By Deborah Koff-Chapin See additional articles and interviews.
WHEN I WAS GROWING UP, I HELD THE ARTIST AS MY HIGHEST IDEAL. In living close to the heart of creation, the artist lifted the veil between the world and its source. For me, to be an artist was to be on a path of truth. The creative process also served as my stabilizing element during the tumultuous upheavals of the sixties.
While other teenagers were turning to drugs, politics or parties, painting was my alternative mode of “truth seeking”. It was a vehicle for turning inward and realizing the companionship of solitude, as well as means of communicating from the depths of my soul. My natural tendency was to reflect states of being through human images. Once, frustrated by the authoritarian attitudes at my public high school, I went home and painted a giant red face which filled the canvas and stared out at me with great power and authority. In painting this image, I had found a way to release my anger creatively and make a statement that communicated personal feelings in a universal form. There were other times when I would go into the woods, soak up the peaceful atmosphere and let an image surface into my mind. I would pour this out onto the canvas in one intense stream of effort. It felt as if the image had a life of its own. There was magic in these moments, a feeling of having helped God in the act of creation.
Upon graduating from high school, I leaped into the mystique of the New York City art world. I attended Cooper Union, an art school in the heart of Manhattan. It was here I assumed I’d find comrades in the passionate search for truth through art. Something in me opened as I strengthened through the independence of city life. Yet something in me closed, as I put up protective shields in the harsh city environment.
Existential nausea set in as I began to question the meaning of art. The human form disappeared from my paintings. Brushes began to feel like obscure instruments, so I turned to pouring and dripping paint. I learned to read art journals and verbalize the concepts behind the work I saw in contemporary galleries and museums. “Art talk” became the high craft.
During that same time, I spent some time on the beach front property my school designated for retreats. One day I came across a willow tree swaying gently in the breeze. The tips of its branches were etching lines in the beach below, creating ever-changing patterns in the sand. Ecstatic at the sight, I realized that I was witnessing the pure, unself-conscious act of nature drawing. I photographed the branches marking the sand and thought no more of it at the time. In retrospect, I have come to recognize my joy in this experience as a sign of my underlying search for a more natural way to draw.
By the last year of art school, I had become fluent in the language of abstraction. Pure and essential, yes, but foreign to the eyes of all but those educated in the esoteric knowledge of the art world. I was stunned into this realization one day when an old friend came to my studio and stared blankly at the abstract paintings on the wall. I used to share the depths of my soul with friends through imagery. Where had I gone in those years to draw such a blank? The seed of an answer came one day as I scribbled some words onto a page “What’s wrong with drawing a face?” With a shudder of guilt, I tentatively doodled some raw, primitive heads. It felt as if as if I was drawing something “dirty”. I tucked the embarrassing doodle away.
Certainly art school had given me the opportunity to draw from models. But I had not been attracted to these classes, where the human figure was studied as empty form. In abstract and conceptual explorations I had found a level of contemplative fulfillment. But the ancient and universal language of the soul as expressed by the human face and figure–how could I have forgotten all these years?
The words that I had scribbled on that page were not only asking a question about art, but about myself: “What’s wrong with showing a human face?” What had I become in those years in the city; strong, hardened, out for myself? My protective shell began to crack. I began to see faces. The city was suddenly filled with them. Eyes looking out from all kinds of bodies; the same eyes, one human soul; something of myself in everyone.
Within several weeks the seed that had been germinating in my being burst forth in the form of Touch Drawing. On the last day of my last year in school, I was helping a friend clean an inked glass plate in the print shop. Before wiping the ink off the plate with a paper towel, I playfully moved my hands over the towel, and lifting it, saw lines which had been transferred to the underside of the towel by my touch. Lines coming directly from my fingertips! I laughed hysterically with this discovery and crawled around on the floor, gathering up more discarded paper towels. In a state of ecstatic revelation, flowing lines poured from my hands. Like the willow in the sand, they were a natural extension of my being onto the page, a record of each moment as it passed. Within minutes I was drawing faces with both hands. My ever-changing soul was being reflected before me, childlike and primitive, honest and direct.
