I like doing it. Drawing in great detail has turned into periods of calm contemplation that bring me peace.
I’m still learning how to draw. While I can copy photos with good results, it is something else to learn to sketch freehand, from life, to see the most important curves, lines and expressions that form a person, place or object. I’m also still learning how to see myself with the love and acceptance any human being truly deserves, yet which I would easily offer to someone else.
I’m learning to treat myself and my body with respect. One of the hardest things is committing to feeding myself in ways that give me energy, rather than weighing myself down with the kinds of foods that are really just a temporary escape from my fears; distractions with consequences.
I believe the worst part of an eating disorder is the self-sabotage we consciously and unconsciously inflict upon ourselves that keeps us down. Self-sabotage that goes way beyond what we eat, because it includes self-destructive thinking that keeps us from breaking out of the prison we’ve created and maintain in our own minds.
In this drawing I also see a woman who’s discouraged, exhausted by the self-hate, self-questioning, doubt and disdain she carries for herself. I see too, that at this point, she was starting to get ready to lay down her arms and stop fighting with herself, to finally take some more little steps to work towards freedom. Forever a work in progress…
Playing the role of camera person for a person daring to pose nude, for me, is always a series of gentle, tender moments. I feel humbled to be invited into the vulnerable space of someone’s nudity, and because I have also experienced the model side of the equation, it is very important that I help them feel comfortable. I believe that by facing up to our fears and discomforts about our bodies, we can get past them. Sometimes facing our own judgments in front of a camera lens is what it takes to allow for a shift in perspective. Most people only undress in front of their lovers or maybe their family doctor, so to do so purposefully opens the door to seeing ourselves differently.
For me, drawing the nude body, whether it’s mine or someone else’s; man or woman, at any age or in any condition, is an act of respect towards the miracle that we are as human beings. We don’t always appreciate the complex intelligence of this envelope that allows us to experience life on earth. When we are unconscious and don’t take care of it, we may find ourselves at war with our own bodies; as many anorexics, bulimics, drug addicts and alcoholics know too well. Aside from these extremes, there are still too many people insulting themselves in front of the mirror daily. Drawing the nude body, no matter how basic our drawing skills may be, is a celebration of the body in every form it takes; a moment of contemplation in front of this miracle; a tender caress of a crayon upon paper translating the simple beauty of our humanity.
And I said to my body, softly, “I want to be your friend.” It took a long breath and replied, “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this.”
We took at least a hundred photographs, then sat down together at my computer to go through them. We agreed that these images belonged to her, and would never be shared with anyone else, but she was okay with me making drawings based on some of them. We sorted through, and she left me about 30 images – those that did not clearly show her face – and the rest were copied onto a CD and erased from my camera’s memory card.
I finally drew this series 5 years later. I haven’t seen Anastasia since the photo shoot, but we’ve stayed in contact. I’m not sure where she’s at with her body image or her weight, but she has continued to work on herself and grow stronger. I know that life is not always easy for her, but she is tenacious. Drawing her was a wonderful process for me, mostly because I’d gained weight since I last saw her, and for the first time in my life I was able to identify with curvier women. I saw the beauty above and beyond the extra weight.
” You can be sexy and feel confident in your skin, no matter what size you are.” – Ashley Graham
This photo session with Anastasia taught me how uniquely each person reacts in front of the camera. We made a date, and she arrived mentally prepared for just about anything, but when the time came to undress, she started to feel uncomfortable and wasn’t sure if she could go on. I reminded her that it was totally her call and I left the room to give her a few moments to herself. When I came back, she was sitting on the floor wearing a camisole and underwear and still unsure about what she wanted to do. Since we were in a room with a camera set up just for that purpose, I proposed to take a few photos of her anyways, just like that, but as soon as I disappeared behind the camera she made up her mind and removed the last pieces of clothing.
What happened next really surprised me. I didn’t tell her what to do or how to pose, I only suggested she try to feel her way into different positions according to how she was feeling. Once the ice was broken, she seemed incredibly comfortable in front of the camera, in fact, her poses were creative and natural, and clearly she was having fun playing the game of shifting positions to expose her body from different angles. I was quite touched by how easily she was able to move around while I took the pictures. She did not look like someone who was ashamed of her curves. What I was seeing was someone who lived fully in her body from the inside out.
“Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world.
Don’t let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through this form.
Anastasia was struggling with dieting and really frustrated with her body; not at all at peace with her shape or her weight at the time we met. Talking about it honestly, I think she was surprised to hear that even though I was slim, I felt just as uncomfortable in my body as what she described, and I’d always felt that bad about myself, for as long as I could remember. I told her how using imagery to fight for the cause of improving body image and loving our bodies was helping me work on my issues. I explained that for several years already I’d been photographing and drawing the nude body, including my own, and how liberating it was. She seemed to understand how this process could be helpful, and liked the idea of doing a photo shoot with me. It didn’t happen right away, because as I well knew from my own experiences, a lot of inner resistance came up in the meantime.
Our photo session finally happened about a year later. It had been a rough year for Anastasia; a break-up, a move, and quitting a boring office job that led her to enroll in a course to become an esthetician. She told me about these studies, in particular how the practice periods required intimate contact with other students’ bodies through massage and skin care, and how this had made her a lot more relaxed about everything body-related. She said she now felt ready to be photographed nude, as a challenge to herself. Instead of trying to lose weight or change her body, she just wanted to change the negative opinion she held towards herself.
To explore a body symptom is to enter it, as it has entered us, and to partake in a sacred mystery. It is with the greatest respect and humility that we undertake this task.