Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Letting Go of Looking Good

If you’ve ever taken a drawing class, you are probably familiar with the idea of drawing what you see with your eyes, not what your mind thinks you should see. In other words, really look at what you are drawing and respond to that, rather than some mental notion of what the object is. We could all draw a coffee mug, for example, from an image in our mind. It is a different thing to really look at a particular coffee mug and trace its outlines. Drawing from imagination or memory and drawing from seeing are two different things, and practicing the latter will enhance your skills at the former.

In order to draw from seeing, we have to let go of any desire we you might have for the drawing to look like something. Paradoxically, that desire – that attachment to our idea of what something should look like – only gets in the way of seeing. Here is an exercise that will help you Let Go of Looking Good:

You will need:
Paper that will accept watercolor, several sheets
A white crayon
Watercolor paint, any color
Paint brush
Cheap drawing paper or a sketchbook
Pen of your choice

1. First establish that this exercise is for your eyes only, unless you decide to share it.

2. Remember to approach the exercise with a sense of inquiry, not with a particular goal. It does not matter what the result looks like; what matters is that you approach it honestly and wholeheartedly.

3. Set up your mirror so you can see your face.

4. Slowly and carefully, draw your face with white crayon on the watercolor paper without looking at the paper. Look at your face in the mirror only. Take your time.

5. Brush water over the drawing, then paint over it in watercolor to reveal the drawing. Put it aside to dry, and repeat the process.

6. After a few blind self-portrait drawings, try a few with pen on the drawing paper or in your sketchbook, both blind and looking at your paper. Even when you are not doing a blind drawing, look more at the subject (your face in the mirror) than at the paper.

Making self portraits, for me, is one of the most effective ways of practicing letting go of looking good. This letting go not only helps you to see better, but it cultivates acceptance. Sometimes it is hard to accept how age affects how we look. We’re tempted to leave out that wrinkle or make our eyes look bigger and more youthful. Resisting this temptation not only encourages acceptance, but will result in much more beautiful and interesting drawings.


  1. thanks - good idea. I was trying to do a face a week this year, but I got bogged down. this would be a good way to get started again.

    love the ambidextrous painting part. :)
    Sandy in the UK

  2. I've been wondering how to get going with drawing, never having had a lesson in my life. Am definitely going to give this a go. Many thanks.

  3. Wonderful idea and video! I especially love the way you use both hands! Do you usually switch hands while working?

  4. I've done this before but not for a self portrait. Its a great way to 'un-train' when you're about to do a realism subject

  5. What a fun exercise. I am sure mine will not be seen anytime soon !!! LOL!!! Ahh... just do it Kris !!! LOL !!

  6. Love it thanks- haven't done this in a while.


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