Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Drawing My Own Lines . . .

First, let me say very quickly that I wasn't showing the sketch above in my last post because I thought it was worth showing off for its accomplished execution. Ha!  No!!

I included it simply to share my pleasure in overcoming inhibitions that began nestling into me somewhere around Grade 3 or 4, in the last hiccups of those educational methods that insisted on "colouring within the lines." (A girlfriend who went through elementary school in the late 60s, early 70s, says the opposite was true for her cohort -- they were exhorted to ignore lines in the name of creativity.) While I could manage, generally, to stay within the lines, I never achieved a smooth effect with the wax crayons, an effect a few other classmates had clearly mastered. And while I used to doodle out faces, paper dolls, the standard "house with a tree" scenes, I quickly learned to say that I "wasn't artistic" in contrast to those clearly gifted students who seemed to produce recognizable drawings of almost anything, seemingly effortlessly.

If we had been taught simple drawing techniques and the need to practise our craft, a strict approach would have been worthwhile. After all, as the indomitable 80-something Diane Athill points out in a letter to a friend (published in Instead of a Book), I fancy the idea of being able to do watercolours. In the days before photography and postcards every halfway educated person knew how. Off you went on your holiday with your little sketchbook in your pocket as a matter of course. My great-great-great-aunt Julie had a sketchbook about six inches by three inches, which I've seen. Faced with a vast panorama of Swiss mountains, did she quail? No, indeed not. She just sat down and ripped off a tiny watercolour of it, and very well too, without for a moment thinking of herself as 'an artist'-- and she was one of the thousands of such people. So I do not despair, now the ice has been broken for me, of being like her 
While I might have been frustrated at having to practise drawing and watercolour techniques, I would at least have had a skillset by the time I finished school, rather than a conviction that I simply  lacked any talent at all.
But that was all many decades ago, and over the years I've realized that I have a reasonably good sense of composition (as I hope my photographs show) and my sense of colour, as manifest both in my daily outfits, my home decor, my knitting yarn choices, is also decent. Twenty years ago, I even picked up Betty Edwards' Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, working through some of her exercises and finding, to my astonishment, that I could produce recognizable sketches. Soon after that, though, I started working on completing my BA, then my Master's and my PhD, so all thought of building skills in another direction were banished.
But I also, around that time, became good friends with a talented artist. And about fifteen years ago, we became neighbours on a small island, and Alison began offering various workshops in her charming garden studio. I heard from friends who took her courses, even sent my mom, aunt, and daughter along for a weekend of Painting in the Garden. I never thought of taking the classes myself, however, because a) I was always too busy, and b) Well, you know, I'm not artistic. . . .
But Athill's epistolary message must have really lodged in my spirit, because I started thinking about learning to draw or to paint. And I started realizing that I will probably always be busy, but I only have so many years left -- waiting for retirement seems a bit profligate, really, spending time only on work when I can't guarantee there will be any saved for all I want to do.

And then I saw Alison's posting for an upcoming course on The Illustrated Journal, and I thought "What a perfect fit for me."  In my own journals, I'd be making no claims about being artistic. I'd simply be paying attention to what caught my eye, recording it to enrich my own experience and sharpen my memory.
Surprisingly, when I mentioned the prospect tentatively to Pater, he thought he'd join me, if there was space in the class. There was, and we took that class last weekend, when I produced every single one of these very amateurish, but very, very satisfying-to-me sketches, enlivened with dabs of colour.
I cannot fully express how joyously liberating that felt, and feels. I'm off this week to load up on basic supplies from which I'll put together the Travel Kit (mini) Alison recommends. Before that, I've got more photos about the studio and more details about what I learned.

Meanwhile, from top to bottom: my play with composition of a journal page, using lettering, colour, and a few simple drawings; again, playing with text, colour, to enhance (or disguise) my amateur sketching; a simple composition done as a 3-minute drawing exercise, then enhanced with watercolour; drawing from a photograph, choosing one feature (the belltower), and transferring drawing to coloured heavy paper, playing with gouache; trying to get shape of composition, again taking a scene from a photograph (taken on our trip to France, '91); that drawing, transferred to watercolour paper, with colour used to highlight.

