Circle Drawing

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The last time I drew circle drawings in this way I was in the midst of the worst period of my life; the separation and eventual divorce from my now ex-husband. That the divorce happened was a huge surprise, and then very quickly, quite inevitably, I became quite unwell for some time. The stress of this period exasperated my already-significant fibromyalgia. Circle drawing is something I had done a bit of before and developed into one of the very few things I could do for a while outside of simply survive. Eventually, circle drawing led to other drawings and creative engagement and the divorce had to become something that I became used to. But for a long while, the focus and intensity of the small circles was one of the very few things that allowed my brain to rest within this terribly encompassing experience from which I could not escape or change no matter what I did.

Recently, I have begun circle drawing again. In fact, I have somewhat ambitiously begun the largest one I’ve ever attempted. Never fear though; I am, kind of surprisingly, doing very well and not at all in the depths of despair. Nothing terrible is happening in my life but I have come to recognize that the pull back to the practice of circles this time is a practice in reassurance.

Although I’m not experiencing any great turmoil, there are a number of things in my life that do require great deliberation and that I feel I must get ‘just right’. The most significant of these being that I have a short while left in which to develop and define the PhD question which I will be researching for the next three years.

And I think this is why I decided to resume circle drawing. Circle drawing provides a creative practice that is restful and that is unrushed. Lots of creativity is about constant decision-making – something I do often find enjoyable and enlivening. But at the moment, this large decision is constantly, and at times subconsciously, being wrestled with and circle drawing provides containment. It confines the creative decisions through paper size, type of pen, even the choice of pattern. It also provides a, perhaps lengthy but foreseeable, conclusion. It is finished when the paper is full.

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The process is also one that insists on me being present and moving slowly. I sometimes draw while listening to the TV or a podcast, but never something that I need to pay attention to – something that washes over me. Circle drawing requires I move slowly and peacefully in order to create neat circles. Even though I’ve been very conscious of this, I still often end up rushing and some of the circles aren’t quite what I would prefer. But they are also part of the larger whole and so I’ve accepted it and so I either stop and come back when I am able to settle myself, or I take the time to settle myself, reminding myself not to rush and to lean into the practice of taking it slowly.

I must also hold the pen very loosely, not grip it tightly, or my hand quickly becomes very sore, something I must pay attention to given the amount of typing and computer work I also do – repetitive work requires healthy practices. So I sit and deliberately release the tension in my hand.

Circle drawing has provided an ongoing creative project that seems to compliment the deep thinking I do during the day. At the same time, it provides an ongoing creative project. And I am conscious that this time around, this is a ‘large’ project. The paper chosen this time doesn’t allow for this piece to be done on my knees sitting on the couch or bed the way the previous ones were. For a long time, I only did anything I could do in bed or on the couch. But this is different, it requires being seated at the table. This tells me that this round of circle drawing is actually quite different to the last – it is more ambitious, more considered, and will take longer – both in the amount of time but also in proportionally, I am simply not spending as much of my day on it. But there are also great similarities in what the practice of creativity offers: the opportunity for focus and flow, for moments of rest, and a space to consider what is happening in work, study, and life, as well as being a creative outlet. At various times it allows me to focus and at other times to allow my mind to wander and sometimes even pray and maybe, just maybe, to help me create a lifestyle in which I can do what needs to be done and make some decisions.

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Karly Michelle is a mixed media artist currently doing a PhD researching biography in palliative care. She is interested in stories of life and faith and her creative work often focuses on rest and repetition. Her current ‘One A Week Psalm Project’ explores creativity as spiritual practice. Karly lives with fibromyalgia, which affects life in varying degrees at different times. Karly lives on Wurundjeri land. Find more about her arts practice at http://www.karlymichelle.com.

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