Routine as Refuge
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author.
The act of creating art is “an absolute necessity.” I believe this so deeply that I have devoted my life to the education and nurturing of young artists. When my time comes, I will leave fulfilled in the knowledge that my efforts have helped support generations of artists. All of the faculty and staff at our private art college have one singular daily question: did we help an artist grow today?
Sometimes that growth takes place outside of the classroom. College art students often lose touch as to why they have chosen to pursue a formal art education. As educators, we pile on homework and assignments in the pursuit of preparing the students for their upcoming internships and careers. The students work diligently to achieve high marks and portfolio-ready pieces. While these endeavors are necessary to develop craft and technique, the tasks become a “numbing routine of life.” One of the most heartbreaking phrases to hear from an art student is, “I’m too tired to draw.”
The magical thing about getting better at drawing is that it is an accumulative task. It is not about a Herculean effort to complete a large-scale, multi-day project. A long-form project can be dry and overworked. Drawing is all about daily practice. This routine can become an oasis for the student to connect back to the spark that lead him/her/them to pursue art and design as a career. The student can find an escape in the daily routine because it becomes a comfortable, familiar activity. After working on numerous homework assignments, a student can breathe an artistic sigh of relief with their daily drawing.
A daily drawing routine can be about observational drawing. Sketching the world around us makes us better at seeing nuance and details. Artists that are able to see the smallest difference between subjects are better equipped to be engaged citizens. They have the ability to respect the differences in people. This “simple gift” of daily visual note taking prepares them to look for and honor the differences in the world.
In 2012, my own daily sketching routine guided me to two remarkable moments in Mcleod Ganj, Dharamsala, India. Our group visited the Tibetan Children’s Village where we brought bags of stuffed toys. As we toured the grounds, we stopped in a preschool classroom. The children were learning about animals and they wanted to know if I really could draw “any animal from memory.” Luckily for me, my daily practice of drawing animals had prepared me for this exact situation. Each child took a turn and tried to stump me with exotic beasts. One child excitedly proclaimed “pangolin!” and all of his classmates spun around to see if I could commit it to paper. As the pangolin took shape, the roar of excitement in the identifiable animal is something I will always cherish!
The next day, back in the town, I was waiting for my group outside the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics. In Mcleod Ganj, dogs roam freely and some of the larger ones act like sentinels outside of temples and hotels. As I waited, I drew the dogs. Almost immediately, monks began to gather around me and watch me draw. They talked to me and while I couldn’t understand what they were saying, I understood that they were enjoying watching me draw the dogs. Art allowed all of us to stay in the moment, to be fully present, and to enjoy each other’s company. While it had taken me years of practice to accurately draw a dog from life, it was the application of ink to paper that provided all of us, monks and artist, a simple gift.
Charlotte Belland, BFA, MFA is an Associate Professor and Chair of Animation at the Columbus College of Art and Design. Her artistic practice focuses on capturing the immediacy of animal movement with ink drawings.
“Working with ink is foundational to my process because the quick, permanent medium keeps me focused in the present moment. Even though my ink drawings are a single moment in time, the energy of the gesture that leads and follows that moment must resonate in the lines. This energy honors the essence of the animal and encourages viewers to pause and appreciate the beauty of the animal realm.”
Belland graduated with a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Computer Animation from The Ohio State University. Part of her creative habit is to post a daily animal drawing to Instagram. Those drawings can be viewed on Instagram.