When I was painting portraits back in the day, the best exercise I was introduced to was the timed gesture drawing. A couple of friends and I would hire a model and once he or she was ready, we'd ask the model to give us a one minute, five minute, ten minute and a 30 minute pose. We were challenged to sketch as much as we could in the allocated time. It was tough and took some getting used to and many times, all I'd drawn was an oval for the model's face when time was called!
In addition to loosening up and learning to sketch quickly, I found it interesting how creative, free and spontaneous my drawings became in a short amount of time. I learned to glance at the whole and select the most interesting angle or the part of the body that told the entire story or perhaps, told an entirely different story. I love looking back at those sketches and sometimes it feels as someone else drew them. It's like when you're in the zone and I love being in the zone creatively!
I've found that the timed gesture exercise works with writing, as well. If I'm at home, I select a photograph that is unknown to me and I write what comes out in the time I select. The Internet is useful here or a magazine at the doctor's office while I'm waiting to be seen. I always carry a notebook and a pen with me, so it works for me. I might describe the vet tech, a photograph in a newspaper left behind, or the barrista who has just made my cafe latte with half and half and two Splenda.
This gesture drawing exercise trained my eye and brain to look at a photograph, the whole if you will, and very quickly dissect the photograph. I look for interesting, subtle, the strange or the elusive bits that perhaps most people miss. I've trained myself, if you will or was I the only kid, teenager and adult who noticed(s) strange and interesting things others miss?!
When I'm writing a description of a person, place or thing I use a similar technique. I imagine and survey the scene in my mind's eye if it's not a familiar person, place or thing to me and I dissect it. I squeeze my mind's eyes into slits and I might write about the patina an object in the corner and how it got that way, the texture and color of a person's skin when they are very embarrassed or describe and wonder about the scratches on a door I'm about to push open.
I love reading books by authors who notice the small stuff, the minute, the mundane and make the uninteresting a fascinating experience. I love authors who open my eyes, teach me something new, make me smile and show me their wonderful world through their incredibly original and unique eyes.
I challenge myself not to describe the girl as pretty, the spoon handle as cold and the view of the mountains as majestic. I push myself to see beyond what's in front of me. I believe this learned behavior is what makes a writer an exceptional writer. A writer who can transport me to new places and encourage me see a known object in new ways fascinates me and encourages me to push my writing even more.
When I taught drawing for kids and adults, I'd say that it's not hard to draw - you just have to train your eyes to SEE and then, your mind and hand will follow.
Peace and love,