the Fresh Eyes of Returning

There’s something to be said for returning to something after having been away for a while.  Whether it’s returning home after a vacation, returning to my childhood town, returning to an old journal, or returning to an art technique I’ve abandoned for something “newer and better,” I am always surprised by my experience.

continuous line horse and buggy

My little hometown, for example, has grown so much over the last couple decades.  When my family first moved there (I was just about one year old), there wasn’t much more than the Naval Air base, a few schools, a K-mart, and some lovely Amish farms.  When we went shopping for new school clothes in the fall we drove an hour and half to get to the mall!

While I was growing up, I watched more new construction go up than I thought possible.  We basically threw a party when we got a Target in town!  However, it did make me sad every time I saw another section of trees being clear-cut for a new housing development.  And now, every time I return home I inevitably will end up at an intersection I barely recognize, wondering if I took a wrong turn. (that gas station never used to be there and since when was that a hotel?)

Returning to the places of my childhood is also interesting from a shift-in-scale perspective.  Sometimes I find myself in front of the sink I used my entire childhood and wonder, has this countertop always been this short?  I can’t believe I used to need a stool to reach the faucets.  Were my playroom and backyard always this small?  To me, they used to feel enormous.  An entire world to explore.  A never-ending adventureland filled with sprinklers in the summer and sledding in the winter.  Rolly-polly bugs and accidentally destroying my dad’s hard-grown grass with feet dragging from the hammock.  (Sorry Dad!)

Similarly, the first time I went to a minor league baseball game after having gone off and spent years in college, I was shocked at how small the ballpark was!  Baseball games used to feel like absolutely-amazing, popcorn-filled, crowd-surging chaos!  After having been to a dozen or so Hokie football games in Lane Stadium, however, it felt like a quaint gathering of friends.  Which wasn’t a bad thing at all.  Just shocking!

The activity that I returned to that prompted me to write this post is a common type of drawing method that I learned in high school called continuous line drawing.  If you haven’t heard of it before, it is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: you draw your subject using a single continuous line.  My art teacher had us do these drawings in class with a 5 minute time limit. And he had us do them blindly, looking solely at the object or person we were drawing, instead of at the paper.  And let me tell you, this used to make me SO FRUSTRATED.  I was in my peak era of perfectionism at this point, so the sloppy mess that resulted from this process pushed me very far out of my comfort zone.

continuous line cows and goats

Unsurprisingly however, the more I practiced, the better I got.  I learned how to focus on the details of the subject I was drawing and how to sketch more freely, with more attention on the process rather than the product.  By the end of my high school art classes, I still didn’t love those frantic 5 minute drawings, but I did gain an appreciation for the things I was being taught.  (I tried to find some of those old drawings in my stash of old artwork in order to share them, but I guess I didn’t keep any of them.  The ones you see here are recent. And some of them aren’t technically drawn with one continuous line…)

continuous line faces

All this being said, I was more that a little surprised when I found myself initiating sightless two-minute, continuous line drawings with one of my thesis colleagues in college. Of the handful of people in my thesis group, only one guy was willing to engage with me in my seemingly ridiculous drawing desire.  It was understandable, though.  Over the five years in architecture, we subtly had precision and perfection drilled into us (well, those of us who hadn’t already caught the perfection bug from our parents, school, and churches) and no matter how much our professors said they wanted to see “process work,” at the end of the day they really did want presentable, polished material.

continuous line abstract towers

But we spent those couple minutes a day drawing anything from staplers to our current building designs.  Nothing we drew ended up being presented anywhere and to others that time may have been labeled as frivolous and “unproductive,” but for me at least, it served as a reminder of the things I had learned in high school.  The powers of observation, the importance of the process, and the freedom to make “mistakes.” I will be forever grateful to that friend who didn’t leave me hanging for those two minutes every day.

continuous line living room2

Every so often I will still return to this method of drawing, especially when I am feeling stuck or like my sketching is getting too tight.  It loosens me up and has become almost meditative at this point.  Plus, there’s always a bit of nostalgia mixed in.  Above is a recent drawing I did of my living room and below is the same drawing with a little post-processing, color addition.  I can’t decide how I feel about it… What are your thoughts?

continuous line living room2 with color

Anyway, that’s all I wanted to share for today. I am curious though: have you returned to anything and been surprised by the changes you found, either in yourself and your perspective or at the external changes? What’s it like when you return to places from your childhood?  And last question: have you ever made a continuous line drawing?? Let me know in the comments section!

continuous line peace

As always, thanks for reading.

Until next time,



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