Trying to see… how well do you need to see reality…
in order to synthesize it?
Color is a hypnotist.
When I first tried to really see, I took away color, intuitively slipped back through evolution to the limbic eye, the one that sees light and dark, motion and danger, but no color. Light is so much more important than color, the location of things so essential to survival, to navigation. Where is the predator? Where the food? Where is it safe and where can I hide? Color is an enormous distraction, a hypnotist, the appetite’s salivary trigger.
I removed color from my toolkit in order to become an artist. I knew I had to see form, shape and texture, to master perspective, illumination and shadow. Color brought its own complexities and I would have been lost trying to teach them to myself before mastering the foundations. I chose the simplest instrument of all, the HB pencil, to see what strokes lay inside, what softness and subtle filigree welled the surface of life, pressed into my eyes and down through fingertips.
My eyes were always wide open. I saw everything, all the details you were supposed to overlook.
For five years, from about 1976-1981, I drew only in pencil, waiting until the moment I could brave hues again. One day my grandmother, looking at one of my drawings said, “That’s an interesting shot, Dear,” meaning she perceived it as a black-and-white photograph and had no idea it had been done by hand. But her perception was good enough for me. I believed my goal had been achieved and I was ready to pick up color.
I’d been drawing for so many years that colored pencils seemed the obvious choice, especially with their stark limitations of 24 to a box, blending by pressure and cross-hatch only. Yet, when I added color back in, what came was a sense of time, seeing in time, spotting the world as though from a high-speed train, the quickening of the eye now ripe with life.
Damage is always done with a few swift strokes: the jab of a knife, the arrow’s puncture, a rageful vent. The stab of sun burst from the water, skewering the retina dry as a flayed pelt. The colorless world splattered by the harsh, untempered underpainting of the heart.
– Sonya Shannon
Transcribed from Journal Entry, 1 September, 1998