In today’s Daily Create, we were asked to draw our childhood home. I have done this drawing many times over the years, and I notice it has gotten less and less specific as time wears away at the bright stones of memory, polishing them down to their glowing centers.
Now it is mountains, trees, tracks, river, house.
I grew up on the Wenatchee River in the foothills of the Enchantments. The image of me upper left is from an underwater shoot a couple of days ago and seems to me a face full of memory.
Even a rudimentary sketch like this seems beautiful to me, and I stare at it falling into a reverie of a time both long ago and yet still a room I can walk into that is as close as breathing.
The Mysterious Night Journal for me used to be gel pens or Prismacolor on black paper, but as I work in my art journal and so often disappear into the many rooms of memory, I see it is the canvas of the soul.
Somewhere far back in my childhood, a visionary teacher asked me to draw around my own hand and color it. I remember feeling delight when I drew my hand and frustration with the blunt and wimpy crayons. Even then I longed for intense color and precise drawing tools.
This morning at 3:20 am, my art naturally gravitated to black paper and gel pen. December 6 is only 17 days from winter solstice and the longest day on planet earth. There is something translucent about winter art. The barrier between waking and sleeping seems sheer. The conscious and the subconscious talk to each other more clearly under the blanket of a dark and rainy night.
Tonight I draw my hand as an elder, many years from the kindergarten art class. I think of it as a secret letter to myself. Who am I now? What have I become since 5 years old? Is this a life well lived so far?
DRAW YOUR HAND EXERCISE
Sometimes the simplest, most childlike art-assignments-to-self can yield the most piercing insights into ourselves. I don’t need to tell you for that for this one, place your hand on your black paper journal and draw its outline. Do you see how that looks like an image on the ancient cave walls? This is a really old art exercise!
Now enter into the drawing trance of childhood, adding words and images to your hand.
DRAW A MAP ON YOUR HAND
Because there is a little cartographer in each of us, an evocative variation of this exercise is to draw a map on your hand, as Gretchen Jones does here:
DRAW A DREAM IMAGE OF YOUR HAND
This is another approach to the hand exercise by Sandy Brown Jensen. This hand appeared to me in a dream where I dreamed the late Tibetan dream yoga master Tarab Tulku placed a very ancient blue agate eye in my palm.
Have you tried drawing your hand and then “entering” it with words and images? What was your experience? Tell us in the Comment field above.
NOTE: The comment field is at the top of the blog post. If you are the first to comment, it will helpfully read “No comments.” Click there!
Before I could talk, even before I could walk, my young mother would scoop me up and dance with me in her arms. By 3 years old, I was her tiny dance partner. I knew all the big band sounds, the crooners and the words to the popular songs of the 1930s and 1940’s. I didn’t learn to dance – it was full immersion from birth.
The Jitterbug Dancer sketch came from a Mysterious Night Vision gel pen scribble. I did it with my eyes closed. The fun and the creativity came when I “saw” something in the scribble. I used Gelly Roll gel pens and Prismacolor colored pencils.
Our mom is now about to turn 90. She still loves Glen Miller and she still dances in place. She is my Jitterbug Dancer.
When I was a little girl, I was doll crazy. I dressed my dolls obsessively, and I was lucky enough to have an Aunt Mel who loved to make doll clothes for my girls.
I sat them around the picnic table and taught them; and I became a teacher.
I invited them to tea parties and cooked for them in my doll kitchen; and I became an avid home cook and dinner party hostess.
I read to them and became a reader.
I drew with them and became an artist.
What I am now, I learned by acting on The Doll Stage.
“Am I not right to feel as if I
must stay seated, as if I must wait
before The Doll Stage, or, rather,
gaze at it so intensely that at
last an Angel
has to come and make the stuffed skins startle into life?
Angel and Doll: A real play, finally.”
–Rainer Maria Rilke
My most beloved doll was a Betsy McCall doll. I took her on our family vacation to Glacier National Park. One morning, I got her all dressed for the day’s adventure over the Going to the Sun Highway and arranged her in a little tableau under a huge old oak tree.
In the kerfluffle of departure, I forgot her until we were high on the pass, and then the parents said it was too late to go back for her. I was heartbroken. My mother, now age 89, has so many times told me one of the few regrets of her well-lived life was that they didn’t go back for Betsy.
In my memory, Betsy is still there, waiting for me. I have returned to Montana three times over the span of the ensuing five decades, and each time I have gone to that tree to look for her. At age 65, there is some inner compulsion to return again and again to the scene of the crime; the crime of abandoning a loved one to the wilderness.
Why does a doll, an inanimate object, hold such a place of psychic charge, of emotional power on The Doll Stage of my soul? She was my first loss; she went ahead of me and created the Room of Inconsolable Grief that is now always there just off stage. Betsy lives there in the good company of my father and a black dog named Fianna.
Dolls occupy a liminal space between the rational and the irrational, between form and its shadow, between daylight and dream. The psychodramas of childhood doll play became the dark well of Mystery that I draw on daily in my art, in all the details of a passionate life lived for and in art.
I return to the theme of dolls again and again in my Mysterious Night Vision Field Journal (soon to be an online class. Stay tuned by subscribing to toucancreate.com, the website for our online art classes.). I find them deeply satisfying. The dolls speak to me of my many interior worlds; they act out on The Doll Stage that is the theatrical doorway to the old growth forest of my mind.
It turns out that I am the “Angel who startles the stuffed skins into life. Angel and Doll: A real play, finally.”
Are you a doll lover, too? Some people hate dolls and find them creepy–I will write about that next time. Is there something in your life that acts as dolls do for me, as intermediary objects between daylight and the place where you do art, that waking dream?
Please share your thoughts in the comment field below, or the one at the very top of the page–between the two “The Lost Doll” titles where it says “Leave a Comment.”–I’d love to hear from you!
It is, in many ways, the opposite of ColorYourWorld. In the ColorYourWorld class, we are looking out at the world and making an artistic representation of it. When we have black paper, we have a dark blank slate. It is our interior darkness. It is the world of dream, of spontaneous creation. Here we may draw our deepest thoughts, our most ephemeral emotions, the world that lives behind our eyes. It is the well we go down to where we may draw up the water of our own personal Source Imagery.
In this dream, I am sitting with Mom at a cafe outside the Museum of Modern Art, although I have significantly and unconsciously labeled it “Musee.”
We see my dad, long since gone from this world, climbing the steps and entering the “Musee.”
That’s it, but this 2008 dream is still strong in me seven years later. You’ll notice (or maybe not) that I can’t draw. That matters not at all to me.
I am fascinated by the way the dreaming mind likes to rhyme. My parents were inseparable except by death, but even in death, dad enters the MOM-A. I think that speaks to their bond, which built the strong foundation of my life.
But the element that still engages me is the connection to me of Modern Art–and I have tried to live a life in art–and the cross meaning of “Musee,” or “muse,” that which inspires. In Greek mythology, there were nine Muses, and still today, each artist is said to have his or her own Muse or inner source of inspiration.
What I understand now about the dream is that my father’s spirit entered into the storehouse of modern art and became my Muse, an artistic spirit who still advises me. But I have to say these meanings only come to me now as I reflect on the dream so many years later.
THE DREAM MANDALA
I love the idea of drawing such elusive inner experiences inside a circle. It is a spiritual or ritual symbol representing the universe. Knowing that, my dream fills up the space of the universe for the page of the moment and reminds me to think expansively, to look not only inward but outward.