Abstraction

I’ve been teaching myself to draw. Not for recreation but as part of my own personal Daily Practice.

My relationship with creativity is fairly healthy. That said, I can find myself caught up in concepts, away in some land of theories and ideas and not focused enough in the moment. So I’ve adopted some Daily Practice elements which bring about a greater level of presence.

Every day I write in my work and personal journals to help me reflect on and be present in the day. I sit and meditate, even if I only have five minutes to spare before bed or at lunch time. And I draw something. Sometimes an object. Sometimes an idea. Because translating something from head language to visual language is a wonderful way to bring clarity and, as it turns out, figure out which elements really matter.

This morning I was drawing a badger. Shockingly I had to look up pictures of badgers to remember what they really looked liked. My first couple of attempts were awful! I ended up with something that looked like a chubby fox or a deformed cat.

Then I spent a little more time looking at one of the pictures and it hit me. I was trying too hard to draw a picture of a badger instead of visually representing a badger. What mattered wasn’t that the end result looked like a badger but that it signalled “badger” to the minds of anyone looking at it.

Consider common icons and images. Stick figures don’t look like humans but they signal “human”. Road signs communicate all sorts of things without actually looking like them (rocks falling, lanes narrowing).

With this new perspective I set off in a new direction. My job was to figure out what the essentially elements of a badger were and capture them. The daily obvious answer here is the stripes.

If I got the stripes right then everything else would be fine. I realise, focusing on the face, that the most important elements were one white stripe in the middle of the face, starting at the nose and ending between the ears, and two black stripes that started at the ears, covered the eyes and ended at the nose. Get those right and I’ve got a badger!

So this is what I did.

I’m not claiming these are amazing. But I’m pretty sure they look like badgers.

When I began my Daily Practice of drawing I did so because it would be a useful skill to develop and because drawing is a wonderfully meditative form of concentration. What I didn’t expect was the added bonus of making me better at abstracting information from noise. A vital creative skill.

The Hard Not Complicated Daily Practice methodology is a simple idea but it seems to hold layers of additional benefits. Like all powerful ideas, there’s a lot more under the surface.

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