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Slow drawing as a methodology to inhabit, represent and reimagine nature

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This essay presents the concept of slow drawing, through a practical methodology based on the contemplation of nature in its multiple configurations. Based on phenomenology, philosophy and literature, the paper focuses on the reflection of 3 artistic experiences: (1) tracing a plant as perceptions of bodily and psychic territories, (2) drawings exploring the usage of local materials, and (3) collages that synthesize the experience, transporting the plant to a larger ecosystem. Drawing, as a sensitive tool of the gaze, engenders a form of attention to bring the outside world in. In this process, it is discovered that what sustains the visible is the ability to slow down the gaze.
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SLOW DRAWING AS A METHODOLOGY TO INHABIT,
REPRESENT AND REIMAGINE NATURE
Grazielle Bruscato Portella, Universidade de Lisboa
Faculdade de Belas Artes
1
ABSTRACT
This essay presents the concept of slow drawing, through a
practical methodology based on the contemplation of nature in
its multiple configurations. Based on phenomenology, philosophy
and literature, the paper focuses on the reflection of 3 artistic
experiences: (1) tracing a plant as perceptions of bodily and
psychic territories, (2) drawings exploring the usage of local
materials, and (3) collages that synthesize the experience,
transporting the plant to a larger ecosystem. Drawing, as a
sensitive tool of the gaze, engenders a form of attention to
bring the outside world in. In this process, it is discovered
that what sustains the visible is the ability to slow down the
gaze.
Keywords: slow drawing, artistic residency, contemplation,
phenomenology, Anthropocene.
1. INTRODUCTION
This article presents nature drawing methodologies to
approach art as a useful tool in the practice of contemplation.
Contemplation, a lingering and non-judgmental look at the
present, was critically examined through the elucidation of the
concept of slow drawing and the characteristics belonging to
this artistic creation. The core practice was incorporated into
a study of observation of a tree in an 8-day interval in the
context of an artistic residency. In three slow drawing
experiments, the perception of time, the preservation of memory
and the perspective of the future in an uncertain and dystopian
scenario are questioned.
1
PhD funded with scholarship from Science and Technology Foundation (FCT,
Portugal), reference code 2020.04418.BD.
At the heart of the investigation, the main question is:
“what does contemplation in drawing reveal in the understanding,
questioning and response of our presence in the world under
Anthropocene conditions?”. In addition, the project has three
subsidiary objectives: (1) to contribute with fundamental
knowledge about this modality of presence and contemplation; (2)
explore a practical drawing investigation methodology that
allows for a non-reductive, empathic and ethical relationship
with the model; and (3) propose new formats and strategies for
contemporary drawing.
The investigation was elaborated through different terms:
“flow”, “roots”, “place”, “emptiness”, “landscape”,
“territory”. All these expressions refer to a type of presence
characterized as involving, contemplative, impermanent,
intangible. It is a kind of presence that emerges around the
person who interacts with all the components of the situation
in which they find themselves. In this process, drawing emerges
as methodologically necessary for the proper understanding of
these concepts in contemporary times. The theoretical framework
is shaped by the work of philosophers and writers who elaborated
on these modalities: Bergson, Merleau-Ponty, Weil and Bachelard.
2 STATE OF ART: ANTHROPOCENE, SLOW MOVEMENTS AND LOOKING
The world is currently experiencing an acceleration of the
Anthropocene, a geological cycle marked by human influence on
Earth
2
, which occurs simultaneously with the advent of
globalization and neoliberal capitalism. According to historian
Harmut Rosa, since the middle of the 18th century, “the history
of humanity has been a growing process of social acceleration,
marked by the speed of advances in transport, communication,
economic production and especially digital technology
3
.
2
Waters et. Al, 2016.
3
Cited by Reed, A. (2017). Slow Art: The Experience of Looking, Sacred
Images to James Turrell. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 7-8.
The Anthropocene hypothesis points to human activity,
especially in the social, environmental, political and economic
spheres, as the new biogeophysical force whose impact allows the
scientific community to speak of a new epoch in the geological
time scale. Although the contributions of the natural sciences
area to the analysis of the phenomenon have been significant,
the literature generated by the human, artistic and social
sciences shows that there is still a lot to be done.
