Mark Making, The Zen of Seeing, the Byzantine Monocondyle and the Seven Bridges of Königsberg

Warning: really long blog coming up. (I had to do a really long poetic walk this time).

The quote opening my blog of 29 August was from  The Zen of Seeing: Frederick Franck. Intrigued, I sent for the book. In parallel with my discovery of the book, I had begun exploring in pencil the watery, waterlilied space of the pond in my new garden. And had found myself drawing without looking at the paper. It is not the same, but it reminded me of automatic writing.

The Zen of Seeing is presented in the author’s handwriting. He explains in the foreword it’s because his book is, “… a love letter, and love letters should not be typeset …”  It was going to be a book that demanded intimacy. The book fell open on a section in which Franck advises drawing without looking at the paper.  Can you hear those synchronous cogs grinding into motion?

When next I was able to sit in front of my waterlilies, I saw that I hadn’t drawn without looking at the paper in my previous drawing, but from time to time, had looked down on and corrected the drawing into a semblance of what I was looking at. Unconsciously, I had been looking for physical verisimilitude and engaged tricks I knew from academic drawing. I was re-visiting a road I’ve travelled in the past that had driven me away from the love of drawing. I saw that I should have been drawing a love letter – to waterlilies.

Franck explains even this. Opening his first-ever workshop with a lecture, he posed a rhetorical question: “Who is Man, the Artist?” and answered it: “He is the core of everyman, before he is choked by schooling, training, conditioning until the artist-within shrivels up and is forgotten. Even in the artist who is professionally-trained to be consciously “creative” this unspoiled core shrivels up in the rush toward a “personal style, …”

As a child, I drew and drew. I have a faded childhood image of sleeping in a bed made up in a bath. In later life I learned this was because I persistently ruined the wallpaper in every room, by drawing on it. I was enhancing every room with skirting board-level friezes of my drawings. I could do little damage confined to the bathroom. (I must have been a very determined draughtsgirl to have deserved incarceration). Drawing made of me a problem to be solved by removing me from society.

By the end of my fine art degree course, drawing had become an agony. I hardly draw any more. The university’s Fine Art department had the reputation of being largely hands-off, of letting the student develop in his/her own way. The concept is benign, but there’s a flaw. This approach fails to dig out the student’s own pre-conceived ideas and misperceptions. I had already developed a notion of how I was supposed to draw. Before arriving on the course, I had been ” … choked by schooling, training, conditioning.”  I needed de-programming. I was left to kill my love of drawing. I think I should have been made aware that I needed to love first my subject matter/to find subject matter that I loved. I might have discovered then that in drawing (as in all endeavour) love is the goal.

I made my way back to the pond and set about Franck’s exercise in drawing without looking at the paper and the second image here is the result. The drawing bears neither  resemblance to a pond, nor to waterlilies. It is closer visually to automatic writing. It is not automatic writing.  Or is it? Reflecting on the exercise afterwards, there was some other engaged, in drawing only by looking at the subject matter. You can’t not engage with the subject matter. What happened in that terra incognito between the eye and the hand?  I think it’s love.

Some of this unknown land has been mapped, in terms of science. In A Painter’s Eye Movements:  A Study of Eye and Hand Movement during Portrait Drawing (Miall and Tchalenko) I found this in the conclusion:  The artist’s actions are essentially driven by the picture’s progress—they are goal oriented.

Drawing by looking only at the subject has a different goal. My drawing is a (poetic!) map, tracing only my walk through the subject. It’s heading towards an act of love, for if I suggest that drawing should be an act of love, walking I also suggest should likewise be (and in fact is) an act of love and not just for the terrain. I’m looking forward with new enthusiasm to exploring drawing again – making my mark, through love. When I approach mark-making from now on I will attempt to become again the child that had to be shut up in the bathroom to stop it from being destructive – to stop it from loving and mark-making.

