Conquering the Inner Gorgon

Pen and Ink, Photoshop | October 15, 2005 | By

I’ve been doing a lot of blind contour drawings, prompted mainly by the wonderful group activity instigated by Niff and Sutter over at Inkfinger … and that led naturally to doing some contour drawings with eyes wide open – looking at both the picture and the paper. This one was done in 2-3 minutes in the conventional way, trying to keep the penpoint on the paper at all times. The picture was chosen at random from a book – it’s Cellini’s sculpture of Perseus displaying the head of the gorgon Medusa. Medusa had the nasty habit of turning people to stone just with a look.

Only after I drew this did the underlying message and the synchronicity of my image choice become apparent. What is the Medusa but the Inner Critic who can turn creative enthusiasm to stone in the blink of an eye?

The inner critic sees the tentative pencil scratches on the paper. “You drew that? Better keep your day job.” Stone.

“Why are you wasting your time with this? Don’t you have something better to do?” Stone.

“You know, you’re really too old to try to learn anything new.” Stone, stone, stone.

The myth gives a very apt metaphor for dealing with such enemies, whether they are outer gorgons or those that lie within. With help of wisdom (Athena) and a magical mirror-like shield Perseus tracks down the Medusa in its den and catches it off guard. He never looks at it directly but uses a bit of subterfuge as he dispatches it. Me, I have my own style. My sword is a pen and it’s name is Practice. Like Perseus, I don’t argue with my medusa-critic or try to stare it down because I know such encounters can be fatal to the creative spirit. Instead, when I hear its snakes come hissing words of discouragement and defeat, I turn my attention back to the blank page and get busy. It can threaten all it wants but it can’t touch me. And one of these days I may finally have the strength to give it a mortal blow.


  1. isay
    October 15, 2005

    my morning welcome! your thoughts made me smile. i can only say “excellent” drawing!

  2. pinkandpurpleplastic
    October 15, 2005

    Sorry to haunt your blog like this. Thing is, this is the 2d time today so far that I’ve read an extensive description of the Medusa myth. I’m gonna send the other guy over here.

    Great drawings!! Also great commentaries.

  3. Karen
    October 15, 2005

    I find the “rules” of contour drawing are very liberating, too. I noticed after I did this sketch that I failed to include the musculature under his left arm … but, the moving pen draws and having drawn, must move on … so I am free to forgive myself for the oversight rather than to go back and rework, rework, rework …
    The practice of contour drawing reminds me in some ways of Japanese brush painting … you get one chance to make your stroke for good or bad, and then you release it. In retrospect I also see that one of my other blatant errors was excessive width coming up the torso for the final time into the head-holding hand. Most likely my attention wandered as I was nearing the finish line. I see it, I acknowledge it, I learn from it and I say to the IC … yeah, I messed up there. So what. Tomorrow is another page.

  4. Evy
    October 16, 2005

    Great contour drawing, Karen! And a great post too! One of these days I’ll dare myself to start doing some blind contour drawings too :) The medusa/IC in me is still a bit on the high side, unfortunately. But I can say that it is getting less so…that’s at least something. :) Thanks for sharing!

  5. janey
    October 16, 2005

    This is awesome, really. I love drawing without picking up the pen. And I wouldn’t have started doing that except for Blind Contour. And both faces are just greaat.

  6. jerry
    October 17, 2005

    I really like your drawing; I love drawings like this. Your mention of inner critic brought to mind something I read on John Lovett’s site recently:

    Put a matt around your work, sit down with a glass of wine or cup of coffee, and look at all the good things you have done. It is important to feel good about your work. Dwelling on mistakes or problems is disheartening and makes it difficult to move on. I have yet to see a painting without some good points. Concentrating on the positive aspects of your work gives you confidence and enthusiasm, and allows you to build on your successes.
    -John Lovett

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