One response to this phenomenon are the slow movements,
which demand respect for the growth cycles of nature, cities or
food production and consumption
4
. Slow informs a range of
contemporary practices oriented towards sustainability, from
education, schooling, science, investments, sex, cinema, art.
Its parent was the slow food movement and, according to the
manifesto:
Homo sapiens must regain wisdom and liberate itself
from the 'velocity' that is propelling it on the road
to extinction. Let us defend ourselves against the
universal madness of 'the fast life' with tranquil
material pleasure.
5
Novelist Gustave Flaubert claimed that "anything becomes
interesting if you look long enough"
6
. The essence of the
temporal experience of art is learning to slow down. In a way,
art allows for “an extension of the faculties of perception”
7
.
This vision is the correspondence of what is defined today as
contemplation
8
. Several artists and poets help to discover the
enjoyment of the expansive gaze that a person experiences in
front of a nearby object. Bergson states that the greatest
painters are those to whom a certain vision of things is
4
Honoré, 2010.
5
https://slowfood.com/filemanager/Convivium%20Leader%20Area/Manifesto_ENG.pdf
6
Cited by Reed, A. (2017), p. 129.
7
Cited by Zagdoun, M. A. (2000), p. 145.
8
Han, B. (2020 [2010]), p. 104.
recovered, a vision that has or will become the vision of all
people”
9
.
In drawing it is no different. Drawing is often placed
within contemporary society as a set of methodological
procedures that systematically create an activity that,
reproduced in the same way, reaches a stage of technical domain
and artistic expression.
Nevertheless, for this investigation, the conception of
drawing would be present as the “intelligence of art”, as a
particular way of looking that will connect the different
dimensions of nature and the artistic phenomenon itself and will
give meaning to experiences in the world. The act of drawing
necessarily implies a deceleration and re-articulation of the
gaze towards the model. Philosopher Simone Weil reveals clues
about what this gaze entails:
The method for understanding phenomena would be: not
trying to interpret them, but looking at them until
light shines through. In general, the method of
exercising intelligence is to look. (...) The
condition is that attention is a look and not an
attachment.”
10
It is an intelligence aimed at a new perception and a new
form of generosity. In this sense, drawing has to do with these
gymnastics of attention, an experience of revealing through the
gaze. It is an experience of the language of the intellect
combined with the language of the body, a trail, a construction,
a personal self-exploration and an observation of the external
world in which one lives.
9
Cited by Zagdoun, M. A. (2000), p. 145.
10
Weil cited by Bosi,E. (2003).
The problem when drawing is that often what is seen is not
looked at
11
, but as Fernando Pessoa beautifully puts: “What we
see is not what we see, but what we are”
12
. The drawing artist
sees through the accumulated and previously lived experiences,
which condition the present experience. If drawing is seeing, a
necessary step is to unsee
13
, to stop seeing something that has
already been seen. The first step is to contemplate.
This paper proposes a reflection based on the concept of
slow drawing, or contemplative drawing. This creative process
implies understanding that this slowness happens above all in
the eyes of the beholder. From there, the drawing emerges between
two temporalities: a past that conditions us and that is not
there, and a future that derives from the expectation of showing
what will be to the spectator. In this middle term is the
present, which the hand will try to capture through the gaze.
Thus, who draws is not the hand, but the eye. The hand simply
expressed what was already drawn in the look.
3. A SLOW DRAWING METHODOLOGY
The elaboration of this methodology is developed from the
experience in the artistic residency Joya: AiR
14
, in Almeria, in
the south of Spain in September 2021. In operation for 15 years,
the residency not only welcomes artists, but emerges as a
continuous project of recovery of the heritage of a land
evidenced by geological erosion.
Ecology, art and silence are fundamental concepts promoted
in the experience in Joya: AiR. The founders seek to create an
environment for artists to fully immerse themselves in nature.
11
Merleau-Ponty, in the book The Eye and the Spirit, also points out that
"you only see what you look at" (1964, p. 21) and that "the body sees
itself by seeing" (1964, p. 22).
