Can’t think of something to sketch or paint? Wherever you are right now, whether at work, on the street, in a cafe or pub, try this exercise. Take a few minutes. Close your eyes. Keep them closed for 2-3 minutes. Just sit. Try not to think about your thoughts. Just let them go. Listen to your breath. Don’t manipulate your breath to make it slower or faster - just listen to it. Count your inhales and exhales; 1...2....3....4....up to ten. If you lose your concentration and lose count, start again at one. When you get to ten, or have sat for a few minutes and feel calm, open your eyes.
Take a mental note of your surroundings. I bet you will see it differently than when you arrived. Look at the people around you. look at how they are dressed. Are they young, old, black, white, asian, punk rockers, business men, professors, students? Try to guess in your mind what they do for a living, what they are like as people. If you have a sketchbook, quickly sketch the people you see. Describe what you see in sketches or text. Have some fun with it.
I am now sitting in a cafe. I will describe my experience:
I have my computer open in front of me. I put my earbuds in - I am listening a Rachel Brooke album - kind of solo honky-tonk. I close my eyes and listen to my breath. I make several attempts to quietly follow my breath to ten. I try to purge the monkey-mind. I sit quietly for the duration of one song on the soundtrack, and I open my eyes.
The table next to me is now occupied. It wasn’t a few moments ago. Two thin young men are sitting there - mid twenties or so. One has a closely cropped black beard, short dark hair, wearing a grey t-shirt with a light cotton cardigan, forest green corduroys. The other, sipping his caffe latte has a beige striped t-shit, jeans and rubber boots. Actually, both are wearing rubber boots, pants tucked in. We have had two days of wet snow so this makes sense, but they may also be very deliberately creating a fashion statement. My guess is that they are both young high tech guys as they are discussing networking and other tech stuff. The lady at the table opposite is well healed. Heavily ringed fingers, gold watch, pearl necklace, white button down dress shirt and black slacks. Her bobbed blonde haircut defied by the gray roots, appears to be expensive - probably cut at Renaldo's, an exclusive salon in Ottawa. It has that look. Her expensive tortoise shell designer glasses, perhaps a bit dated but tasteful, fill her face. She needs to use a lip liner as her crimson red lipstick is seeping up the wrinkles and lines around her mouth. She sits with two men. One is obviously an artist. He speaks of his studio and has the telltale paint on his jeans. The other man wears a heavy beige parka with a black knit toque pulled down to above his brow. He smiles but says little. The table behind him there are two women deeply engrossed in conversation. The one in the white tee-shirt is conscious of her weight as she quite deliberately tends to hide her belly with her arm. Her friend must be a heavy smoker judging by the deep set lines in her face, grayish complexion and bags under her eyes. The three young girls at the back wall, probably students, are all texting madly on their smart phones. The bearded contractor near the door, reading the paper could be an artist or a writer, but his green tagged CSA work boots and swarthy complexion give him away. There is a hipster at the cash, toque pulled back on his bald head just so (obviously well planned), heavy rimmed glasses - very Buddy Holly. There are two men, my guess professors, heavy set with gray beards, discussing Einstein’s theories beyond his famous treatise on relativity in the leather lounge chairs by the rear bookshelf, a library of the local counterculture and GLBT magazines . The guy to my right is writing a travel blog. Apparently he recently spent time in the Middle East. The workers behind the counter range in age from early twenties to mid sixties. I am curious to know if the older gentleman behind the cash is the manager or just an employee - he doesn’t carry authority in his body language. Definitely not what I would like to be doing at that age. I wonder what his story is. the girl at the barista counter is sporting a full sleeve tattoo. The lotus leaf on that sensitive bone of her elbow must have hurt like Hell. And then there is the most colourful fellow in the place. This guy must be, I would say, in his late sixties or seventies. His face is deeply lined, smile full of character. He is sporting a felt black bowler type hat, pulled down at the front just above his eyebrows. His ultramarine blue wool trench coat is accented with a bright orange and naples yellow scarf. His bold burgundy and black tartan pants are held up with a custom leather art-belt, and he is wearing hand made brown leather buckled boots. To top off the look, his hair is matted into waist length grey dreadlocks - Dreads that have probably been there since the 1970’s. he is talking to the lady in the white t-shirt, calling her “Sister” and discussing all the grooviness in the music hall across the street. He could be a vagrant or may surprise us all as a wealthy eccentric.
The point of all this is that we all tend to walk through life in a daze, a form of blindness to the world around us, when all we have to do is simply open our eyes and see it all in it's splendour. I am certainly no different. I walk 35 minutes to work every day and often I cannot recall anything from the walk. It’s as if I were unconscious. I now make a concerted effort to do one thing with intention - to see. Whether I am walking, biking or sitting in a cafe, I now do it with intention. I carry a sketch book with me always as a reminder to observe the world around me. It’s fascinating when I go back to my older sketchbooks, the memories of the moment, captured in a sketch come to the forefront. Unlike taking a picture with a camera, when you sketch you are forced to observe and see what is in front of you.
So I challenge you, wherever you are right now, take a few moments, close your eyes, and when you open them, draw, sketch or describe in text the first person you see. As an artist, there are an unlimited number of subjects right in front of us, if we choose to see them!
"The Meaning of Life is to see." Hui Neng (7th Century China)