In the latest edition of Seeing Things, my regular podcast on Frome FM about the visual arts, I talk to Paul Crummay from The Drawing Room in Wells. Next door to Heather Wallace’s Heritage Courtyard Gallery and Studios, The Drawing Room is yet another example of the way that art (and artists) can rejuvenate overlooked and unloved corners of our towns.
The Drawing Room, provides a bricks and mortar venue for Paul’s Social Enterprise ‘Wells Art Practice,’ which he founded with fellow artist, Molly Briton, the idea being, quite simply, to promote the benefits of drawing to the local community.
But what are those benefits?
Drawing, first of all, is a great way of paying attention. We may sit for hours enjoying a lovely view, but if we draw it, say, for only ten minutes during that time, we’ll have a much better understanding of what’s in front of us.
When we draw, we don’t just notice things, we notice how they’re joined to other things – other things we might previously have been completely unaware of. The relationships between each element that makes up the scene become clearer and we achieve a greater intimacy with our surroundings; a greater intimacy that leads to a much stronger sense of being present, rather than going about our lives in that slightly distracted way that is the bane of modern life.
Drawing is hard work, of course.
Students at my life drawing class often feel (pleasantly!) exhausted after a session. And of all my classes, it’s the one where the most chocolate biscuits get eaten during the coffee break! For the brain to make sense of what our eyes are seeing requires a lot of energy. Unlike other organs, the brain relies on nothing but glucose, but although 40% of our ‘at rest’ calories are consumed in just looking, we can’t just draw ourselves self slim, unfortunately.
And drawing is also extremely frustrating. When we get halfway through our work and realise the proportions are all wrong and the scale is off, we might well feel like tearing the whole thing up and starting again. But if, instead of vexing about our poor drawing skills, we dwell on what we’ve discovered along the way, then even a ‘bad’ drawing can produce a good outcome.
So, I’d say that the purpose of drawing isn’t to make art…
It’s to use the hand to train the eye.
And while we’re heightening our visual sense in this way, we also develop a better awareness of ourselves and how we do things. We gain a sense of pride in our achievements when things go well and can console ourselves that we rose to the challenge when they don’t.
What, I imagine, we all love about drawing is the ability it gives us to get lost for hours in a world of our own making. It’s that rare thing in our inter-connected, complicated world: autonomy.
For Paul Crummay, who is also a Zen practitioner, drawing is a way of remaining in the moment as well, of focusing on the here and now, rather than fretting about what may be or could have been – mindfulness, if you like. And in these frenetic and provocative times, we could all do with a little more of that.
That’s a pretty good result from a pencil and a piece of paper.
‘Drawing is putting a line around an idea.’ Henri Matisse (1869-1954)