Earlier this week, this fun set of drawing pencils arrived at my house.
It was waiting for me when I got home from work, and after the kids were in bed and Tony had left for his weekly Euro-gaming night, I opened it up and looked at everything in it. It seemed like an awful lot of different pencils, all marked with cryptic number and letter combinations. I tried out a few, noting how the softer lead of some of them slid onto the paper so effortlessly. The charcoal looked fun too, but I’ve always hated how chalk or pastels feel in my hands, and had no desire to get black all over myself, although that eventually happened anyway, since I just had to try smudging the pencil lines with my fingers to see how the different hardnesses of graphite reacted.
But the most fascinating item in the package was the kneaded eraser. I’ve never actually owned a kneaded eraser, and didn’t know what to do with it. I googled “how to use a kneaded eraser,” and then realizing that I hadn’t been specific enough about my absolute beginner status, “do I have to knead my eraser before I use it?” The answer was yes, so I reluctantly unwrapped the perfect grey rectangle and smooshed it around with my fingers. A couple of youtube videos later, I had discovered that not only could it be used to erase things, but you could also pinch it into various shapes and use it to “draw” on top of your pencil drawing. One artist also recommended kneading it with your left hand while drawing with your right, to reduce stress. This was sounding promising.
I spent some time drawing spheres and boxes with shadows using random pencils out of my new collection. Eventually, after I’d filled up a notebook page with my tiny, tentative drawings, I put it all away and went to bed.
A couple of days later, all my library holds came in. It was quite a stack. As is my wont when I’m excited about a new book, I took them all to the bath. I devoured a couple at random, including Drawing for Painters and Drawing Fairyland. Then I picked up the book everyone recommends, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I took a deep breath, opened it, and plunged in.
First there were several pages about the hemispheres of the brain, and how drawing can help people think more creatively in other areas. After a few pages, I began to skim. After all, thinking creatively has never been a problem for me–I’m very much of a right brainer. It’s the drawing that bites. However, I was completely arrested by a quote from a letter by Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo, who had suggested that he become a painter:
. . . at the time when you spoke of my becoming a painter, I thought it very impractical and would not hear of it. What made me stop doubting was reading a clear book on perspective, Cassange’s Guide to the ABC of Drawing, and a week later I drew the interior of a kitchen with stove, chair, table and window–in their places and on their legs–whereas before it had seemed to me that getting depth and the right perspective into a drawing was witchcraft or pure chance.”
“Witchcraft or pure chance.” It was as if the great Van Gogh had read my mind.
I decided that I could give the book and its exercises a chance, despite my misgivings. The first thing the author, Betty Edwards, instructs her students to do is to draw a series of three “pre-instruction” drawings. The idea is that you’ll have a before and after to look at, and realize how far you’ve come. I had a lot of feelings about doing this, but I ploughed ahead and completed all three within the space of an hour or so, which was how long Edwards had predicted they would take. So without further ado, here are my “before” drawings, in the spirit of authenticity, and with ardent hopes that the “afters” will look like they’ve been drawn by a different person entirely.
#1 A person, from memory. Is there a harder thing to draw? Obviously I have extremely vague ideas about things like noses and arms, as well as drawing a person who’s not looking straight ahead. Oh, well.
#2 Self-portrait. This one was, if possible, even worse. I drew the line at actually staring at myself in the mirror as I drew, and just did it from a photo. The photo on my About Me page, if you must know, but it would be embarrassing for you to go and look at it and compare.
#3 A drawing of your own hand. OK, every part of drawing people is hard, but drawing hands might be the hardest of all. And my poor left hand is looking pretty scary here:
So there you have it: my first baby steps on the road to learning to draw. I am hoping that this book lives up to the hype, and that, like Van Gogh, I will discover that drawing is something I can do. OK, maybe not so much like Van Gogh, who is kind of in a class by himself.
Speaking of Van Gogh, for inspiration and some serious feels, I’ll leave you with this video montage from one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes, Vincent and The Doctor.