Perseverance

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This morning, I felt like dancing! I made a few moves in front of the mirror, and in my hallway. It just felt good… I felt free!

I also drew for a little while… very little though… I very quickly become discouraged when I can’t make it look that way I want it to. And I am just learning, so you can imagine that my drawings seem childlike.

But unlike a child, I take it way too seriously! It takes me so much time to draw because I don’t want to make any mistake and then I have to start all over again! I watch myself getting frustrated and suddenly I realize how funny it is! It is by practicing, by trying again and again that we learn! How many times does a toddler fall on its bum while learning to walk?

I find it so hard to draw and to add colour once the lines are drawn! So often, I can’t remember how I filled the drawing the last time… but very slowly, I give it a timid try. Not only I am not satisfied, but I just find, again, that what I have done is lost…

But if I let it sit for a while, I realize it’s not so bad, I can erase, and try new lines or add new highlights. And when I dare to try, when I push the fears that paralyze me aside, then, oh! wow! my drawing comes to life! It slowly becomes a pleasure to see it grow, just like a baby.

Last night I was reading about an Indian saint, Mâ Anandamayi, and her writing on the importance of consistently maintaining a practice… whether it be drawing or otherwise; practices bring us to a place of peace.

No matter how hard it often is for me to draw, drawing is becoming more and more an essential part of my life, whether I like it or not. It brings me back to a peaceful state of mind, which is  so precious!

I know, it may seem strange, seeing as I  just described how I would sometimes like to through my drawings out a window… but it really is a wonderful gift!

Perseverance!

– Méli

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Exposing our vulnerabilities to ourselves

CCseins_wuafbaI don’t want anyone to see my dark side or my weaknesses. I want to look my best, perform my best, be nice, please others… all the time. To a fault.

But it gets pretty painful working so hard to meet such unrealistic expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry. It’s so much better if we can learn to accept ourselves just the way we are.

Drawing myself has helped me to do that. While I’m drawing (and a detailed image like this one requires many hours of looking back and forth between the photograph and my translation of it), I start to see clearly both the beauty and the flaws, the strengths and the weaknesses.

As if only by exposing everything can I embrace who/what I am. Hiding from my faults does not help me appreciate my strengths… whether they be related to character or appearance… I am what I am!

Flowing from within this very simple process of drawing, these little moments of discovery arise… a kind of “so what”? attitude comes in, which is actually the letting go of the perfectionism that usually haunts me.

I soften and accept. I see, for once, without judging.

These breasts that were such a disappointment when I was unable to produce enough milk for my babies are no longer a liability. They’re a part of me, imperfect like everything else, and yet perfectly fine just the way they are. As I age and see other women, friends and family, faced with the challenges of cancer, I am humbled and I’ve learned to treasure these breasts I once despised.

Drawing has helped my be grateful for this body, my body.

– Colette

 

What pains us makes us grow…

Is photographing and drawing myself narcissistic? Self-Absorbed? Vain?

Or could it become a simple, accessible way to heal from self-rejection?

For me it is definitely the second statement. I do it because I have always judged and criticized myself harshly, and drawing self-portraits is the best process I’ve found to really change my self-perspective. Usually, when I look in a mirror, it’s to check/criticize/correct, and in my never-ending quest for perfection I can always find something to fix.

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I am 48 years old now and have been drawing myself for 12 years. I keep quitting and coming back to it, because in spite of my resistance, it helps. This image obsession has sucked so much vital energy from my life over the years that a part of me is really angry about it and has pushed me to act. Fortunately, there is a part of me that is able to see beyond the skewed vision of my mind and catch a glimpse of something else… an imperfect yet strong woman with a still-vulnerable little girl inside, a worthy and yes, a beautiful human being. AS ARE WE ALL…

It’s a double-edged sword in that it’s only because I want to be so outstandingly beautiful that I can possibly see myself as so pitifully ugly. And I’m not, even on the world’s terms, ugly. It’s craziness… but even crazier, our culture FEEDS this craziness!

I chose drawing because it was simple, accessible, free, and I had gentle, non-judgemental people around who encouraged me on this path even when I wanted to throw myself, them, or my drawings out the window. I am no longer shy to talk about this or show my work because I’ve had enough of falling back to the false visions and ingrained beliefs that are so harmful to my health and happiness.

We’ve agreed to only share drawings on this blog – to describe the process and invite others to try it – but I’m posting this photograph because it expresses in a single image just how much I’ve struggled with shame and fought for self-acceptance. And, because photography is  the foundation for our drawing practice.

Being old enough to remember life before digital cameras,  I must say they played a huge part in the development of this process because their accessibility lessened the cost as well as the performance aspect of photography.  My first digital camera allowed me simply to take many, many, pictures, period.

silhouetteCCWhen I began this self-image work, I took a minimum of three pictures of myself EVERY single day for nearly 3 years, and stored them in my computer. I didn’t even try to pose; most often I was balled up in shame, but over time I was able to experiment and slowly unfold my body. I eventually loosened up and even took some pictures of me dancing nude, which only I have ever seen because they were only taken for me to learn to love me.

