#52: The Mannequin

We imagine that to draw properly we must copy this wooden body, its stiff poses and awkward movements. We will be a real artist if we get it right, if we replicate this mannequin that somehow represents the whole of humanity. Yet it can barely move its limbs and it does not resemble anyone I know.

Of course, it is a starting point to be built upon. The bare bones. The body can be fleshed out. Details, personality, facial features, fingers expanding on the crude wooden structure. But this method of drawing still retains a strange inhumanity to me.

I remember when we were taught the ‘correct’ ratios of the face in school: where the eyes must be in relation to the mouth, how long the face must be. I used a ruler. I followed the measurements precisely, but somehow I drew the most inhuman and slightly terrifying face I had ever drawn.

I always avoided those books that teach you how to ‘draw’ things, starting with two circles and some sticks, and somehow progressing to a fully-fledged horse complete with sweeping mane within a mere three steps. I didn’t look at animals and see geometric shapes. I saw limbs and features and fur.

Equally I don’t look at humans and see wooden pieces hinged together, stiffly navigating the world with creaking movements.

Drawing is a skill I have never truly been taught, or at least not beyond the basic art classes of lower school. I once became determined I would learn ‘properly’, that I would buy anatomy books and step-by-step guides and perfectly articulate the curve of a lip with a sharp and precise pencil point. It never happened.

Drawing is a skill I set aside and let ferment for a while, and then occasionally the urge takes me, I pick up a pencil, I stare long and hard at something, and I try to remember how to put what I see on the page. Each time I draw I must relearn how to do it. But there’s no pressure because I am not using a method. I am just looking. I am just trying to see.

And often that means drawing what is in front of me: the creases of my hands as they grip the pencil; the desk lamp spotlighting a pencil pot. And as I do it, I learn my hand, I learn the pencil pot. I am truly present with that object, truly acknowledging its physical existence, not breaking it down into shapes, not using it mindlessly, but just being there with it.

And that is why you might say drawing is my way of finding mindfulness, my way of remembering I exist within this world and appreciating what else exists with me. Writing about an object, one can truly get inside it, explore it, veer off in different directions, but drawing I remain stable, present. I hold the object in an image, preserving it uncomplicatedly, appreciating it fully.

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