Franck goes on to say: “SEEING/DRAWING is … a way of inscape from the overloaded switchboard, (his  metaphor for the “non-creative environment” … that constantly bombards us, overloads our switchboard with noise, with agitation and visual stimuli.”)  Seeing/drawing “…establishes an island of silence, an oasis of undivided attention, an environment to recover in …”  Here, drawing parallels meditating.  From this view, I see that as I draw I will become aware of surfacing thoughts and memories. In meditation, these would be acknowledged but allowed to move on as distractions from the goal. In drawing, they may end up incorporated into the work; as part of the journey to love.

That first day I began drawing again, drawing the pond, I had my usual sense of imprisonment, my out-of-loveness, with the process. Then the means of re-gaining my freedom and love had fallen into my hands – almost at the same time – in the form of Franck’s book. Those synchronistic cogs were to continue to grind when I stumbled upon another relative of automatic writing, the monocondyle. I read, at Evangelical Textual Criticism:

“Recently a student of mine came across this subscription to 1 Timothy in Greg.-Aland 1977 (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana ms. laur. Plut. 10.9):  The problem was how to interpret what is in the frame on the picture, a so called monocondyle, a conventional scholarly term formed from the classical Greek adjective μονοκόνδυλος, “having but one joint” (said of the thumb). The term designates a word or sentence written without lifting pen from paper. Monocondyles occur in Byzantine MSS [dating] from the 10th century [onwards].

Monocondyle, [monokondylos] … a word or sentence written without lifting pen from paper. Monocondyles occur in Byzantine MSS [dating] from the 10th century [onwards].” Tommy Wasserman

Bibliotechnique Nationale de France: L’aventure des écritures: La calligraphie: D’un seul trait c’est ainsi que l’on pourrait traduire le mot grec savant monokondylos qui désigne à l’époque byzantine et postbyzantine une écriture enchevêtrée, faite de boucles et de courbes et dont la caractéristique matérielle essentielle est précisément la continuité parfaite du trait : aucune séparation ne vient interrompre le tracé de la plume sur la page.” With apologies for my translating abilities:

© Bibliothèque nationale de France: Traité d’arithmétique (Page from an Arithmetical Treatise): Byzance 1350-1375

“The Adventure of Writing: Calligraphy: ‘With a single line’ is how one could translate the Greek word Monokondylos which in the Byzantine and post-Byzantine eras was a sort of tangled writing, a writing constructed of buckles and curves, the essential characteristic being the continuity of the line: there must be no interruption in the mark being made by the pen on the page.

“Affecting most often a few words only at the end of a document or book, this style of writing seems to have appeared in the Byzantine domain towards the 10th century BCE. The origin of the monocondyle seems to be in documentary writing, in Acts or Diplomas public or private, in which most often the monocondyle is found in the names of the signatories.”

“The originality of the mark-making guarantees the authenticity of the signature and thus the Act.”

Cette fonction rend parfaitement compte des caractéristiques principales du monocondyle ; virtuellement illisible et donc inimitable, le monocondyle doit rester déchiffrable et visible. Réduire la transparence du signe sans détruire sa signification, voilà la délicate opération que doit accomplir le scribe. Again excusing my translating abilities: “This function accounts perfectly for the principal characteristics of the monocondyle; virtually un-readable and thus inimitable, the monocondyle must remain decipherable and visible. To reduce the transparency of the sign without destroying its meaning, this is the delicate operation which the scribe must accomplish.”

Maybe the most important aspect of the monocondyle is that it was used to embellish biblical text and was, in this light, an act of love. Here’s a link to the web site of textile artist Stéphanie Devaux (Stéphanie Devaux Textus) who has made art working with the monocondyle.

