Meditation for Artists: Learn Moebius’ Meditative Technique Called “Automatic Drawing”

Med­i­ta­tion and art have an ancient, inter­twined his­to­ry in Chi­na, where the begin­nings of Chan Bud­dhism are insep­a­ra­ble from land­scape paint­ing. In Japan, Zen art has con­sti­tut­ed “a prac­tice in appre­ci­at­ing sim­plic­i­ty,” of dis­ap­pear­ing into the cre­ative act, cul­ti­vat­ing degrees of ego­less­ness that allow an artist’s move­ments to become spon­ta­neous and unham­pered by sec­ond guess­es. The “first Japan­ese artists to work in [ink],” notes the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art, “were Zen monks who paint­ed in a quick and evoca­tive man­ner.” They passed their tech­niques, and their wis­dom, on to their stu­dents.

Per­haps the clos­est ana­logue to this tra­di­tion in the west is com­ic art. Artist Ted Gula has worked with comics leg­ends Frank Frazetta and Moe­bius and drawn for Dis­ney, Mar­vel, and DC. As a child, he watched Jack Kir­by work. “He wouldn’t speak,” says Gula. “He’d be in a trance…. The pen­cil would hit the paper and it wouldn’t stop until the page was com­plete, like it poured out.” How is that pos­si­ble? Gula asked him­self, aston­ished. Kir­by had dis­ap­peared into the work. There were no pre­lim­i­nary sketch­es or rough indi­ca­tors. He would draw an entire book like that, Gula says in the video above from Proko.

Say what you will about the con­tent of Kirby’s work—superhero comics aren’t to everyone’s lik­ing. But no dis­taste for the nature of his sto­ry­telling dimin­ish­es Kirby’s attain­ment of a pure­ly extem­po­ra­ne­ous method he seems nev­er to have explained to Gula in words. Lat­er, how­ev­er, while work­ing with Moe­bius, Gula says, he learned the tech­nique of “auto­mat­ic draw­ing.” Demon­strat­ing it for us above, Gula describes a way of draw­ing that shares much in com­mon with oth­er med­i­ta­tive visu­al art tra­di­tions.

“It’s all doing very organ­ic shapes,” he says, show­ing us how to “draw your mind’s eye. This takes your mind, and your mind’s eye, to a place that nor­mal­ly is unex­plored, and it can’t help but enhance your whole view of your abil­i­ty.” The ego must step aside, exec­u­tive func­tion­ing isn’t need­ed here. “I have no idea,” Gula says, “it’s all just hap­pen­ing on its own.” Moe­bius explained it as “just let­ting my mind relax” and Gula has observed sim­i­lar prac­tices among all the artists he’s worked with.

Gula describes auto­mat­ic draw­ing as a nat­ur­al process for the artist’s mind and hands. The inter­view­er, artist and teacher Sam Prokopenko, also men­tions Kore­an artist Kim Jung Gi in their inter­view, who does “amaz­ing­ly accu­rate draw­ings from his mem­o­ry with­out any con­struc­tion lines,” as Prokopenko says above, in a video from his “12 Days of Proko” series, which inter­views well-known artists about their tech­niques. What’s Kim Jung Gi’s secret? Is he pos­sessed of a super­hu­man, pho­to­graph­ic mem­o­ry? No, he tells Prokopenko.

The secret to becom­ing ful­ly immersed in the work—one that sure­ly goes for so many pur­suits, both cre­ative and athletic—is just to do it: over and over and over and over and over again. (To many people’s dis­ap­point­ment, this also seems to be the secret of med­i­ta­tion.) In Kim Jung Gi’s case, “of course, some part of it is a tal­ent he was born with, but we can’t over­look how much that tal­ent was devel­oped.” We need no expert tal­ent, either innate or devel­oped, to get start­ed. Auto­mat­ic draw­ing seems to require a beginner’s mind.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Moe­bius Gives 18 Wis­dom-Filled Tips to Aspir­ing Artists

Watch Moe­bius and Miyaza­ki, Two of the Most Imag­i­na­tive Artists, in Con­ver­sa­tion (2004)

In Search of Mœbius: A Doc­u­men­tary Intro­duc­tion to the Inscrutable Imag­i­na­tion of the Late Com­ic Artist Mœbius

Moe­bius’ Sto­ry­boards & Con­cept Art for Jodorowsky’s Dune

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (3)
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  • Kristina Hansen says:

    Amaz­ing. As an artist I get that cre­ative block some­times. This is some­thing I am going to do now. I think it will real­ly help me expand my mind and art.

  • Noah Hunt says:

    No, I wouldn’t say Kim Jung Gi was born with his tal­ent. He start­ed draw­ing when he was what, 5, 6? Only till he was in his twen­ties did he ever get recog­ni­tion for his draw­ing. It took him 15 years and draw­ing almost every sin­gle day all day to get good at it. It’s just time. If you want to get good, just have patience.

  • Archie says:

    It’s Tim Gula & Stan Prokopenko. Don’t mis­cred­it artists it’s embarass­ing and unpro­fes­sion­al

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