The Intimacy of Drawing

How fascinating the level of intimacy offered by the practice of drawing.

Mountains in New Mexico

While visiting a friends home in Southern Arizona, I returned to the spot atop a nearby hill where I had sat and drawn the surrounding landscape a year prior. It is a captivating view of the windswept high desert mountains rising up from a stream of green cottonwoods and framed by the still-bare oak trees. 

A little sketch of the hills in Patagonia, AZ

When I crested the hill and saw again this view sprawled out before me I had such a feeling of familiarity, like seeing an old friend. I was reminded of this phenomenon that by drawing a thing (or rather, a being) you become so much more acquainted with it than by simply looking. You can integrate within yourself it’s curves, angles, perceived distances. The textures, lights and shadows….it’s essence. Upon drawing it, it becomes part of you, and you leave a piece of yourself in exchange.

A study of the movement of butterfly wings in research for my painting ‘A Breath of Life’

I believe that it is through these experiences and practices of becoming intimately acquainted with our surroundings- the natural world we live in- that we can foster the deep love for the earth that is needed to solve many of the issues facing the world today. By attentively observing what is going on around us; how the Ravens dance with the Hawks in defense of their territory, the directions the Wind blows, which Agave’s have lived long enough to erect their stalks in preparation for their final moments of life, what time of year the Creeks begin to flow and how the Desert environment reacts in accordance, we can see how rich, vibrant, alive and interdependent the world is. We can also begin to understand, even feel, how our actions impact what and who is around us. What a revolutionary act in our modern society, this active and attentive observation. To engage all the senses, be immersed in the here and now, and listen to the whispers carried to us upon the wind. To learn how to gather it all up; the hidden meanings, the unseen interactions, the being-ness, and translate it into an image is a lifelong practice filled with unraveling and re-grasping. 

Even drawing our loved ones gives us a deeper intimacy with them.

So, I encourage you to grab your preferred drawing tools and step out into nature and into your wildness. No matter your skills, no matter what it looks like. It’s not important if you ‘don’t know how to draw’, or if what you make isn’t pretty or doesn’t look like you want it to, it’s about being present, its about the practice. Engage the journey of learning how to see, how to listen, how to be, and the world will get richer before your eyes.

Catalina Mountains, AZ
A photo of a drawing of a wetland in Alberta
Sketching a wetland during harvest time in Alberta

Thoughts on ‘Facets of Myself’

This painting is a bit of a vulnerable share. It is both me and distinctly not me, though they say every painting is a self portrait. The process of painting it was therapeutic in it’s own way, as they all are, but this one particularly so.

Before I share my own thoughts on it, which I am hesitant to do as I’d prefer not to influence your perspective, I’d like to state my intention for this painting. I do not intend to portray a particular meaning or message, as I sometimes do, but rather to encourage the viewer to embark on their own reflecting. To engage with the thoughts and feelings that are stimulated by this piece.

Facets of Myself, Acrylic on Gallery Canvas, 24″x14″ by Jilene Schafers

Before reading my own thoughts, I ask you to take a moment to consider while cycling through the expressions; what story do you see in the piece, what emotions arise in you, can you identify with the painting? What unfolds for you the longer you look at it? Does it engage you, or repel you, or simply fall flat?

I’d love it if you shared those thoughts and stories with me in the comments, or in an email. The comments I have received on the painting have been very valuable, I learn a lot from them.

On to my own internal process while painting it.

A lack of proper reference photos led to an embarrassing amount of unflattering selfies. I used the them to figure out how faces look at different angles, and though I did not want it to look like me, certain parts were unavoidable. The eyes are my eyes, and when paired with such a confrontational expression, it felt like the painting was drawing my attention to some of my issues. To really look at how my endless stream of conflicting thoughts and perspectives immobilize and weigh me down. Too many voices, too much self doubt. Too much indecision.

Though I can’t say that I’ve necessarily come to any conclusions or resolutions, I believe the mere act of being present, looking, and listening to be of immeasurable value, even though the results may be intangible. Awareness and presence can shift a lot of things.

Choosing A Challenge

Almost ten years ago I was on my first overseas experience- a 16 month solo trip beginning in Australia. That entire trip for me was about pushing my boundaries to the very limit. I was young and needed to challenge myself. I wanted to grow, I wanted to be uncomfortable, I wanted to know myself and what I could handle. Turns out, I never came across anything I couldn’t handle in the end. Be it hitchhiking, fully trusting people I had never met before, sleeping on the streets, being robbed, all kinds of sicknesses and injuries. The encounters with ticks, bedbugs, lice, spiders and snakes… even having a close call with death in the wilderness. I got through it all, and kept coming back for more. 

Jilene hitchhiking with a sign saying 'anywhere'
Somewhere? Anywhere! Hitchhiking in 2011

See, I had decided that at every crossroads, every decision, I was going to choose the harder option. The uncomfortable option. The option with the most unknowns. All on purpose. It was an exercise in learning who I am, what my boundaries are, what worked for me and and what didn’t.  It was, at times, a torturous way to approach my travels, but very important in becoming who I am today.

A photo of Jilene with backpacks while on a challenging barefoot hike
Barefoot hiking the Copland track in New Zealand, 2012

Though I don’t travel as much as I used to, nor in the same way, I still find this mindset showing up in different things that I do, especially in my art. I look for the areas that I have resistance to, the skills that are underdeveloped, the subjects I avoid incorporating for lack of confidence or know-how. They become painfully obvious to me, and so that is where I dive.

cool toned acrylic painting with two ghostly hands clasped together
Remember When, by Jilene Schafers
This piece was a turning point in terms of style- it was one of the first pieces where I tackled my resistance to making things look more realistic.

I used to avoid realism like that plague, then let myself explore those skills. Drawing people was always a big challenge, and so I dove into portraiture. I now find landscapes to be overwhelming, thus, I know where I will eventually need to push myself.

I think this approach of acknowledging your weaknesses and testing your capabilities is a great way to become a more well rounded human, and a more capable artist.

a photo of a dirty foot on a pebbled ground. I challenge you to go barefoot!
A foot well graveled…

The Perks of Winter

Painting of night winter scene with Northern Lights, moon and bare tree
Melody of the Moon, Acrylic on Canvas, 17″x24″ by Jilene Schafers, Available

I used to hate winter, the bitter cold, the long stretches of darkness..

…but over the years I’ve really come to appreciate the slowness of it, and recognize the perks of winter.

The fun, beautiful summer comes with its own inherent hectic-ness, a time that’s almost too busy, too fast, too full to be able to sit back and evaluate life and process the experiences. It’s the space, darkness, and slow pace that I have really come to love about winter. It’s a perfect time to take a step back and reflect on the year, to process the experiences, integrate the lessons, and lay the groundwork for what I want to cultivate in the year ahead. This time of retreat is a very important part of the cycle of life. I love embracing the introspective aspects of this season with a variety of creative, therapeutic, and somatic/expressive practices that unlock a deeper, fuller experience of life.

How can you build a satisfying life if you don’t take the time to step back and reexamine things; to check in with what it is you want to create, and what no longer works for you?

Granted, these are all great things to do throughout the year, but winter is the perfect time to really dive deep. Let me know in the comments some of your favorite ways to engage in this process of reflecting, integrating, and defining the directions to focus your energy, I’d love to hear about it!