In the monocondyle I am reminded of Paul Klee’s definition of drawing, quoted on Artsy as “An active line on a walk, moving freely, without goal.”  Klee: Pedagogical Sketchbook. I was interested to read: Klee studied nature obsessively, and took a particular interest in the branching forms of plants, organ systems, and waterways. In his lectures, he described these patterns with scientific specificity, mapping mathematical equations and arrow-filled diagrams on the board. He explored how seeds sprout, how leaves develop ribs, and how lakes break off into streams, almost always ending with an awe-inspiring assertion about the magic contained in nature’s growth and development.”

It occurs to me that mark-making by way of the monocondyle is drawing by use of all available resources until they are completely exhausted. The carrying-out of the mark requires an astonishing number of skills. Some would be (in no particular order) conscious looking/seeing, contemplation, planning, forethought, weighing up, physical materials and knowing their extents and limitations, timing, concentration, balance, self-knowledge/examination, spiritual/emotional state.  It occurs to me also that drawing in this way, whatever the end result, would be totally honest. The crudest and shortest of marks is honourable, if it is the best one can do at that particular time, with the resources available. It is also a way of drawing that acts out a good rule for living.

On the metaphysical level, the monocondyle by my definition, points I suggest to a parallel between the mark-making of the artist and that of The Great Originator, who/which would have an infinity of resources. Originator can (and did) draw the perfect monocondyle (the whole of existence and Us!) and infinitely and maybe it would be useful to consider ourselves as at origin, each one of us, perfect monocondyles – an absolute drawn by the Originator without lifting the pen from the page. Any mark made by an artist emanates from and is an extension of the artist. Each of us, therefore, by this logic, would have to be an emanation and extension of the Originator.

I didn’t invent this idea (ha! as ever); it’s stated in different ways in religious teachings. Christianity: The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. Luke 17.
Hinduism/Krsna: It’s written in the Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Spirit) that God dwells in everything. The Upanishads reveals that God is hidden in all living beings.

As an aside, yet also synchronous: scanning the Gita (Song of the Spirit) I found: One’s inferior natural work is better than superior unnatural work. One who does the work ordained by one’s inherent nature incurs no sin.  I seem to have echoed this when I wrote, above, that: The crudest and shortest of marks is honourable, if it is the best one can do at that particular time, with the resources available.

The path that had led me to Klee’s definition of drawing was bifurcated and re-tracing my steps back to the crossroads I took the second road less travelled (for there are always more than one, you know) and soon found myself lost among the Seven Bridges of Königsberg (SBK). Königsberg, once part of Prussia and now Kaliningrad, Russia, is situated on both sides of the River Pregel and includes two islands connected to each other and the two mainlands, by seven bridges. SBK is also a mathematical problem set by Leonhard Euler in 1736 and which gave birth to a new branch of geometry known as Graph Theory. Of interest to me artistically, was that Graph Theory prefigured Topology, which deals with the properties of space preserved under continuous deformations, such as stretching, twisting, crumpling and bending, but not tearing or gluing. The Mobius Strip would be a form of this nature.

I was warned not to confuse Topology with Topography (the study of the shape and features of land surfaces; or with Tomography (an imaging method which combines slices or sections of a form and used in disciplines such as radiology, archaeology, quantum physics). I won’t heed the warning, as they all apply to drawing, to looking and seeing, to mark-making, as they are all just different ways of trying to see and understand the world. I see it as a warning to inspect my waterlilies from more than just the linear.

I will finish with some marks I made recently using a rusted trowel I found under a hedge. I swaddled it with a length of silk from the Bursa silk market in Turkey and bound it close against the rust with rubber bands, left it exposed to the elements for a week, spraying it every day with a vinegar/water solution.

Here’s another warning: drawing can be dangerous. I accidentally walked into the pond in the dark the other night. Oy, oy, oy, it was cold. The pond’s hip-deep in the middle.

Having had to spend much of 2018 setting up (including building with my own hands (as well as my husband’s) an extra exterior room) in 2019 I will be progressing a project to develop artwork from ideas expressed in some of my blogs and then compile the results into small books. And other projects. I’m looking forward to 2019.


