Drawing the body even if you think you can’t draw

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.

Forever a work in progress

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…

Anastasia (series) – I

Anastasia and I were roommates only for a few months, but a close friendship grew from sharing about our food and weight issues.

Somehow, we quickly managed to breach a huge taboo by admitting that we both turned compulsively to food whenever we felt overwhelmed by the stress in our lives, and that authenticity created an instant bond between us.

Anastasia1

” We carry a terrible wound: alienation from our embodied life.

Your flesh shall become a great poem. “

                    – Walt Whitman

Ferocious unfounded fears fade to black

A human body; a human life, is a tremendous opportunity to live and to love.

If we spend our time hating ourselves, questioning everything and finding so much wrong, there is very little energy left to love. Not ourselves, not anyone.

When fear and self-hate weigh down on us ferociously, we have to do the work. And keep on doing the work. We’ll still be imperfect, but it is possible to move beyond negative body image to a  much more accepting and appreciative view of our lives and of our deepest selves. This is our one life… and the one body we were given to walk through this life.

self-acceptance body image self-love

This soft, dark drawing is a witness to this transformation; an inner movement from  the heavy fear of unworthiness to the light of abandon that leads to self-acceptance. A stripping off of all the usual masks we wear so we can stop hiding from ourselves, from life.

While it is a particularly vulnerable image, it is not meant to show off or to seduce. It’s more like an offering of humility that does not exclude the most fragile and mistreated aspects of the female body. Aspects that deserve to be honored, held sacred, and treated with the utmost respect.

The woman in this drawing is no longer looking for someone to look at her with love.

This woman has learned to love herself.

From photo to silhouette to artsy whatever

With digital cameras we can get creative photographing ourselves and our bodies in order to get more comfortable with them. Unfortunately the most accessible photos of the human body are usually highly sexualised, erotic images, or excessively idealized fine art nudes, yet there is a huge spectrum of possibilities in between. Where are the regular people of all shapes and size doing ordinary things? These types of images of the body are so hard to find, that in order to draw the body from photos, my group of artist-friends found that we had to take the photos we wanted ourselves.

This image is an example of playing with the camera… I was hiding behind the scarf at first and slowly pulled it off and wrapped in around myself in different ways while taking photos using the timer and a tripod. First it’s traced, then colored, painted… whatever. I had fun with the scarf because I love to mix decorative patterns with the simple beauty of the human form.

mad about my body tracing mad about my body drawing

My self-portrait sessions only ever happen a result of periods of feeling really bad about myself and my body, and they always bring me peace. The process of drawing even more so. This little photo shoot turned into a series that I thought was quite lovely, but that I would never have conceived of or produced, were it not for my need to work through my intense body shame.

I wish I could bring this change of perspective on the body to every human being who cannot see their own beauty. To those who have lost all sense of connection to and recognition of the wonders of the body that they inhabit. Who have been blinded by the insane unattainable images that our society feeds us, making us sick with desire to be what we are not. I know what it is to carry that false vision and to live the pain of self-rejection. So I continue to draw, and share my story, again and again… and invite you to draw with us so you can see the bigger picture that for now, your mind cannot.

madaboutmybody@gmail.com

 

Model drawing & modelling when you’re not a model

Do you have that recurring nightmare about being naked in public?

What’s that about? I’m pretty sure it’s about vulnerability. Fear of being judged if you were to find yourself completely unprotected and fully “seen”.  And sometimes, it’s about body shame. And the difficulty with healing body shame is that you can’t do that without involving the body, when all you want to do is hide it!

For ten years I ran figure drawing workshops, which usually involves hiring nude models to pose, so that people can practice drawing the human form. But our group did it all backwards. We started in my living room, with the bravest among us offering to be the model. As we were just beginners slowly forming a group, we didn’t want to charge those learning to draw, so we didn’t pay those modelling.

And we discovered that there was a subtle difference when the models were not paid; instead of it being a job, it became a gift they offered to those drawing… a gift of their vulnerability.  They were there because they wanted to be, not to be paid. So we continued that way intentionally. We called it a “figure drawing workshop for body acceptance” and invited people who wanted the challenge of finding themselves nude in front of others to model, even if they had no previous experience. And it worked!

It allowed people who were uncomfortable in their own skin to start working through their shame. They gave us the gift of their vulnerability, and in return received the gift of discovering that the artists were really only there to draw their body, not to judge, exploit or even necessarily admire their bodies. And that was a gift in itself. With time, the artists started making a point of showing their work to the models, and to offer them one of their drawings to thank them for posing.

I was never particularly strong at drawing models, and I was not a willing model! I preferred to find models and run the workshops, but that also put me in the hot spot if models cancelled at the last minute. It’s scarier to think about it than to actually do it, so who could blame them! When this happened, we asked for a stand-in in the room. If nobody responded, then it was me.

This is a drawing I received from an artist at a session I posed at. It helped me see myself differently than I usually do… definitely with less judgement. It’s just another body… unique as they all are…

Waist or no waist

“Who I am is certainly part of how I look and vice versa. I want to know where I begin and end, what size I am, and what suits me… I am not “in” this body, I am this body. Waist or no waist.

But all the same, there’s something about me that doesn’t change, hasn’t changed, through all the remarkable, exciting, alarming, and disappointing transformations my body has gone through. There is a person there who isn’t only what she looks like, and to find her and know her I have to look through, look in, look deep. Not only in space, but in time.”

building positive body image with aging

“There’s the ideal beauty of youth and health, which never really changes, and is always true. There’s the ideal beauty of movie stars and advertising models, the beauty-game ideal, which changes its rules all the time and from place to place and is never entirely true. And there’s an ideal beauty that is harder to define or understand, because it occurs not just in the body but where the body and the spirit meet and define each other.”

– from the wonderful writings on aging by  Ursula K. Le Guin