Zen Spot #170 — Mindfulness, meditation and finding your voice as an artist August 6, 2018 00:00

It began with a black cloth-covered book in the library

Tyler had a small library in 1980. Tyler School of Art, that is. Full of big cool art books, the library offered a quiet respite between classes. I’m not sure what drew me to the black book. It was small and beaten up, with fraying edges. Perhaps it was the fact that it was beaten up, worn from use and love.

It was dedicated to Willem de Kooning’s Women series. I’d never seen anything like the work that called the book home. As a realist artist, to that point in life, abstract art was of no interest — until de Kooning.

By cracking the book, a door had been opened.

An insecure realist

Their names were Vincent and Ken. Both lost to time, I will forego giving their last names. Exquisite realist painters. Demonstrating a technical ability far exceeding my own, to spend time in art classes with them in close proximity was excruciating. Confronting the limits of one’s talent often is— offering the question of precisely what kind of artist I wanted to be.

Until meeting Vincent and Ken, I never realized that I didn’t want to paint still life pictures or posed human figures. That said, I don’t care about light or modeling or technical proficiency — in fact, it bored me to tears. I was much too sloppy and profane and immediate than I knew to that point in my life. By embracing the profanity, in particular, I was freed.


Since I was a child, I’ve always sat on the floor and drawn with graphite. Over decades, I gained facility. The experience taught me enough about light and modeling, which is all that realist painting is, that I could keep up with all but the best realist artists. It helped, too, that I never had to think about color. Drawing — my drawing — required no consideration of color. 

Simple, immediate, sharp — drawing is still my medium of choice.

Figures and improvisations

I rely on the human female figure. Not knowing where I’m going when I begin a drawing is a sublime experience. Usually a drawing takes about four hours, spread over two days. Despite having no ascertainable connection to real life, I need to live — and to sleep at least once — between when I begin and end a drawing. 

Often, when I set a drawing aside for the night, an accompanying angst arises from not knowing if the piece will capture my voice or capture a dumpster fire. The angst, too, is sublime.

Failing stings. Time wasted. Materials wasted. A futile journey and, while I love to watch a dumpster fire, I don’t want to watch my dumpster fire.

22 by 33

Every drawing is done on a smooth, vertical, bright white sheet of 22 x 33 inch paper. I never deviate. It is the five bars of a musical staff on which every musician must express their voice. Within the limits chosen, my voice is most easily found.

Duck hunting and giant paintings

My former business hunter was a duck hunter. In season, he would sit for hours in a duck blind, before dawn, smoking cigarettes and sipping coffee chased with a little whiskey. By his side was a shotgun, waiting. 

I’ve never been a hunter, and never fired a shotgun. That said, it’s one of those things at which I'd be very good, if I chose to pick up a weapon. Having shared this opinion with a man who has missed more ducks than he clipped, he found my belief aggravating — especially since there was no way to disprove my belief. 

The same can be said for beginning a series of giant paintings that are soon to come. My profanity informs me. My technique will be great. The next step in finding another octave of voice will begin.

I have complete profane confidence.

True profanity

I pushed my boundaries by accepting my limitations a long time ago. By abandoning a certain technical competence, I began to find myself. Perhaps most importantly — and this is the secret if you are looking for the secret — I embraced the idea of not caring what anybody thinks about my artwork.

Within this embrace, I was completely free to be spontaneous. Too, I was able to be profane, literally. I have no fear of offending a dissenting critic by unkindly reminding them that they are free to find other things to look at —white walls, neckties, light switches. 

I am profane. In these moments, I lack compassion and fail miserably in my walking the Middle Way.

True profanity in the moment

The profanity, not surprisingly, manifests solitude. Within the solitude, using predictable materials, in a predictable format, with complete spontaneity, I find myself and my voice — in a moment where I am completely present.

Find your profanity. Be completely present. 


Another paradox

I am a multidisciplinary artist. The same man who creates the Dharma Wheels shown below created the series of drawing available here. Each represents a different octave, as does my desire to write essays — just like this one.

Buy a drawing. Buy a Dharma Wheel. Read a free story. Or, just pass through.

I hope I helped. Be well my friend.


About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?