Recently, I looked into the birth of a line.
It was a rainy Saturday when I learned to draw. I turned on my lava lamp, turned off the overhead light, and lay on my bed next to a vial of fruit flies and a photo of a microscopic image I took of one of them. ‘between them. Most of my nights are spent like this, feverish and meditative, trying to reconstitute all the scattered advice that my drawing teacher had given me in his studio in Lahore. He taught me to hold my graphite pencil with authority. The first day, I was docile with it. I held it with my thumb on the left and four fingers on the right, as if I was ready to write a letter. At the end of the month, he was sitting in my fist like a magic wand, and my arm was telling him where to go.
This fall, I’m trying to remember everything he taught me. I spend most of my days in the Sculpture and Puppet Shops near Swift, both orbiting each other. Although I’m a big fan of museums, I’ve never been in the studio. I looked at countless works of art and felt agitated by my inability to identify the process that created it. In museums, there is a veil between art and the viewer that is never completely lifted. The work of art is placed on the wall, flirtatious, never revealing the secrets that led to its birth. In the sculpture workshop, there is no shyness. The work of art is stripped of its preparation. There are unfinished pieces everywhere, not yet sanded or polished, some still to be carved, some still unfinished, the pulp still wet and crumbling like a patch of mud waiting to be stepped on.
I remember my instructor telling me to trust the process, let a line come out like vomit, and allow it to drain me. His words ring clear and true here, where the unfinished is a constant state of being, and where doing is thinking without pretense. Here, I do not monitor. I’m behind the scenes: in the locker room, the girls’ bathroom and the pregame.
For class here, I’m bringing a picture of a fruit fly so I can sculpt it. To prepare, I draw this little insect countless times, each time peeling off a new layer of its tendons. I prepare myself by committing myself to this single image. Sometimes I feel stuck. There’s too much clutter in my mind, which clouds my ability to let the graphite breathe.
“How to draw”, I google. I don’t want to learn how to draw like taking a pencil and dragging it across paper. I mean in a more emotional sense: how to draw. Like how to think. How to clear your mind. How to excavate it for memory. How to satisfy hunger. How to take off my jacket, flex my fingers and let them contract until they stop. How to be a best friend, how to let my mom know I love her so I don’t have to think about it at my desk. How to be calm. How to clear my mind completely so I can let myself imagine where my hand wants to plant itself next.
I practice relentlessly until I make myself miserable. The lines are shaky at first, and within a few days I become more belligerent. I savor the intimacy of it all. Where before I felt awkward capturing an image to marry in the vein of the artists I admire so much, I now feel grounded. I have known fruit flies intimately, from vintage diagrams to 3D renderings and anatomically correct likenesses. I learn slowness, patience and attention.
In trying to be a better artist, I try to become a better observer and a better friend. The pages of my sketchbook are heavier, rougher. The inside of my eyelids can imagine every line, the trace of the iridescent wing stretching to meet the burnished exoskeleton and the yellowish underbelly. It’s the closeness of the line, how it allows you to navigate the bodies you want to perfect in your work, like a cartographer. How to draw is how to play, how to be slow. How to be.
Ayesham Khan is a Trinity Senior. Their “microscopy” column usually runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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