While I was living in Rome I had the use of a studio at the American Academy. The nature of my job there affected how much time I could spend on my art making on any given day. I might get an hour or two, though sometimes more. It made sense to use the time drawing.
After six months I looked at the drawings I had made and had to admit that they were going nowhere. They looked no different from what I might have done at home in California. I thought that my challenging new life in Italy should somehow be reflected in what I was putting on paper. Despair is a wretched state to be in, but it has the pressure to open doors. It occurred to me that if I couldn’t be where I was, I should look into bring where I wasn’t. I bought a stack of magazines similar to Newsweek that show photos taken in faraway places such as Outer Mongolia or Brazil where the circumstances of the people in the pictures were radically different from mine. I proceeded as I often do by making rules as if it were a game in which I had to be consistent. I taped large sheets of paper to the walls so that I could draw standing up. I would hold the photo in one hand and a black conte crayon in the other. I was to copy the picture as accurately as possible but without looking at the drawing until I had completed the entire drawing. Once I had finished I could check to see what I had done. It surprised me how often I was where I should have been on the paper though the wrong moves were just as interesting. I allowed myself no erasures. I could then begin a second try on top of the drawing I had just done but again not looking at it until I was finished. Each time I tried to get it right and often was. The imagery depended on a kind of consensus of line. I settled on allowing myself nine tries, nine rounds as it were, to do justice to the photo which I was getting to know extremely well.
Absurd as my procedure was that concentration of attention on where I wasn’t enabled me to get to where I was glad to be.