So there you go. I might not be colouring within the lines, but damn, I'm having fun! What about you? Have you always or ever thought of yourself as artistic? And how does that perception follow from what you learned in school? Or wherever you got messages about your abilities? Do you have fun expressing your creative or artistic self now? Do tell . . .

24 comments:

  1. I can identify with you on so many levels - of not being taught how to draw, of not considering myself "artistic" and of fear of my own creativity that might not meet my own standards.

    I love your sketch journal. Really love it! How wonderful for you and Pater to have taken that class. Is it possible to be proud of someone I've never met? 'Cause I am!

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    1. I can't believe you could ever have doubted your artistic or creative abilities! Thank you so much of the enthusiasm (and the pride!) and encouragement.

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  2. Such fun and lively images! I rather like them. I'm glad to hear you've found this new source of expression (and fun!).

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  3. I think your journal is wonderful! I find that capturing the spirit of where I am is as satisfying (usually more satisfying) as capturing a life likeness. Recalling the focus at the time of creation is a mighty powerful sensory trigger.

    I just wrote this yesterday somewhere: my grade two teacher yelled at me for adding a colourful backdrop outside of the standard colour-in-the-lines picture. I was traumatized for years and years.

    I can sense the joy in your discovery of this practice. How much fun you will have in France(!) doing this, the country of light. The term "artist" is often stultifying. We are all creators.

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    1. My friend/art teacher really emphasized how much the concentration required to draw what we see keeps us in the moment and also brings that moment back to us later when we recall the focus.

      Those teachers who convinced us we weren't athletic or artistic or whatever were perhaps just having bad days, but their reach is astounding. . . . so many years later! But yes, I'm recovering the joy my own creation can bring, not trying to be "an artist" at all.

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  4. You inspire me. I find that the greatest barrier to taking my own drawing and watercoloring seriously enough to keep with it is my reluctance to acknowledge that my style is my own - and I want to make the pictures as they appear in my mind and through my fingers, rather than try to master a different style more suited to the medium I am using. Acknowledging the validity of my own aesthetic is daunting. But, as you have shown, once you have done something that pleases you, it is much more likely that you will continue! Brava!

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    1. Really, Marsha, I don't know about you, but I'm getting to old to waste too much more time pleasing or worrying about other's preferences. Easier said than done, of course, and I will continue to care and to be influenced, but I'm trying to pay more attention to what pleases me as well. It sounds as if you have some clear ideas about what does that for you -- and really, that's a lucky position to have, right?

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  5. Just love this, both the spirit and your enjoyment. Isn't it weird how we limit ourselves by refusing (till we are wise enough) to do things we're not already good at? And not that you are asking for such a comment but I find your sketches delightful; the last reminds me of Maira Kalman.

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    1. It's so weird, yes! So what if I'm not "good at" drawing if I have fun. After all, I have some things I can do well, and I think I've also a right to do some things poorly if they please me nonetheless. Eventually, with practice, perhaps I'll get better.
      As for your last comment, you're right that I wasn't fishing at all, and your comparison stretches credulity -- but nonetheless puts a smile on my face and a skip in my shoe!

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  6. I think this is awesome! As you know, I hope to improve my drawing skills this year. So far I haven't gone anywhere near this distance but it's great to see people take up new creative activities that produce so much joy - and such delightful outcomes.

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    1. Funny to compare sewing with drawing. Although I acknowledge innately gifted seamstresses (who nevertheless have years behind their craft as well), I believed I could learn skills, step by step, to make pants with pockets and zipper flies, jackets with buttonholed lapels and dart-shaping. Yet somehow a door always slammed down when it came to imagining myself drawing -- oh, I'm not artistic . . . Now if only I can persevere in my learning curve, following your example . . .

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  7. Wonderful! I especially like that last one. I used to draw when I was young. But I guess I use Polyvore and photography as an approximation...

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    1. I think I've used photography as an approximation as well, but I'd like to be able to capture what sometimes eludes the camera. Plus there's nothing quite like making something by hand, to me at least, for satisfaction. . . You're lucky you've experienced this when younger. I hope to grab some of now, in my not-so-young years.

