Streaks of grey across a page, zigzagging here and there like the winding pass of a cliffside road. A random assortment of lines, each perfectly imperfect, curve and weave in and out of each other. Step back, and the basic form of a face appears, rendered in the faint traces of graphite. It is the bare bones, like a skeleton, waiting to be fleshed out. An array of drawing pens lay out on my lap, their permanence looming over me like a rain cloud hangs over a forest desperate for water. With a gentle sigh, I select one, raise it to the paper, and begin.
Before there were words, there were drawings. Our ancestors of long ago rendered the natural world around them into carvings on cave walls. Forests, animals, and men transfigured from their fully fleshed forms into two-dimensional interpretations. In the Renaissance, artists were supported by the highest elites, who desired to have their legacy of power and dominance captured in the paintings of the masters. During the Medieval era, when the poor population could not read or even write their own name, it was through the stained glass windows that they came to understand the religious lessons being taught to them. We are a visual species. Though words hold power, there is an undeniable desire to transform the world around us into a pictorial representation. Descriptions of lands pale in comparison to cartographical representations of them. Drawing is a form of power. The universe around us may largely be out of our control, but within the confines of the page, everything is exactly where we place it.
No one creates artwork in a vacuum. Every art movement stems from or rejects those that came before it, in a beautiful interpretation of the cyclical nature of life itself. Where my artwork fits into this pattern of rejection, renewal, and rebirth, I couldn’t say with any certainty. I am no Raphael, no Picasso, no Van Gogh. I am simply me: a young woman, plagued with anxiety disorders, whose mind seems to run at a thousand miles an hour on a winding cliffside roadway, with very little to slow the descent towards the inevitable spinout at the bottom. A young woman, attempting to make her way in the world without falling apart first. It is exhausting, to always be on edge. Sometimes it feels like the only reprieve I get is when there’s a pencil or pen in my hand.
In those moments when I am drawing, my mind goes silent. Every one of my senses is engaged: the feel of the pencil in my hand, the sound that it makes as it glides along the paper, the visual of the line emerging out of seemingly nothing. Even the smell of the eraser as it scribbles out my mistakes and returns the page to a less-than pristine white triggers an almost primordial focus that my overly-anxious brain seems incapable of producing. I am creating something, pulled from the chaos of my mind, and rendering it visible to those around me. It is transcendence in its most tangible form. There is so much joy in just being. In the ability to simply exist without questioning everything around me. Dozens of hours erasing and redrawing a single line to create just the right face shape that I desire. Rework the eyes as the nose falls into place. Shape the lips so that they purse just right to capture the happiness, nervousness, or sorrow that my character is feeling. I can sit for hours in front of my drawings, furiously tracing and retracing the same form until I have nearly worn a tear in the paper from the friction caused by my eraser. I am frustrated, but not overwhelmed. I am in control, even if it is in the fleeting stroke of a pen as it colors in the pupil of an eye. Though I cannot eliminate all the anxiety factors that exist outside of myself, on the page, I am the grandmaster.
The drawing in front of me begins to reveal itself, and I feel like an interpreter for my own mind. Erasing and beginning again, I continually craft the world I see inside myself. I am creating my paper opus, though the finished work is no Madonna. Like a symphonic piece played by those just learning their instruments, it is not glorious. It won’t capture the eye of a passerby if they were to see it hanging in my window, but perhaps that’s for the best. My power and joy comes not in the final solution, but in the equation itself. It is the process of drawing that seems to pacify my greedy mind. Hours of my life slip away as I am consumed more and more by the gradual growth of lines and shapes that populate my paper metropolis. Nothing but me and the world I craft in perfect, quiet harmony at last.
The time for drawing is few and far between these days. With the pressures of applying to graduate school, maintaining a job, and living in an (almost) post-pandemic world, there are often weeks where my drawings will sit half-finished. They say there is no money to be made in artwork, and perhaps that is the case. I certainly struggle to see anyone spending any sort of money purchasing whatever I make, but every so often, I have dreams and fantasies about making art my career. These dreams are quickly swallowed up by my anxiety, however, and I return to the pressures of adulthood. But, in those moments when I can slink back to my easel, I am transported to a state of mind that I have to believe is what Heaven is really like. Everything else falls away, and I am transfigured into a goddess among paper, creating the world anew like the cave renderings of old.