During my four years at Luther College, January Interim was like a pause during the school year. We took one course during the month and really dug into whatever we were studying.
Freshman year that meant a life drawing course. Six hours a day of doing figure drawing was like living n a zen world. It was wonderful, absorbing and a calm in the relative storm of that first year in college. In succeeding years I would travel to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology on an internship. My Junior year I created a massive mural for a nature center. And senior year I don’t recall what January Term was all about. I was in love and didn’t care about anything but that.
But that freshman year was memorable. We’d draw from 9:00 a.m. to noon, have lunch, and come back for three more hours of drawing in the afternoon.
Figure drawing is an intensive act. It requires full concentration and the discipline to actually draw what you see, not what you think is there. Whether drawing the male or female figure, the human body has many subtleties.
In drawing women, the lines of the female figure could be terrifically subtle; from hip through waist, around the breast and into the neckline. Men might have more profound edges. It all depended on the model.
When the drawing day was through, I’d head to the gym, change into running clothes and head out for base mileage run of 6, 10 and 15 miles in the hills around Decorah. The landscape was just as subtle and diverse as any figure I’d drawn during the day. Often we’d finish in darkness, the lights of campus drawing us back home. It was earth, organic and true. Often during runs I’d explore ideas for paintings or writing. That would be a process that holds true all my life.
The opportunity to immerse oneself in artistic pursuits of such focus was important to me. Recently I’ve been able to recreate some of that focus by leasing space at Water Street Studios, an artist’s collective in my hometown of Batavia, Illinois. Painting in my studio involves quite a bit of focus too. It’s like you’re in another world.
Or another time. In a similar fashion, heading out for a run after a day in the studio painting takes me back all those years to Luther. And in similar fashion, it has been a challenge and a pleasure to immerse myself in art again.
There have been breaks from painting and drawing over the years. Some of these were by force of need, especially during periods of intense caregiving, when every ounce of energy went into that process.
Other times were breaks by choice when the process I’d created to make art was not satisfying. So I took a break and wrote instead.
The same has held true for running and riding. Naturally there are periods in our lives when training calls us to higher levels of intensity. We need it or want it more at some times than others.
This is true of love and life as well. All our pursuits are pieces of energy emerging from within us. As artists know better than anyone, that mark made on a piece of paper is both an expression and a commitment.
Perhaps you’ve been out running and looked back at your footprints in the snow. I’ve always gained pleasure from seeing footprints that are straight and sure. Toes pointing forward, not outwards. Most efficient.
There are moments in painting and drawing like that too. You draw on experience to create the art of what you do. Everything you’ve learned or are trying to learn comes together. A sweet spot in time. And that is satisfying.
Last Friday night I showed my artwork in the Resident Artist exhibition at Water Street Studio. Events like that are filled with both anticipation and trepidation. It is a test of sorts to display your work. Show how you think. Demonstrate what you can do.
My art seemed to be well-received. People toured the downstairs gallery and came upstairs to my studio to share their views on what they liked about my work. It was rewarding and encouraging. It motivates me to do even better. That is how you draw on experience and expand the art of what you do.
Every race you run or event you do is similar to an art show. You put it out there for the public to see and then stand around sharing that experience with others. It’s a delightful aspect of human nature that we appreciate the art of our existence. And draw on each other’s experience.
January can make it tough to want to make all that work. But if you view it as a calm during the storm of the year, or an Interim term to really focus on things you need to do, it can be a great way to start the year.
So get in there. Make art of what you’re doing.