I never, ever expected that a course announcement for botanical illustration would set off a mighty internal struggle.
I have been around people who “love flowers.” I have been around people who know the names of plants and enjoy identifying them in the neighborhood. I have never thought of myself as one of those people. I appreciate plants and flowers in other people’s homes, but I have none in my own.
And yet. Since I have resumed drawing, my ways of seeing have been changing. This is a classic effect of drawing that all artists note. Reading someone else’s words and experiencing shifts first-hand, however, are different like reading about a travel destination and actually traveling there are different. Unexpected things happen.
Like finding a “favorite tree.” Buildings go up and get taken down in Tokyo with astonishing frequency. Developers recently put up a big, ugly building on a route that I walk frequently. Despite the uninspiring exterior of the building, they took the unusual and welcome step of creating an “urban garden” with labeled plants and trees that is accessible from the sidewalk. One of the trees appealed to me. Something about it was different. I liked it enough that I took time to walk around it, and at this point discovered a handpainted sign identifying it as an olive tree native to the Mediterranean. No wonder why it looked different in Tokyo! I took some pictures.
I have an Epson printer with a utility that will convert a photograph into a line drawing. I had been reading this article, which had me thinking about “Where do you put the lines?” and so I decided to use the utility to see where it would put the lines in the case of the tree. I was also wondering if this would allow me to take a “lazy” approach to creating an illustrated journal. Could I depend on the printer half-way? Could I then just “color in” the tree, as Epson suggests?
The result was an argument for painting:
I can get interested in this image, but that does not change the fact that it does not capture what I love about “my tree.” I could only imagine painting it — especially the leaves. But what I want to do right now is draw.
On the evening of the same day, walking around with these thoughts in mind, I came across this pamphlet:
The course schedule showed six months of botanical illustration lessons with the focus throughout on drawing and use of colored pencils. This felt relevant. This would be a way to learn how to make a personal version of my tree without paint. The course time conflicted with another commitment, but I began thinking about whether or not I could reschedule in order to attend.
A bucking bronco of a need to “find out right now” had been released. Yes! I should do it! A snake, which always slithers in for me, joined, hissing “Yessss, you lack ssskillss. You need thissss.” The bucking bronco saw the snake and bucked harder. Now! Find out!
A new voice, weak but getting stronger, commanded everyone to stop.
This voice says that I am on a journey. This voice says that I am learning things in my way on my terms and that this process is what is important. The process needs to be protected and documented. The beginner experience that I am having right now is a version of what I hope many, many other people will go through. The way to understand this is not to rush into acquisition of expert skills, but to be in my experience, to capture it, and to analyze it. I want to know how to guide other people into their own experience. I need to slow way, way down so that I can figure out what is going on with me before I move to some other space of experience where I feel less connected to a beginner’s mind.
I do not feel like I am at war with the bucking bronco and the snake, but I do feel that they need to be tamed. Deciding not to take the botanical illustration class is a form of discipline. The “find out right now” bucking bronco” and the “you need ssskillsss” snake need to learn how to wait until the new voice says that the time is right.