“Now…let me see, where do I start? Yes, well…naturally an artist must begin by carefully studying all the inconsequential things around them—horses, gears, muscles, cats, dogs, noses, fingers, and toes. Look closely. Let nothing escape your inquisitive eye.”
This is the advice Leonardo da Vinci gives to Sophia, the protagonist of “Dreaming Sophia” when she meets him in the novel Dreaming Sophia. He urges her to view her world with fresh eyes, slow her pace and capture everything thing she sees—from the soaring arc of the Duomo to the bronze door knocker of a medieval palace.
Creativity has always been a part of my nature. I have always been fascinated by luscious colors, unusual textures and quirky details that catch my eye as I walk down the street, wander through a gallery or simply gaze out a bus window. Like Sophia in “Dreaming Sophia”, over the years I too have kept many many journals in which I capture the details of the world around me. When I lived in Italy as an art student, half the time I walked around with my head in the clouds, transfixed by the art and architecture all around me. When I found myself in front of a Caravaggio painting, a fountain sculpted by Bernini, or a Madonna cradling her son by Michelangelo, my fingers itched to capture the images. I couldn’t help myself. Reaching into my bag, like Sophia, I too inevitably drew out my sketchbook and set to work observing the details with quick strokes of my pen.
Often times people looked over my shoulder, would sigh, and say, “I wish I was an artist. I wish I could draw too”. While it is true that artists are born with a natural inclination for drawing and rendering, to fully develop their creative talent it is important and necessary to draw daily, observing the world carefully in all its infinite detail. I think there is a bit of creativity in all of us and drawing is really just the mechanical part of being creative. Certainly, it is an eye-hand coordination skill. With time and patience, many can learn the technical aspect of drawing. It takes training, just as it takes training to learn to play a musical instrument.
But, what makes a person truly an artist, is his ability to take the most mundane object and see great beauty where others see only ugliness. It is the connection the artist makes to his surroundings and his “openness” to see things others miss. It is his ability to appreciate how the late afternoon light sparkles and plays through the leaves of a tree, the purple tones of storm clouds, or the luminescence of a pearl necklace that adorns a woman’s neck. It is the artist’s eagerness and responsiveness to translate these details for others to see, helping to make our lives just a little more bearable and beautiful.
As I was writing Dreaming Sophia, I got the urge to dig under the bed and pull out a box that contained my Art History notebooks as well as my sketch pads. Just like Sophia, I too was inspired to sketch the tomb Michelangelo designed for the Medici princes. Take a peek into one of the sketchbooks I kept during my time in Florence…these are rapid sketches, quick renderings that capture a moment in time.
It is a collection of other sketches by young artists in Florence I have found on Pinterest. To me, these renderings reflect very well Leonardo’s urgings to young artists: “sketch everything you see!”