12
O que vemos não é o que vemos, senão o que somos in Pessoa, F. (1982).
Livro do Desassossego. (Vol. II). Lisbon: Ática, p. 387.
13
Alles, G., & Diaz, G., 2021.
14
AiR: Artist in Residency.
In conversation with Simon Beckmann
15
, artist and co-founder of
Joya: AiR, he elaborates on the role of drawing as a visual
experience that takes place where distances are broken between
the model, the hand and the mark:
As an artist I cannot distance myself enough from the marks
made by my own hand, as a curator, sometimes to those who
draw, I look to see distance between the mark and the maker
In the residency, the slow drawing methodology is built in
a flow of 3 steps: not knowing, incorporating and synthesizing.
Drawing begins with not-knowing
16
arising from a curious,
intuitive and detached impulse to something that attracts the
eye. In this process, there is a physical-sensory component that
is biological, and another component that is the perception.
This perception is the one that cuts out, within the field of
possible stimuli in our surroundings, where the body acts.
Secondly, the incorporation moment emerges through the
body, as a means of feeling and perceiving the surroundings
before transmitting it to the outside, and of developing what
Bergson calls 'pure perception'
17
. In other words, the body is
the center of action, which receives images from the outside and
responds to these images by returning movement to the world
18
.
Finally, a third instance operates, the visual and plastic
synthesis, where drawing in all its complexity is found: in the
15
Simon Beckmann is co-founder and curator of Joya: arte + ecología / AiR.
He is a researcher, activist, artist and designer. He studied Fine Art at
Manchester Polytechnic, received his MFA at The Royal Academy School in
London. Simon regularly gives lectures in Spain and the UK, and continues
his own practice through the Joya: AiR.
16
The philosopher of image Didi-Huberman brings in his book Before the
Image a reference between knowing without seeing, and seeing without
knowing. He elaborates on the idea stating that whoever chooses to know
will gain a synthesis, evidence of reason: a knowledge. But will lose the
reality of the object through a symbolic closure that reinvents the object
in their image through its representation. On the other hand, whoever
decides to see, loses a closed unit to find oneself in an open one that is
always uncomfortable in a society that is surrendered to the senses of the
image. (Alles, G., & Diaz, G., 2021 )
17
Bergson, 1896, pp. 75-76
18
Bergson, 1896, pp. 162-163
synthesis that takes place in the eye of the artist and
materialized on paper
19
.
Leaning for 8 days at the residence, this methodology was
developed from a single object of study: a tree found on one of
the walks around the place (Figure 1). It is an almond tree
(Prunus amygdalus) that has died due to soil erosion and the
cutting of its trunks. Throughout the development of the series,
it was given the name Alma (Soul, in English), in reference to
the sound of the Spanish word almendra and the region to which
the tree belongs.
Figure 1: Different angles of the Alma tree, used as an object of study for the
series. Source: Author, 2021.
Alma is the daughter of Almeria. It represents that of an
ancestor that passes from terrestrial generation to generation,
not palpable, but felt in Iberian terrains that are also global.
This memory trace informs a compositional methodology for this
work, a creative search for listening to the past and present,
a field work where what counts is the discovery and knowledge
through drawing.
After some first studies (Figure 2), the artist dives into
a phenomenological and sensory exploration with Alma. This
approach allowed the fruitful combination of perspectives of
nature oriented based on the artist's own bodily experience
combined with senses, thoughts, impulses awakened through the
19
Alles, G., & Diaz, G., 2021.
visual recording of the lights, shadows, textures and shapes of
the tree.
Figure 2: One of the first records of Alma made on a wood found in the Joya: AiR
residence. Oil pastel on wood, 10 x 7 cm. Source: Author, 2021.
3. THREE EXPERIENCES WITH “ALMA
Based on Agnès Garda's phrase “If we opened people up, we
would find landscapes
20
”, three slow drawing experiences
triggered by different interactions with the Alma tree are
highlighted: (1) inhabiting and tracking the movement of the
almond tree as perceptions of bodily and psychic territories,
(2) represent what is perceived in the surroundings from the use
of local materials, and (3) collages that synthesize the
experience, moving the tree to a larger ecosystem.