Although this experience had the appearance of simply being play, under the surface was something profound and powerful. It was as if I was receiving a gift from outside of time, from an invisible knowing presence. I had a sense that Touch Drawing was being given not just for myself, but as a gift for humanity. Along with the gift came a responsibility. Somehow, I would have to share this gift with the world.
While sensing that I was acting on behalf of a great evolutionary force, I began to pour my soul into Touch Drawing. It became my personal lifeline. During difficult times I would turn to the drawing board to release emotions. As I accepted my feelings and allowed them to pour onto the page through my hands, I was drawn more deeply into myself. It was as if I was sculpting my own being–transforming, literally before my own eyes. At the end of a session I had a record of this transformation: images of my soul in motion. And I would feel clear and whole.
The images that emerged in those days were personal and therapeutic. Surrendering to such primal expression taught me the art of listening within. Over time, I began to tap into a trans personal consciousness. Gradually, I became aware of a subtle over lighting presence as I draw. Now when I bring my attention to the drawing board, my hands trace the beginnings of a sensed image. In deep focus and trust, I abandon myself to the process and watch as an image emerges onto the page. When I rise to leave the drawing board, I realize that I have been in a deep communion. Silently, I offer my thanks.
Through the years I have sought to answer the call to share Touch Drawing that came in the initial moments of its discovery. The original sense that this process was not for myself alone is confirmed again and again. I often witness people who had been expressing fear and limitation at the beginning of a workshop, relax and dive into themselves through the mirror of the drawing board. As I hold the space with drumming, chimes and voice, their hands move on the page in an unself-conscious dance. Healing power is unleashed through this pure act of release and creation. We are in a sacred ceremony. At the end of each session, we reflect upon the completed drawings; each person’s images are a record of their interior transformation. A deep satisfaction takes hold within the group, as people recognize the authenticity, power and beauty reflected in each other’s drawings, as well as in their own.
At times I have felt overwhelmed at the endless possibilities and enormous responsibility to share Touch Drawing. How could I ever get this healing process into the hands of all who could benefit from it? After more than two decades of tending garden of Touch Drawing all alone, something began to shift. First it was Will, the original SoulCard reader. After his initial support in the publication of SoulCards, his sense of calling continued to unfold. He designed the book Drawing Out Your Soul, and went on to create a database to keep track of what everyone was doing with Touch Drawing. As he labored away on the database, I would tell him,”This is great for the future, Will, but I really don’t know anyone with this level of interest right now.”
But it was like “If you build it, they will come.” People started calling. I would mention that I was considering having a gathering for potential Touch Drawing teachers in the summer, and they would say they were coming. On a cloudy weekend in August 1997, twenty-eight people gathered from all over the country. As we sat together, I felt the spirit that has guided me all these years expand to encompass these souls. They understood the gift of Touch Drawing, and felt a call to share it in their own unique ways. As we have joined together in mutual support, a community has begun to form; I no longer carry this gift all alone.
My hope is that Touch Drawing will sprout up in the gardens of so many lives that it will continue to reseed itself long after I am gone. I trust that the Guiding Spirit that brought me to Touch Drawing will shine on its many tender shoots, supporting them to blossom and grow, each in their own way. If you are drawn to this process, feel free to explore it’s application in your personal life and work. May you nurture and care for this gift, be fed by it, and share the abundance of your harvest. And may you plant new seeds for the future so that the living spirit of Touch Drawing will continue to grow.
Touch Drawing is a trademark of the Center for Touch Drawing. We offer Touch Drawing as a gift without fees to those who feel called to integrate it into their professional work. The purpose of the trademark is to protect the depth and integrity of the process. We have gathered information on teaching into The Touch Drawing Facilitator Workbook. We request that anyone who teaches the process acknowledge the source and give the website, www.touchdrawing.com to all participants. We also invite you to join our wonderful online community. We have special interest groups including one for facilitating workshops, groups focused on specific applications of Touch Drawing and regional support groups. You can also list your own Touch Drawing events here. Please send reports with your experiences with Touch Drawing for our E-newsletter. You can be part of a living network of creative individuals who are bringing this process into the world. The Center welcomes donations to support our work. See Deborah do a Touch Drawing.