Drawing to Capture Chaos

drawing emotion process

Chaos is all around us. We strive, as humans, to make order, to keep things in order and to make sense of our world by creating structure. Many people also believe that when you draw something the goal is to draw the object perfectly and make it as close to a photograph as possible. I have had so many discussions over the years with people who are worried about drawing. They feel like they need to “draw a straight line” and it needs to be a perfect, beautiful replica of the thing they are drawing. Even young children by 1st or 2nd grade have this idea about drawing. To be a “good” drawing it has to look “real.” My goal in all my teaching is to help people have an expanded notion of what a drawing can be and what a drawing can look like. 

Drawing is a powerful tool for capturing chaos, capturing the wildness of our lives. And I think that's the beauty of what drawing is all about, that there's no right or wrong way to draw and that you can capture so many different experiences and emotions through drawing. When I capture chaos in my own drawing I let my feelings and emotional state come out on the blank paper. I may be holding dark dusty charcoal or a think black oil stick or even a thin school pencil. In each case I allow myself to connect with the things I cannot express and unleash it through marks on the page. Maybe an image will emerge or maybe it will be only abstract marks that represent the tangled chaos I am experiencing in that moment. How can you use drawing as a tool to capture the way you are feeling? Maybe it's a chaotic nervous, frenetic kind of feeling. How would you use your marks to draw that feeling? That experience?

I'll always remember when my son was born. My daughter was about three years old. She loved her new baby brother but there were also feelings that she could not express directly. I had a small blue table set up in the kitchen for her with an array of drawing materials. It was always there for her. She was a toddler that did not like mess or getting paint or dirt on her hands. So as her messy artist mother I had to let her find her own way. I love the feel of a creative mess. But not her. But on this one day while I was cooking dinner she was sitting at her table and with her brand new box of cray pas oil pastels she took one color out at a time and drew a scribbled path all around the page. She put that color away and then took out the next color and drew another winding tangled line all around the page. She continued this with each color in that box of cray-pas (a box of 25 or so). The page was a colorful, chaotic web. She was organized and detailed in its execution. The cray pas were carefully placed back into the box after each color was used and she was silent and focused in the process. But the page represented something else. It was what she was feeling on the inside. A tangled web or emotions. I am guessing some kind of mixture of love and loss and anger and excitement. She was having a lot of chaotic feelings and things that she didn't really know how to articulate. I think that's the beauty about drawing is sometimes you can draw things that you can't necessarily name.

She put the cover back on the Cray Pas box and then got up and never drew anything like that again. I still have that drawing 20 years later. And she is the best older sister you could imagine. The idea of capturing chaos is really thinking about how you can you use drawing as a tool for capturing maybe the things that you don’t even know you are feeling. Capturing those chaotic difficult feelings that sometimes we don't know how to communicate. Or we need an extra level of expressive capacities to deal with the chaos that is in our world. I want to give you permission to use drawing to capture and explore the chaos in your life. Take one minute and see if you can capture a little chaos through drawing today.

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