About AnnIsikArts

Artist/Writer, Proofreader/Copy Editor
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20 Responses to Mark Making, The Zen of Seeing, the Byzantine Monocondyle and the Seven Bridges of Königsberg

  1. I came here from Petru’s blog. Interesting post. My mother was an artist and she didn’t mind when the four of us decorated every wall of the house up to as far as a four or five year old can reach. By five we were learning to stick to paper. I never went to art school but learned to draw and used to draw and paint for years until l started to write. I’ve not produced anything very attractive with the thumb joint writing, but I did try drawing without looking at the paper and got a result I am very pleased with—I know it’s my favourite dead tree even if thousands wouldn’t!


    • AnnIsikArts says:

      You should post your monocondyles for us to see. Attractiveness is secondary. I will be ‘engaging’ with the form, probably in the New Year. I liked your ‘Etheree’. New word for me. Is it right you live in France? Lived there for 11 years. Much of what I’ve read about the monocondyle has been in French, strangely enough. There’s a French poet(ess) Tristan Felix – she does silent poetry readings and has run a workshop teaching the monocondyle – there’s a video on You Tube, if you’re interested. I will be doing more writing than just my blog in 2019. In relation to drawing, etc. Thanks for reading.


      • The things that I tried were just pencil on white paper and I wouldn’t know how to post them, I’m technically challenged. I had a look at Tristan’s video and would have liked to have seen more of the results as I’m not clear what exactly they are doing. Calligraphy I love as an art form, so maybe I’m too structurist for this. I’ll read a bit more about it. I’ve probably missed the point somewhere.
        I have lived in France all my adult life. We’re in the Lot-et-Garonne, what used to be called la France profonde. Lots of trees to draw.
        Glad you liked the etheree.


      • AnnIsikArts says:

        I have assumed part of the skill of the monocondyle would be due to its use with ink of some kind. In medieval times a common ink was ‘iron gall’. I plan on using inks or dyes made from matter from my own garden. Likely the results will be ‘unlovely’ physically, but maybe ‘metaphysically lovely’? Lot-et-Garonne. You will know the lovely Éléonore. And her troubadour Bernat. (I have some of his music). I wasn’t sure what Tristan was doing either – glad to know it wasn’t just my French! There are other videos in which she is ‘silently’ reciting poetry dressed as a ‘cloun’ with a picture frame round her face. Not a straightforward type in any language. Good luck. I’ll look in on your site from time to time. I’m still in a bit of chaos following the house move.


      • An script ink painting would look attractive. The trouble with that vid was that the one example that was shown in detail looked like a mouse has run over the paper. It was pretty in a way, but it certainly wasn’t d’un seul trait which is presumably the basic idea. I’ll have to pinch me Eléonore’s inks (yes, I have an Eléonore) and give it a go. I saw the clown vid too. She has a nice voice. We don’t hear her silences though.
        We’re still in chaos and it’s a year since we moved…


      • AnnIsikArts says:

        A major skill in ‘monocondyling’ one’s signature on a ‘document’ would be to complete the whole signature without running out of ink. I don’t think the video was very useful, either and not just because of the language. I was thinking of Eleanor of Aquitaine – Richard the Lionheart’s mother. She was very big in the development of the ‘courtly love’ thing. Interesting you have one of your ‘own’. I assume she’s a daughter who has inks you can ‘borrow’. 🙂


      • The signature thing seems very French to me. No French person signs their name with recognisable letters. The more pretentious the squiggle the more self-important it shows you are. I like the idea that it started a thousand years ago and they still cling to the idea even it has been changed to one of simple showing off. We had our Eléonore (daughter not cat or budgie) before we even thought of coming to Aquitaine, but everybody thinks it was a premonition.


