I have really come to enjoy drawing free-hand. It’s a treat to see what spontaneously unfolds. The flowery mandala patterns I’ve been doing are like snowflakes — while they all have similarities, each is unique.
My earlier sand drawings were all Euclidean constructions — geometric designs made using only a straight-edge and compass. For a straight-edge I use two stakes and mason line. For a compass I use one stake and mason line. These two impossibly simple tools have been used for millennia, and are still used to this day, to produce some of the world’s greatest creations.
Most people are visibly shocked when they learn that none of my designs have any formal measurements or calculations involved, and that they instead emerge entirely out of self-referential consistency. Such is the power of geometry.
In contrast to the Euclidean constructions, all of the mandala or “flower” patterns that I have been doing lately, including the one above, have been created entirely free-hand, that is, using no tools other than my drawing implements, and relying on no pre-planned design. Instead, I start with some sort of small circular design, which serves as the center, and then add design elements in ever-expanding concentric layers. The free-hand designs appear to grow from a nucleus.
Both the Euclidean constructions and the free-hand designs have their own unique charms.
The Euclidean constructions are amazing for their precision over huge areas, which produce stunningly sharp effects. And the variety and complexity of patterns that can be produced with such simple tools as a straight-edge and compass are remarkable. Plus Euclidean constructions afford fascinating exploration and insights into the magnificent and vital field of geometry. Drawing them requires having a design plan worked out beforehand, and then executing that plan, so there is little “creativity” while actually drawing — the creative part takes place earlier at my studio. However, while drawing on the beach, there is a high risk of making serious errors (argh!), and there tends to be a lot of on-the-spot practical problem solving necessary to complete the design successfully.
The free-hand drawings, on the other hand, are amazing because there is no design plan. I spontaneously produce a central pattern, and then add to it by feel. I have accrued a mental collection of design elements that I can mix-and-match as the design expands outward, plus I invent new design elements or combinations as I do more of these free-hand art pieces. If you look at my various free-hand designs, you will see the underlying primordial design elements, and that different patterns emerge from using these design elements in varying combinations. The primordial design elements are atoms; the final designs are molecules. The free-hand designs are not really prone to errors. In fact, if I make an “error”, the best thing to do is simply make the error into a new design element and repeat it! (That’s true in painting and music too — if you make an error, repeat it and it will become part of the intended fabric. Or, similarly, if you don’t know how to pronounce a word, say it loudly, and then repeat it with conviction.) The free-hand designs require being aesthetically attuned the entire time, so in that sense they are more demanding than the Euclidean constructions.
My sense of it is that while people love both types of designs — the highly geometric Euclidean constructions and the intensely organic free-hand designs — they favor the free-hand forms. I think there are several reasons. First, the free-hand designs resemble flowers, and everyone understands and loves flowers. (Few mortals understand and love geometry.) Second, people are mesmerized that I can produce such large, highly-symmetric designs by eye. Frankly, I am too. Look at how perfect the final outer circle is in the above photo. And that design is enormous! Third, people love to watch the design develop. They wait with delicious anticipation to see what the next design element is going to be, and how it will be integrated with the previous.
To me, the free-hand sand drawings are a beautiful metaphor for the expanding universe that is our lives.
The wind this day was so strong that it was difficult to stand. Even though heavy intermittent rain kept the sand wet, packed, and dark, the wind was still able to dislodge the upper grains and carry them in glorious shimmering white streamers.
Despite the tough conditions — well actually, because of the tough conditions — I want to try a design experiment. I knew that the light-colored blowing sand would collect on the leeward side of any raised features. I thought the conditions were ideal to exploit this fact. So I quickly drew a free-hand spiral. Sure enough the white sand settled in the downwind interstices and provided a lovely contrast against the dark sand and even darker shadows of the relief.
Also, the static curves of the spiral were gorgeous underneath the dynamic linear streamers of sand.
The overall effect was absolutely mesmerizing.
Taking the photo was very challenging as I was getting knocked all over the place, and sand and rain were getting on my lens because to get the best lighting I had to shoot into the wind. But I raised the ISO to get the fastest shutter speed possible, and voila! I feel my heavy-weather experiment was a great success.
I think I wore half of the beach home with me.
The reactions of people this day were completely different.
I got to the beach at high tide, and had to wait for it to drop before I could draw. There had been strong west winds, which blow in a type of small, surface-floating jellyfish called Velella velella, or “By-The-Wind-Sailors”. As the tide receded, the velella would wash up in gorgeous blue bands that stretched up and down the beach as far as the eye could see.
To occupy myself while waiting, I decided to work with what was in front of me, and chose to darken the leading edge of each band of velella. I did this for perhaps a 1/3 of a mile in each direction. It was quite an undertaking.
Still with time to pass, I also made a quick, small, free-hand flower.
You can see the lovely blue bands of velella and the dark outlines that I had drawn along their leading edge.
I thought my tracing of the velella was as striking as it was creative. To me it really made one see clearly what otherwise might have been missed — that the bands had fascinating undulations and complex intersections. Plus, the dark warm edge made a beautiful contrast with the cool blue. The photo really doesn’t do the natural patterns and colors justice.
Normally people are incredibly appreciative of my work, but it seemed that this day people simply could not get their minds around my delineation concept. And often people do not to like what they do not understand. They would come up — annoyed — and ask what the hell I was doing and why. When I attempted to explain, I got nothing but puzzled looks, eye rolls, and a couple of “seems pretty crazy if you ask me”. (I didn’t.) I don’t recall anyone seeing the magnificence that I saw. It was quite a surprise.
Oh well. I was drawing for me, not for them. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
When the tide was low enough I drew the large circular pattern in the photo below. It was about 12 times the diameter of the flower, but distance and perspective obscure that fact. It was a design I had done before, however this time I wanted to try out a clever new tool that I had created. But by this point in the day this final design was really just an after-thought. I was pretty tired.