Nature Drawing as Awarneness Practice


Drawing from life is a form of direct observation.

Regardless of skill level, the very act of drawing something that is within your field of vision is healthy for your brain.  Simply trying to represent something realistically on paper forces us to actually look at it (the object or scene being drawn) with a more sensitive and critical eye. The brain is instantly more engaged when looking at something while drawing it, than when just casually observing that same object.   New neural networks are created in the grey matter, and our knowledge of, and relationship to that thing is deepened.  In this way, drawing builds an intimate knowledge of that which is being drawn.

 Most of drawing is seeing.

            Drawing from direct observation (life) is essentially the attempt to create an illusion of 3D on a 2D surface.  But it is also more than that.  Drawing is more of an exercise of the eye’s ability to see, than that of the hand’s mechanical skill or coordination.  Looking at something and seeing it are sometimes two different things. 

 Seeing is a choice.  

            The biggest failure of the eyes is the failure to use them. 


Draw what you actually see, not what you think you see.

This is perhaps the most important insight that I share with my students.  I will illustrate this lesson with a short story:

Once upon a time a child was drawing a tree.  This young artist was sitting at a desk in front of a window that looked out upon a forest.  The child had seen trees before and knew what they were supposed to look like, so he didn’t consider looking through the window to use the real trees as reference.  The finished drawing was contrived, greatly stylized, and not convincing as a realistic tree.  Over time this child learned that his drawings of trees looked more like real trees when he actually looked at them while drawing.  Oh, and he lived happily ever after.  The end.

In this case a contrived tree is something that came from pre-catalogued “knowledge” of what a tree is supposed to look like.  It is actually quite common for people to unconsciously trade genuine sensual experiences for those that are biased by previous conceptions. 

There is nothing wrong with this tendency, unless you are trying to draw from life and have it look real.


Everyone can draw.  

Why are some folks afraid of making a series of lines on paper?  I regularly hear people say that they can’t draw.  My response usually goes something like this depending on who is making the declaration: “who told you that?” followed by, “everyone can draw” then, “maybe you just don’t know how yet”.  Indeed, one of the saddest things for me to hear from a child’s mouth is those words, for he or she has already been told (one way or another) that they can’t draw, and has integrated that belief into their lives.  Of course if you think that you cannot do something, there is no reason to try.  And that is not a good way to gain skills.

I think that people get this idea in their heads that a drawing has to be a work of art.  Forget that!  If you believe that everything you draw should be a masterpiece, than you will never practice.  Draw to learn (make new brain patterns), rather than to make a master piece.  Try this instead: think of drawing as a process; a practice; an awareness exercise.  This perspective shift takes all the pressure and expectation out of what can be a very satisfying and educational thing to do.  Over time the ‘masterpieces’ become a byproduct of your intentional scribbles.

By Nick Neddo