Monthly Archives: March 2013

Linking how you draw and the books that you read.

I’ve had some interesting feedback about the possible links between the books we like to read and how we draw. At my drawing class, struggling with the still life, I asked my two neighbours what sort of things they liked to read, and I could immediately see the connections. The careful and sensible collection of pots seemed to fit nicely with ‘Call the Midwife’, and a bold splat of shapes with ‘I’m dyslexic –  I only read magazine articles’. You may be sceptical – of course we all hear what we want to hear and see what we want to see. But I also asked Neil, the tutor, and it’s not too hard to join up his current reading – Haruki Murakami, magic realism – to these paintings, is it?

Then I visited one of my favourite blogs, ‘A Sketch for the Day’, and asked the artist what sort of books he read. He quite reasonably asked me to guess:  I see his sketches as very contained but full of narrative so, I went for short stories – and was right!

I was completely defeated by Norman Ackroyd though. I watched a BBC programme about him going out in a boat to sketch the northern most rocks off the Scottish coat – fantastic forms and tones, along with a great sense of space and wilderness.  Watching him at work translating these sketches into a copper plate etching, it was impossible to imagine that he ever picked up a book as he was so entirely engrossed in the landscape that he was recreating in the studio.

It’s important to challenge simple theories and connections, anyway.  They generate poor art, bad writing and threadbare therapy. Lives are far too complex, multidimensional, messy and unpredictable to describe in terms of simple links. One of my favourite psychoanalytic writers, the late Stephen Mitchell, talked about our lives as works of art.   I don’t have the direct quote, as I lost all of my books in a house fire 18 months ago, and haven’t replaced everything. But I described it like this in my own writing

Every stimulus or experience is fashioned and organised into a subjective world by an active organism. A self is created like any work of art, from the interplay between an imaginative process and available material such as relationships and contexts. The materials offer potential and constraints that the process must work with, but the product is more than the materials.



The colourful therapist

It’s been a good week for drawing, and for meeting other sketchers. I’ve seen some very impressive painters too, but I’m at the stage where colour  seems a step too far – or so I tell myself. But then look at this, from the latest episode of The Wednesday Group. Doodling on the iPad is never colourless. Somehow in my mind this is completely different from the drawing that I do. Is this dissociation?  Pencil split off from iPad?

Stevie's volcano of anger

Stevie’s volcano of anger

I had another interesting conversation this week with a poet and writer, talking about styles of writing, and the sorts of books we prefer. I ‘m not very patient with descriptive, carefully crafted prose unless it can carry me along with an energetic story line. I want to know what happens next, rather than how sensuously the voile curtains are catching the breeze through the open French windows…. if you see what I mean. Is this somehow related to my focus on line rather than colour?

Maybe this plays out in the therapy room in my search for a coherent narrative, and a degree of impatience with the colour? I wonder what the colour consists of in this case. It isn’t the same as detail, because those are often fascinating. It’s very hard for the beginner to draw hands and feet, but unless you get them right, the figure never looks real. That carries over into therapy. There are certain details that jar, or don’t make sense, that have to be looked at much more closely. There are key areas that you have to work at repeatedly in order to begin to grasp the whole figure.

So what could colour mean in this context? And what makes a colourful psychotherapist? In our attempt not to overwhelm or impose upon the other person in the room, do we end up as 50 shades of grey? (That would make a great sketch, incidentally!)  I’m going to ask Phillipa Perry – she stands out for me as a potentially colourful psychotherapist. Anyone else you can suggest?


Finding the right artist and or therapist.

Sketching has morphed into doodling lately, but I did produce one small drawing on the train from Bournemouth to Coventry that gave me hope. At least it had some passing resemblance to the young man working on his laptop across the aisle from me…. but a long way from Lynne Chapman’s wonderful train sketches.

train sketch-001

My painting and drawing class was cancelled as the tutor was ill, but we’ve been promised an extra class at the end of term. It’s one of the best classes I’ve been to, and I’ve tried a few.  The ones that work for me are always those where I feel OK with the tutor. There is something very exposing about drawing when you are an enthusiastic but clueless beginner, and how the tutor relates to you is crucial.

There’s an obvious parallel here with the relationship between psychotherapist and new client. There needs to be a sense of ‘I could get on with this person’ right from the start, I think. We make a judgement about who we can get on with in a very short space of time – seconds – when we first meet someone. It’s not an infallible system and sometimes we get it wrong, but we all scan the other person for signs of familiarity or threat without even recognising that we are doing it. There’s a very good exercise that gets used in counselling training where a group of strangers walk around the room in silence, and are then asked to form small groups.  There is no spoken communication, but what happens is that the strangers sort themselves into groups that have shared experiences – middle children, dominant mothers, absent fathers, only children, and so on. We sniff out the people we feel safe with, and we feel safe with what we know rather than the unknown.

My favourite drawing tutors have a sort of childlike passion for art that they want to share with the class. They are like bounding, energetic dogs, insisting that you take them for a walk and see how great it is out there.  Age is irrelevant – one of the best tutors was in her 70’s and going deaf, but was so enthusiastic about the task in hand and my scratchy efforts that I was completely won over.

Does that work in psychotherapy, I wonder? Someone once said I was “evangelical” about group therapy, so if I take that to mean enthusiastic and passionate, then maybe it does.  Why work anywhere that does not have those qualities of passion, energy, inspiration and creativity? Surely we would all choose that if we were able to?