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  8. Oh, I am so envious. I think of myself as artistic with words, but always admire my students who doodle during class. It is a skill I wish I had. I did check my bookshelf at school and the book on illustrated journals was by Hannah Henchman. Also, the critic John ruskin was a big fan, as I recall, of training the eye through drawing.

    What exactly will be in the travel kit?

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    1. I'm hearing some of the same tugs of longing that I kept ignoring in myself. I could easily see you taking up a pencil . . . I'll check out that Henchman book. As for the travel kit, I'm hoping to get it together in the next few days and post soon . . .

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  9. Is there no end to your energy? My father has just described my first attempt at an academic written paper 'mixed'! So I have a long way to go on that front.
    You on the other hand are romping it. I’ve recently read many interviews with lecturers who all claim that art cannot be taught, that they are just there to ‘guide’. We both know that’s bollocks, art can be taught, it’s a series of skills that need explaining and demonstrating, once given then it becomes so much easier.
    It is a wonderful thing to paint and I get the feeling that you are much less inhibited than I am so your work is already light of touch. The Athill quote is so true though, what price photography?

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    1. In the many years that I taught piano, I had much evidence of what can and cannot be taught, how much simply arrives with the gene package. And although it's tough to work with students whose ear or natural sense of rhythm is very limited, much can be achieved with commitment and discipline (and a reasonable modicum of intelligence). The same is true of writing, as I know from teaching University Composition classes. So I'm counting on it applying to art skills as well. You're kind to encourage me from your perspective of having taught hundreds, surely, over the years.
      "Mixed," eh? I suspect your strengths will be in having a clear voice expressing original, trenchant opinions. You probably need to hone the academic style, work on grammar, organization, etc. but that's all secondary (and learnable) to having something to say.
      I'm going to think more about the "what price photography" . . . I know I rely so often on that quick fix to grab what I see. Even trying to capture in words would be an alternative that would slow me down. . .

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  10. Thanks for sharing. It's wonderful how fun and freeing doing this illustrated journal seems to be for you. I have never thought of myself as artistic and have an extremely limited drawing ability. It definitely was not cultivated at school. I do my best to cultivate the minimal literary talent that I have and to appreciate colors and shapes with my clothing choices.

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    1. Again (as with Terri above) I hear myself. See what indigo says -- she teaches Art to senior high school students (in London, UK) and is honest enough that I trust she's not just feeding me false encouragement -- I do believe that art skills enough to please me can be learned with diligence and time. We'll see . . .

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  11. Bravo for you! I think your watercolors are charming and it is a delight to see anyone enjoy a creative outlet. I took a watercolor class last winter in Courtenay and really enjoyed it and met wonderful, supportive people. I would recommend the little travel watercolor sets from Windsor and Newton (that is all I used for my classes). The color selection is very good, no duds in the box and with a little Moleskin watercolor book, you can be ready to go with just a little pocket full of supplies.

    Kris

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    1. Welcome, fellow islander! Thanks so much for stopping by and for taking the time to comment.
      Such a coincidence -- I picked up that little set as a last-minute (impulse) buy at the Opus counter yesterday. And I have a little Moleskin journal as well -- can't wait to get started!

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  12. Now this is truly one of the great liberations of l'age - early on, and I mean very early on, we start limiting ourselves based on what we see around us. And comments that are made. The older I get the more I realize that just about everyone, ok everyone, has the capacity to draw, write, sing, play an instrument, whatever - creative capacity is enormous and under-tapped. I think of Winston Churchill and his watercolours along with all the other skills and talents he developed to such a fine tune. It's so wonderful that you're doing this. When my kids are just a tad older I hope to do the same AND learn to play the piano. Writing and drawing are such natural companions. Both take work yet they compliment each other. More drawings please.

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    1. Yes! Yes! This is exactly what I'm trying to get at! I've finally got to an age where I don't so much care if I'm not "ärtistic" (and where I'm getting wise enough to doubt the label) -- I just want to draw and paint and play. Teaching piano, there was so much I could teach an adult beginner who had always wanted to play and was willing to work -- so much pleasure someone could derive from playing simple (or more challenging) pieces after assuming for so long that s/he had no talent. Thank you SO much for the encouragment.

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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