In these different explorations, a meticulous examination
of the exterior and interior of the tree was undertaken, where
the drawing happens in accordance with what is contemplable,
palpable and also intangible. Over the days, the artist becomes
aware of her own corporeal and mental presence in that space and
the geographies hidden in this naked and pictorial trunk
supported by the deep roots of an Almeria and an anonymous soul
(Figure 3).
20
Garda, 2009.
Figure 3: The artist's studio, which brings together writings and drawings made
directly with the tree. Material was arranged daily in a chronology mapped of
perceptions and thoughts about the field research experience, outside the studio.
Source: Author, 2021.
Alma is initially perceived as an abandonment, an embrace,
a sinuous, wandering paradox, a memory of a fearless ground. The
tree is cut on one side, keeping its braid on the other, deciding
to remain there, intact, imposing. A nature that is not dead,
as it lives through its memory, the look on it, its presence
(Figure 4).
Figure 4: Bodily perceptions of a tree (4 drawings). Graphite on paper, 29.7 x 21
cm (each). Source: Author, 2021.
In a visual dialogue between the artist and the landscape,
she tries to imagine and hear the aura of this tree that
nourished and is nourished by the soil of Almeria. As an exercise
in raising awareness of the territory where it is located, the
artist imagines what the tree experienced during the deep
history of the earth, which brings together past, present and
future. Its ecological awareness is hidden by the trunk that
stands like a vertebral column, mediating more than
materializing. As the artist observes and imagines possible
resurgences, other territories emerge, psychic territories as
well as corporeal ones (Figure 5).
Figure 5: During the observation of the tree, fears, doubts, hesitations also arise
and it is also from this honest process with the work that something starts to
surface. These two drawings elaborate on these processes. Graphite and colored
pencils on paper, 100 x 70 cm (each). Source: Author, 2021.
The more time spent drawing, a deeper ability to look was
acquired. In between marks, the artist discovers with surprise
that a process of fossilization was taking place inside the
trunk of the tree, giving rise to a brown charcoal (Figure 6).
At this moment, the artist realizes that nature generously
offers her the drawing tool, as an exchange. The material that
emerged from the object of study itself reconfigures the
approach to the drawings in the following days. The tree is now
the one who redraws its memory, establishing a dialogue with the
remnants of what it was, of what will perhaps become of other
trees. Symbolically, the tree was still alive, fertile and
vocal, materially eternalized in another space: the paper.
Figure 6: Discovery of natural charcoal in the hollow space inside the trunk, the
result of experiments in recording its textures using the frottage technique. What
happens when we look inside. Source: Author, 2021.
As drawing took place outdoors, the local climatic
conditions became as relevant as the use of the recently given
natural charcoal. The four drawings displayed in Figure 7 result
in the observation of the tree, but also with other intrinsic
sensory stimuli from the concentration to the surroundings.
Several techniques are explored, such as mass, silhouette or
blind contour and tranfer.
In one of the drawings, the artist incorporates the left
hand drawing simultaneously with the right hand, orchestrating
with the gaze both gestures. In the other studies, she
incorporated and mapped elements such as: shadows cast by the
sun's effect, ants that roamed the surface of the paper, stones
used to prevent the drawing from flying in the wind, notes of
the artist's floating thoughts, sounds of curious flies that
broke the silence of the land. It is a capture of the present
moment in essence: the ephemerality of time and the physicality
of space.
Figure 7: Four drawings that result from an impulse to phenomenologically register
the perceived, the observed, the heard and the sense, through the use of material
found in the tree. Graphite and natural charcoal from the tree on paper, 100 x 70
cm (each). Source: Author, 2021.
Finally, in this trunk, in these roots, a dialogue emerges
with the artist's own roots, a Brazilian in Iberian territory.
The Amazon, which is currently undergoing anthropogenic
degradation, is directly interconnected in this project, as a
daily uneasiness, the recognition of devastation, one of the
last frontiers of modernity, where perhaps there will not be
souls left to draw.
