First Class: Improvised Line
Our journey together began on a rainy night in October. Transitioning from the rigors of the day to fruitful creativity requires atmosphere; so we lit candles, loaded up the fireplace and watched the leaves outside the window dance. Our traveling music was “Appalachian Journey,” a compilation of American music in the folk tradition performed by YoYo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Conor (Sony Music Entertainment). I invited the group to observe the season, smell the air, see the colors and the light—to let the busyness of the day go and get ready for a journey.

Just as we have all done sometime along the way in primary school, we began with an adult version of “connect the dots” –an exercise in improvised line. For this first exercise, I went to the best “how to” book I’ve ever encountered, The Creative Way to Paint by David Friend. Although I still know little about the author, this book is worth ferreting out: It reads like a course in a good art school. Even though I had a degree in the subject and was certified to teach it, I hadn’t been introduced to what I consider to be the important concepts I first found in this book.

This particular exercise is one I had done in some form in my own doodling and you may have too. But Mr. Friend does a great job in explaining the whys and wherefores (Improvised line page 26). I modified it slightly and will explain simple directions.

The idea is to take an imaginary journey through your non-dominant hand. Huh? Truly, we are taking a walk of the imagination and we are using the hand, which is difficult to control to be the tour guide. This is about letting go.

I want to emphasize WALK! It is critical to not make your focus getting to the end of the exercise. In other words, don’t hurriedly put lines on the paper in order to be able to say, “What’s next?” (You’d be surprised how often that happens.) Try to control the impulse to be “done” just to see what it looks like. That approach makes the exercise about the finished product. Our aim here is to practice accessing the unconscious. Hurrying through will inhibit getting in touch with yourself. If you can’t help it, go ahead, get it out of the way. It is only paper. There is more where that came from. Don’t let any of this become too precious. You will snuff the life right out of it. But at the same time you want it to be fresh, so don’t beat it to death. Trust.

You can do this on the blank pages that follow the chapter or you can prepare more fully for beginning a painting, or just read and imagine and see where it led our group. Consider keeping a pad of paper handy and doing this exercise with different levels of concentration whenever you have some down time. You can then let that mark-making evolve into sketching. Sketch on top of your “improvised” lines. The paper is “at your service”.