To take self-portraits I use the timer, propping the camera up anywhere, and spontaneously throwing myself in front of the lens as the seconds tick down to the “click”. I don’t worry about lighting or backgrounds or positioning,  because taking the pictures is part of a process – it’s not about the results. In my mind, the pictures are only for drawing purposes anyways, so even if many of the photos are off-centred or unflattering, I keep them all, hoping to learn to accept myself from every angle.

But that is just the beginning – the most beautiful vision comes through when I take up a pencil and slowly transform the photographs into the simplest of drawings and later more detailed “artwork”.

Ultimately, we’re all “works of art”, just the way we are. Any other vision of ourselves is simply false.

 

– Colette

Self-Acceptance

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This picture is of me, which makes it more challenging to let go of the criticisms my mind propagates as I draw.

But with a deep breath and an open heart, I see one thing clearly:   I see the mind trying to accept – working so hard to mentally accept what the body has already long ago accepted – that I am perfect, already, exactly as I am.

I see softness and light.

I see great beauty within the design, human beings are so wonderfully made, we all are, both women and men.

We are made of love and light. I can see it distinctly when I draw and paint the body.

Drawing brings forth the basic design, the lines, the heartbeat and the body’s structure, then painting it fills it with light, the water, the gracefulness, the divine light of love.

How can I possibly hate something so beautiful?

There is a peace in this body. Usually, my criticisms and mind cover up  this peace, like the clouds in the sky.

Only through drawing and opening up can I see the truth behind the mind’s lies.

Practice, practice and more practice, help me open  my heart and see the truth. Having friends to draw with helps me too.

When the harsh judgemental clouds in my mind are so thick, I can’t find the light. I forget sometimes that like the sun, the light lives  within, it’s always there, and like the sun it shines on everyone equally. Rich or poor, black or white, good or bad. We are all lovable and loved, and this vision of myself as I’m drawing, painting my body, is real love.

 

– Theresa

DRAWING the IMAGE of MY BODY

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I never chose to have to live with painfully negative body image, low self-esteem and food difficulties that verge on an eating disorder. It was never a conscious decision; it was a reaction to some deeper, invisible wound that I cannot name. Whatever that wound is, it has yet to be healed by any amount of psychotherapy or relentless positive thinking. It’s a part of who I am, a deeply ingrained resistance to living… a subtle refusal to exist in this vessel that is my body, but I am here, alive and otherwise well, so what can I do?

I know I am not alone with this wound. More and more women and men are speaking out about their difficulties with loving, accepting and caring for themselves due to an unnatural obsession with their appearance. It’s easy to blame the pervasive media treatment of the body as a sexual marketing object, and while that does contribute significantly, I’m convinced it goes much deeper than that.

Whatever the cause, I can affirm that the suffering is very real, and people are actively seeking out new ways to find relief from the distressful self-thrashing that comes from living in constant dissatisfaction with ourselves and the way we look.

More than 12 years ago, I took up drawing the human body. Not because it was fashionable and certainly not because I was good at it, but because a trusted friend suggested it may help change my perspective. It did, and continues to do so. Not instantly, perhaps not for good, but as with any other practice, it evolved over time. Figure drawing workshops with nude models exposed me to a large number of bodies belonging to people of different ages, conditions and ethnic origins, which was probably a start towards being less critical of my body, but that wasn’t enough. What I most needed to draw was my own body.

For me the process has remained very simple: First of all I have to be willing to look at my body (not always a given!) and then to draw it. To draw from, I sometimes use photographs taken by others, but mostly photos I take alone using the timer on my digital camera because I rarely want others to see me nude. I went through periods when I photographed myself daily, for 3-4 years, and then easily through another 3-4 years when I didn’t photograph myself at all because I couldn’t bear to see myself so flawed and so vulnerable. When I started this, I liked drawing but I didn’t consider myself to be an artist. All I was doing was picking up a pencil and taking the time to transfer the body I saw in the photograph onto a fresh sheet of paper. At first I came up against a lot of self-judgment because I wanted attractive results, but soon enough I learned that it’s the process that counts. I think I started recognizing the importance of the process the day I stopped trying to achieve something. That’s when I started feeling what was going on inside me as I drew.

And what did I feel? Initially, I sometimes felt distress and repulsion while looking at the photograph, but not for long. As I focused on my drawing something else emerged; a peaceful tranquility, an acceptance that released all judgment. I began to see the person I was drawing with detachment: a woman, a thin woman, a fat woman, a sad woman, a happy woman. All of a sudden my body became more than a costume whose dimensions didn’t seem to fit me properly and took on a depth of being that I’d otherwise missed.

What happens? The best way to describe it is a change in perception. It’s about moving from attestation (a declaration of how things are) through observation to contemplation. It’s about turning judgment into acceptance and criticism into appreciation. There is something beautiful – on a thousand very different scales – about every one of us, and although we fail to see it while appraising ourselves in the mirror before facing the world, we can come to see it by drawing ourselves and others.

– Colette