The Evanescence of Intuition

by F.

Some days I sit down to draw and I don’t “have it.”

I mean, I put some marks on the page and they remain just that—marks on the page. My imagination has malfunctioned. I don’t see, e.g., a hand or a face or a bunny. I see nothing in that imaginary white space behind the paper.

I think this is why Da Vinci suggested to his students that if they were having trouble drawing they should look at cracks on the wall for inspiration. Why? Because if you can’t look at cracks in the wall and see something in there, then you won’t be able to draw anything that day. You may as well go for a walk.

Of course, I find it annoying that my imagination malfunctions like this—that it doesn’t perform on command, the way my computer or lawnmower does. So I’ve been casting about for a solution, and I think I have found one. (I would try the thing with the cracks, but my house doesn’t have any. Yet.)

Ambiguous figures, like the Necker Cube, seem to get my mind in the right place.

Necker S-2

You’ve probably seen this before, but if not, here’s how to play with it.

The goal is to see in this drawing 2 different 3-D boxes. How? Well, first, see it as a box—a 3-D box. I know–duh. But work with me. Next, imagine you are a mouse and you are going to crawl into this box. Looked at one way, you would crawl down into it from the upper right. In another, you would crawl up into it from the lower left. Imagine the sound of your little claws on the cardboard as you crawl inside.

I like to look at this picture and move back and forth between the two views, because that is what you do when you draw—you shift your perceptions around. Manipulate them. You hack them, in a way.

And once you get comfortable moving back and forth between these two cubes in this picture, you can add a third—see the box as a 2-D pattern of lines—sticks, matches, knitting needles, or whatever. So that gives you three states to move between. And manipulating your perception of this cube between these three states is, for me, a good warm up for drawing.

Here’s another drawing that I like, too:


You can see this one as a “room” with a box in the corner, or as a cube with another cube removed from the lower left corner of the upper right, front side. Or, again, as a 2-D abstract drawing—the kind Ellsworth Kelly or Frank Stella did back in the day.

Then there’s the old “Duck-Rabbit,” made famous by, among others, Wittgenstein in Philosophical Investigations:


I put together a slide deck of various pictures like this, and I’m trying an experiment: in the morning, after I wake up, I run through my slide deck to warm up my imagination. I practice shifting my visual-spacial perceptions. It’s too soon to tell if it’s doing anything, but it feels like it is. If you want the deck, the PDF version is posted here.

So that is drawing.

What happens when your imagination fails when you are writing? I think I have a solution to that, too. But I leave that for another post.