      • AnnIsikArts says:

        It’s interesting that the majority of references in respect of the monocondyle, that I came across, were in French. I had no idea about any connection between the monocondyle and the ‘French signature’.
        Eleonore: who knows what connections there are between past and present. I had dreams, etc., about moving to France in advance of any thought of moving there. After we moved to France I made a pilgrimage of sorts to Conques as a direct response to dreams. 🙂


  2. ”Drawing made of me a problem to be solved by removing me from society.” – You made me laugh so hard! Even if it isn’t/wasn’t funny. Did you notice – the second drawing (not looking at the surface) contains an almost heart shape? I just mentioned on another blog about drawing without looking at the working surface. It was an exercise given us when I was at art school. The observation – really, really looking at what one is working from – is so valuable! I think I want to go back to drawing as well.
    Loved the ending of your post. Glad you are finding your feet in your new environment.


    • AnnIsikArts says:

      Hi, your comment was sent to my spam for some reason! I was a wee small kid – just big enough to be drawing a skirting board level! – when I was banished to the bathroom. Hardly conscious, though I do recall a certain anxiety and I was cold! The pond’s artificial and kidney-shaped, though I could see that turned on its side the drawing may have bits of right and left ventricles … ! A sort of broken heart. Fits. You deserve a medal for ploughing through to the end of the blog. I had a message from WordPress recently ‘congratulating’ me on having blogged for 8 years. So I’ve been ‘stocktaking’ and I can say I’m really pleased I’ve done it. Talking to myself out loud. It’s painful and I feel naked. In my bed in the bath I sharpen my lethal crayons. While painting the kitchen I’ve been listening to back to back You Tube vids by Jordan B Peterson. I got so lost in them I found myself still painting the ceiling at 3am. I’ll pop by your site soon.


      • I’m sure you were cold in the bath. And glad you kept sharpening your ‘lethal’ crayons. I’m surprised they didn’t take it away from you all together! Plunge some more Ann. Into ponds, into art into creativity into you.


      • AnnIsikArts says:

        Ha! My maternal grandfather made sure I always had art and writing materials. I was even colder the time I was playing by rolling a tin of gloss paint back and forth across a rug. The lid came off and at the same time, there was a fall of soot from the chimney. Rug + white gloss paint + soot. My mother took a broom to me. All she managed to do was swept me out of the door. I ran, terrified, to my aunt’s, for me life, in the dark. She lived near an abbattoir and there were always horses’ etc skulls lying about outside. I was only four. When my aunt took me back home I was put to bed without supper – after stripping it of all the bed clothes. Not as cold as the pond. He!he! Now you have some idea why I’m crazy! 🙂


      • I burst out laughing at the picture of child, gloss paint and soot on the rug. But then swallowed it at your cold night without bed clothes. And I keep wondering about Ann walking into the pond in the night – I refuse to ask how come you didn’t realise at the first step into the water? I don’t want to know. I love the idea of you keeping on going in until you were waist deep. Suppose it only took a step or two as it isn’t such a large pond. I stood in the rain for a few seconds the other night. It was a blistering hot day and rain started falling, just a few drops far between and it was lovely! Didn’t get soaked though.


      • AnnIsikArts says:

        I’ve confused you. Sorry. I didn’t walk in up to the waist (actually it’s hip deep). I only took two steps into it up to my ankles. The water soaked my pants up to my knees but at least I didn’t slip … I’ve a balance disorder (inner ear problem). Tests revealed I can’t maintain a straight line when I close my eyes and walk – I THINK I’m walking in a straight line, but I veer off. So in the pitch darkness I thought I was walking PAST the pond but was actually walking at it! Poor fish! The moral of the story? Take a torch!


      • Doesn’t take much to confuse me I guess! I’m sure the fish are fine. Hopefully you didn’t catch anything? – obviously not the fish.


      • AnnIsikArts says:

        I caught nothing, even fish. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Bumba says:

    Very interesting. Personally, I think the classical rules are valuable, and I wish I knew them better. But yours is a noble quest! Cheers!


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