Sketchbook Meditation: Conch Shell
A recent Saturday morning at the beach was cloudy interspersed with intermittent drizzling rain. Hoping for the promise of the sun breaking through, I waded into the waves, enjoying the gooseflesh sensation of gentle chilly breezes coming off of the Atlantic. Looking down, I saw this beauty of a conch, free floating in the shallow tides. Assuming she was meant for me, I scooped her up and brought her home.
Influenced by Carl Jung and his respect for symbols and their cultural context, I did a bit of research into the meaning and uses of conch shells across various cultures. I learned that the conch is one of the 8 Auspicious Symbols in Buddhism. Among other things, its spirals represent infinity and the journey of life from birth to death and beyond. For me this is a relevant reminder, since I am about to embark on a new journey, working with a hospice program as an art therapy intern this fall. I love how the universe offers support in simple everyday occurrences, like finding a seashell or catching sight of a dove, when you pay attention and make it yours.
I’m engaging in a sketchbook meditation of sorts, based on guidance from Pat B Allen’s books that hold top spots on the list of indispensable books in my library. From one chapter entitled: Knowing Drawing, ” If you discover that you really like drawing objects, consider getting a sketchbook and drawing the same object until every page is filled. Choose something simple and let ourself see it as deeply as you can. Drawing in this way is a meditation.”
I began with chalk pastels, since I love the color and the way they can be blended for softness or applied with clear, defined strokes. I like the flexibility of this medium and the way the vivid pigment lays on the paper. Unless you use a blending tool, fingers work best, and simply blowing on the paper works well to remove miscellaneous dust. Chalk pastels need a fixative if you wish to keep the image for a long period of time without alteration. For my purposes, I’m fine with allowing for the inevitable smudging which may occur as I continuously handle the sketchbook. I’m interested in the process, what the images bring to mind and how it expresses my feelings in a particular moment. I like noticing how looking at the resulting marks makes me feel.
Yesterday I tried graphite pencil, colored pencil and marker, alone and separately. I also tried different approaches to the image:
1. Looking at the shell and attempting to draw it exactly as I saw it, in a photographic manner.
2. Looking at the shell for some minutes, then looking away and drawing the general impression that was left for me, expressed in abstract swirls and spiraling marks.
3. Looking only at the object, placing my pencil on the paper and never lifting the pencil from the page and never looking down at my drawing until I felt finished. This technique is known as blind contour drawing.
This last approach was the most interesting by far. When I finished and glanced down at the result, I immediately saw a bird and embellished it with colored pencil, pastel, and finally a black Sharpie marker for definition. What emerged was Shellby, the Hellacious Hen or my version of Angry Bird. This may have something to do with the fact that world news was playing in the background as I drew, easily getting me in touch with sad and angry emotions. I’m sure this bird has more to say to me!
When feelings that I see as “negative” come up in a drawing, often my first reaction is resistance or an impulse to smooth things over, literally, with a pleasing color or shape. More and more, I have come to simply accept the feeling or state of mind with neutrality and without judgment. After all, feelings are there for a reason, and if I look and listen to them, usually are there to help me along in this journey.