Most people are lucky if they get one solid mother figure and one solid father figure in their lives. I have been incredibly fortunate in that--in addition to my own wonderful parents--some of my best friends' mothers and fathers have played important subset parental roles for me, tagging in at times when I lived states away from my own family, and also just showing me the concerned affection and support that loving people do for their children's friends. I had no shortage of caring, thoughtful guides through my teens and twenties helping me navigate the terrain and, though they *were* parents, managing to do so without the looming way that actual parents can't help but do.
One of those people was Chris, my best gal Nicole's Stepma/friend. Nicole credits Chris for stepping in when Nicole was young to add a very important element of emotional intelligence and artistic exploration, both of which have helped color Nicole's experience--the whole living thing. And though I wasn't ever close enough to Chris to have received the full extent of those benefits, I feel like just having access to her offerings through Nicole and Nicole's telling of things has helped color my own experience in a positive way as well.
I was overjoyed when Chris told me she wanted to join me for a GGA playdate. I knew she'd have some cool thing to offer, likely involving art or education (Chris is a veteran educator. I once had the chance to substitute for a few days in one of her classes and I could tell--cuz I'd been to a lot of classrooms during my subbing days--that she was especially dedicated, creative, and cool in her approach). Or, in this case, art education, best of both worlds.
Today's New Activity: Drawing Lessons
Oh man. What a beautiful day for meeting in a courtyard to learn a little something. Because I rarely get the chance to see Chris, we of course had to sandwich the lesson with a good bit of catching up.
I should really stop taking pictures of people when they're talking or just not looking. I'm all for candid shots, but sometimes it would be nice to have a full-face shot of somebody who's actually looking my way :)
After we gabbed a little while, Chris set about giving me one of the lessons from Betty Edwards's book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.
She explained to me that what goes wrong so often in drawing (or the reason why so many people don't draw in the satisfyingly realistic way they'd like to) is that people draw to their expectation of what things should look like rather than drawing what they actually see in front of them. For a quick example, she mentioned asking her students what a can of soup looks like. Of course they mentioned that there are a round top and bottom and two lines that connect on the sides. When she drew this, step by step and literally, it came out looking ridiculous. Everybody agrees on the basic elements that make up a can of soup, but if you try drawing one with those shapes in your mind you are most definitely NOT going to get a can of soup.
This all made perfect sense. I once had a coworker who was an art student and he was drawing my feet for practice (he said feet and hands were the most difficult for him). I asked him if he got tired of staring at people's feet and he mentioned that he doesn't even see feet when he's drawing. It was all about copying down exactly what he saw in lines and shapes, not necessarily about what the whole of those parts made up...not in the moment anyway.
Edwards's book is all about teaching people to draw exactly what they see rather than what their minds have decided is the expectation. All the non-artists among us might say that a face is made up of a circle for the head, two ovals for eyes, etc. But put that on paper and you look like a 4-year-old. If you were to really draw a face, from real life or from a picture, you would see that there are, of course, no circles anywhere in sight. Drawing what you see would make the entire world in your mind begin to look different, I imagine.
In today's exercise, Chris took a photocopy of a drawing and (without letting me see it) turned it upside down and covered it with a thick piece of construction paper. She then revealed a little bit at a time (about 1 1/2- 2 inches and asked me to just copy exactly what I saw.
I know it's kind of hard to see because my pencil drawing is so much lighter than the copy, but this is what it looked like about a third of the way into the drawing. This exercise was so interesting because when you remove any attachment from what the image is supposed to be (I had no idea what this was even right up until the end), you just concentrate on shapes, lines, and shading, and you end up with a pretty realistic version of the original. You can see that my angles were woefully off, but the essence of the drawing--the image--remained in tact. This was the final outcome:
Turns out I was copying and Shel Silverstein rendition of Captain Hook :) My Hook is a little taller and skinner, it seems.
Chris does this exercise with all her students, who have ranged in age over the years from 1st graders to the current class of alternative program high schoolers she now has. What a gift it must be to show people they can actually draw, which most of us stop believing we can do right around Kindergarten.
Of course this is just one exercise in a whole workbook meant to bring out the inner artist. She showed me the notebook she used to practice in when she was first gifted the book for Christmas 30 years ago. I am not joking (because I saw the dates she'd carefully recorded under the drawings): she went from drawing this typical self-portrait (well I don't know if it's typical but this is probably exactly what I would produce if asked to draw a self portrait)
To this (copying a photograph of a friend of hers), in the span of about a week and a half:
I think I'd be flattering myself to think I could pull off that kind of transformation, but I did love the lesson here. I had completely dismissed the idea of ever drawing anything again until today. You know, it's really true that when you're a kid and you see that other people can do something you just can't seem to do, you stop wanting to even try (at least that's the effect the dynamic had on me. Some people are that much more motivated to succeed--those people are cooler than me, but I'm learnin' here...I'm growin'!).
But I want to work on erasing all that discouragement. I want my son to grow up feeling like the entire world is his, as a possibility. And I can't imagine how he can believe this without witnessing it lived by example. How would this sit, "Oh of course you can draw. Go ahead, try it. Everyone can draw." "Ok Mama, you do it too then." "Oh no, Mama can't draw!" Yeah, bit of a mixed message there. And this is not to say I'll be good at it, but at least that I'm encouraged anew to try.
I can't wait to find an interesting subject and draw him or her in a series of carefully copied lines and shapes and shaded areas. :P