Learning to See

DrawingI’ve been afraid of drawing for as long as I can remember. I don’t recall anyone telling me that I wasn’t good at it (though that may be buried under some dark ocean currents), but I always noticed how little my drawings resembled those done by my friends, for whom perfect likenesses of fruit bowls and tigers seemed as easy as breathing. This didn’t feel good. I honestly think I must have been overwhelmed by trying to take in all the lines and shades and proportions of an object all at the same time. It felt like a language I didn’t speak, something I couldn’t grasp with my hands (incidentally, I still feel the same way about music and math). So I took shortcuts, and I just didn’t draw, for years and years. I took a few classes here and there, but I think I was too intimidated by all the other students, who were very kind to me, but who seemed to produce beautiful drawings effortlessly, while even my most focused attempts resulted in something that did not look at all like I wanted it to. My fear of drawing kept me from painting for most of my life too–if you can’t draw something, how can you paint it? In the past five years or so, I have really embraced so many things that I didn’t think I could do, and it has made my life so much richer. But drawing was the last holdout.

In my painting class, we were asked to do a bit of freeform sketching to gather ideas for our paintings. When I heard this instruction, my heart sank. I put it off for days. And then I bought a sketchbook. I found my favorite pencils and erasers. And I started trying to see. I think my only real hindrance is impatience–it just takes time to see the lines and the shading and the size of what you are drawing relative to everything else in the field of view. I find that thought comforting. I am still just getting started, but I wanted to share this little sketch. I went to the zoo in Santa Barbara, which was really lovely, and I was so taken with the elephants. I sat down on a bench and got out my pencils and tried my hardest to see. I don’t by any means think this is a masterpiece, but it looks like an elephant, and that is a victory for me. I am especially happy with the eye and the fuzz on top of the head. And maybe those reverse kneecaps. I wonder if I would ever have noticed them otherwise. I am so happy that I somehow worked up the courage to try to record them.

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