Think Less, Draw More -A lesson from Ewe

The wind is howling and I can feel my house creaking under the pressure.  It is one of those mornings when you wake up and wonder if it might be better to stay safely tucked away under the covers.  As I peered out through the blinds I could see the large pines bending and contorting in every which way as if they could break at any moment.  Now the wind is sending gales of snow straight up into the air and then throwing it down again creating huge fluffy drifts in unexpected places.  As I sit looking out my window, I wonder how many other creative people are doing the same thing in different parts of the world with different conditions and landscapes before them.  If you could only get a snapshot of each one and line them up you might get a sense of how immensely diverse are the situations under which we work.  This is true for both our surroundings but also perception (our view of the world.)  I am fascinated with how our own unique situations and circumstances influence our work.

Where am I going with this?  I wanted to share with you an experience I had recently, it's just that I find that when I try to put it into words it loses something.  There are many times when words just break down and become trite or cliche. I'll give it a go anyway.

About a year ago I went to an art opening for a juried show at a local gallery.  I spent some time wandering through the gallery pausing occasionally at a piece to investigate it further, but mostly glancing over the work.  Because I have a relatively short attention span I tend to get very overwhelmed in art galleries, too much visual stimulus sends me into an agitated state where I need to sit down and recharge.  While I was quickly glancing around the room, my eye was drawn to a black and white sketch in the distance.  I went closer to investigate and found it to be a quickly rendered charcoal drawing of a bed.  The sketch had a primitive feel to it, and appeared to have been drawn quickly, but with an excited, lively line quality.  I was mesmerized.  I had never seen so much spontaneity and life in a drawing before.  It soothed me somehow but I couldn’t explain why.

A week later I spoke to a friend who had seen the show.  She asked me if there was anything that caught my eye.  I immediately thought of the bed drawing and started to describe it.  I had only uttered two words when she excitedly jumped up and exclaimed, "The BED drawing!!  Yes, yes. What is it about that piece?  It is so simple and direct, yet almost abstract?  I fell in love with it, but I can’t explain what it is that moves me about it."  For over a year we talked and dreamed about that piece (ironically the title was "the Dream").

So I was more that excited when I walked into the gallery a year later and saw another piece by the same person.  I spotted it immediately.  It had extremely dark charcoal lines, primitively drawn.  The sketch was of a cat in front of a large dark door.  Scrawled in childlike letters of various sizes across the top of the page were the words "Out 4 the night".  I could not help but think of the drawings by Zen artists that I had seen in my Buddhist books.  It had to do with being in the moment, and smiling with it.  I quickly found the curator and made arrangements to purchase the drawing, (I had regretted not getting the other one for over a year and was not going to miss this chance.)  The curator smiled and said, "Would you like to meet the artist?"  I nervously agreed.  He walked me through a crowd of people, and said, "Keri, I would like to introduce you to Ewe Harders."  I looked up at a tall curly haired, unshaven man who did not immediately take my hand.  His left hand was holding a dog harness, which was attached to a seeing-eye dog.  Ewe was blind!  I reached my hand out and took his firmly.  I wondered if he was used to hearing the surprise in people’s voices when meeting him in the context of an art gallery.  He told me that he has 1% vision (sees light and dark) and that when he draws he cannot leave his hand from the page or he won’t know where he is.  Ewe is a Zen master but doesn’t know it.  He told me the drawing was about the cat wanting to get out, and in that moment that was the only thing on his mind.  Ewe had grabbed a piece of charcoal out of the woodstove and captured the moment. 

I realized what it was about this piece that had moved me, and it was something that I wondered if I could ever have myself.  There was no correction of the lines, the mind did not get in the way of the drawing.  It was done quickly and immediately with feeling.  After years of art school, training, mentoring, and learning I am trying to "unlearn" everything.  I would like to get back to a natural approach to drawing, to draw from the heart instead of the head.  It is not as easy as it sounds.  And Ewe Harders has taught me a wonderful lesson about life.  

It occurred to me that Ewe has never seen his own work in the same way as I have.  At first I wondered if this ever bothered him. But I quickly realized that he felt something and was able to record it in a way that I have never been able to.  This is the most successful art in my opinion, when the artist shows us, gives us the experience of his/her own perception in a clear and direct manner.  I have never had a piece of art affect me in this way, where the feeling stayed with me for days.  I get a little burst of excitement thinking that I will soon be able to see it when I need to.  As a daily reminder to think less, live more.

*On an added note, I was not the only one who wanted to purchase this piece.  I almost had to fight some friends for it when I went to pay. So many people have approached me about it, saying how they too fell in love with it.  When the show finishes and I can take it home I will try and photograph it and post it here (with the artist’s permission of course.)

Keri Smith is a free-lance illustrator and native of Toronto.  A graduate of  O.C.A. she has a wide following of clients in North America and Japan.  She currently resides in a “magic” cottage in Flesherton, painting, illustrating, creating, writing, and living out loud.  Her first children's books, entitled Story in a Box were recently published by Chronicle Books.  Her new book "Living Out Loud -an activity book to fuel a creative life" also pub. by Chronicle Books will be released in Fall 2003.