From this, hope arises, where drawing becomes an effort to
preserve the memory ingrained in these roots. Collages created
using the frottage technique of Alma's trunk, synthesize this
reflection, transporting the cut of the tree to larger
ecosystems, represented by black patches, which, like maps,
reveal lands that are as dense as they are empty (Figure 8).
Figure 8: Series of three collages. Charcoal and graphite on paper, 29.7 x 21 cm
(each). Source: Author, 2021.
4. FINAL THOUGHTS
Art preserves and is the only thing in the world that
preserves itself
21
. These approaches and registers of drawing
21
Deleuze & Guattari, 1992, p. 144.
indicate how, by inhabiting, representing and reimagining
nature, artists can awaken to discover other non-human
temporalities and sensitive ways of being in the world. In a
society increasingly focused on new technologies and the rapid
resolution of creative problems, the practice of slow drawing
can offer methodological models that combine the aesthetic with
the ecologic and the psychologic, as a reflection on the ethical
and environmental crisis the world faces universally
22
.
Something hasn't changed since Lascaux's caves until today:
drawing is something physical, and in drawing “there is less
between the hand and the image than in any other medium”
23
. The
act of drawing in a contemplative way also points to an
improvement in the processes of deceleration, concentration and
consciousness of nature, whether configured from the experience
with the local landscape, with the artist’s body or with a larger
ecosystem.
As a method, slow drawing presents itself not only as a
possibility for creation and materialization through the mark
on paper, but mainly as a resource for gentle and attentive
observation. As future methodological explorations, the use of
materials found or produced locally is suggested as a primordial
condition of the drawing.
Finally, it is pointed out that the drawing result carries
the quality of the artist's presence during its creation. And
as John Berger concludes, “for the artist to draw is to
discover”
24
. Drawing is a process of discovery and, most
important, about discovering the ability to look. Through the
line, one discovers the essence of what sustains the visible
through observation. In this process, the artist goes deeper,
discovering, with the poetic space, a space that is not enclosed
in one affectivity
25
.
22
Gabriel, 2020.
23
Marden, B. 1981, p. 56.
24
Berger, 2007.
25
Bachelard, 1975.
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Article
Full-text available
Human activity is leaving a pervasive and persistent signature on Earth. Vigorous debate continues about whether this warrants recognition as a new geologic time unit known as the Anthropocene. We review anthropogenic markers of functional changes in the Earth system through the stratigraphic record. The appearance of manufactured materials in sediments, including aluminum, plastics, and concrete, coincides with global spikes in fallout radionuclides and particulates from fossil fuel combustion. Carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus cycles have been substantially modified over the past century. Rates of sea-level rise and the extent of human perturbation of the climate system exceed Late Holocene changes. Biotic changes include species invasions worldwide and accelerating rates of extinction. These combined signals render the Anthropocene stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene and earlier epochs. Copyright
Article
O artigo trata da categoria da atenção à luz do pensamento de Simone Weil. Embora de natureza filosófica e inspirada em fontes bramanísticas, essa "doutrina da atenção" que deriva não só do pensamento mas da própria vida de sua autora apresenta interesse especial para a Psicologia.
Desenho além da técnica: por uma epistemologia do artesanal
  • G Alles
  • G Diaz
Alles, G., & Diaz, G. (Hosts). (2021, may). Desenho além da técnica: por uma epistemologia do artesanal (No. 5) [Audio podcast].
Ética para tiempos oscuros: Valores universales para el siglo XXI
  • M Gabriel
Gabriel, M. (2020). Ética para tiempos oscuros: Valores universales para el siglo XXI. Barcelona: Pasado y Presente.
Brice Marden: Paintings, Drawings And Prints, 1975-80
  • B Marden
Marden, B. (1981). Brice Marden: Paintings, Drawings And Prints, 1975-80. Londres: Whitechapel Art Gallery.
El ojo y el espíritu. Madrid: Editorial Trota
  • M Merleau-Ponty
Merleau-Ponty, M. (1964). El ojo y el espíritu. Madrid: Editorial Trota.