I was thoroughly put off in primary school, by art teachers who said, 'Well ... the IDEA's good' and other kids who said, 'THAT'S not a tree!' Needless to say, I didn't make it one of my ongoing subjects. I dropped it as fast as I could.
I had various brief attempts later. I was in late middle age when my Mum showed me some outline sketches of leaves I'd done in my early teens, which she'd kept ever after. I looked and thought, 'Oh – impressionist.' Also they were beautiful, in a very simple way.
Soon after that revelation, I had fun with an intuitive drawing class I was invited to attend, using chalk pastels and involving meditation before drawing. Well no, not fun. Truthfully, it was a struggle; but I produced some things I still like, such as this one:
I took a somewhat similar class some years later, with a different teacher, using both chalk and oil pastels. Meditation was used in this class too. Below is one of the results. (I don't know on a conscious level what the words are about; they just came to me and I took dictation.)
I even sold aura drawings in the Sunday markets for a number of years, done with pastel pencils. They were not shaped like a human outline, but were characteristically patterns of swirling shapes. A more accurate term might have been energy portraits.
In the intuitive drawing classes, and with the aura drawings, I was channelling. I just 'knew' what colours to pick up, and what they should do on the paper. With the aura drawings I got simultaneous psychic readings for my clients, which I spoke aloud to them as I drew – spiritual readings rather than fortune-telling.
By the time I came to the intuitive drawing classes, I was at ease with channelling in other contexts – well, as easy as I'd ever get (it's still basically astounding to me). I knew how to 'get out of the way', and that I must trust what came through and keep going or else the input would pause until I resumed. So I could do that, albeit with much astonishment that I drew things which were recognisable. Faces, even!
But I still thought I couldn't draw in the more mundane way, picking up pen, pencil or charcoal and making marks on paper just as myself. And guess what, I don't have a lot of evidence yet that I can! But I have had a breakthrough all the same.
Firstly, I was recently inspired by some of the painter-poets I met online, particularly Claudia Schoenfeld of dVerse, to try water-colour sketching. I realised I didn't have to mess about with washes, which we were taught in the first year of primary school. Oh, how I failed to master washes! Oh, how I hated them! I now realise it is quite a sophisticated technique, probably inappropriate for little kids – and not something I have any hankering, or need, to try again.
The water-colour sketching has been fun. I have done one or two a year for the last three years or so, with big gaps between. My time is mostly taken up with writing. I have told myself that the sketching was 'just mucking around'. The first one I did, a neighbour's roof and foliage seen over my back fence, I thought actually quite good. Others have not been very representational, to say the least, although that's what I was trying for.
Then my friend Sharyn Williams, a lovely artist and sometime art teacher, published online some of her lessons (versions of which have inspired many children). I tried a few, and enjoyed them. I learnt things about what one can do with paint.
I still carried around my story that I can't draw.
It's Natalie Goldberg, my favourite writing teacher, who has finally completed my breakthrough. I hasten to add that I only know her through her books – and what wonderful books they are.
She is not only a beautiful writer, but also a painter – of quirky, happy, colourful works which she sometimes exhibits and sells. (However, I gather it's been a less public pleasure than her writing.) Now she has written a book, called In Living Color, in which she tells her readers how to do it too, via chapters of memoir interspersed with lessons. (I'm only up to Lesson 3, and am not working in living colour yet, but black-and-white pencil sketches.)
It's like her famous books for writers, Writing Down the Bones, etc. It gives me permission. I don't have to start from a place of 'good'; I can just pick up the pen (or in this case pencil) and start. It doesn't have to be a photo, she tells me, and points to a cup she has painted that's a bit wonky, non-circular.
I don't know why I never got this before – even knowing all the experiences I had that militated against it, and even despite all the new starts I made from time to time. But anyway, it finally got through. I don't have to draw well from the word go, I just have to pick up the pencil and draw.
The lessons don't explain formal techniques. They tell us to draw the contents of an open drawer, or items on our messy desk – just some of the objects there, and add a few that aren't, as well. We can put some writing in there somewhere, too. She turns it into play.
I can't tell you how often I have seen writers 'learn by doing'. If they keep doing it, keep being interested, keep wanting to communicate as well as they can, and keep wanting to make something that can be called art – above all, if they play and enjoy – they improve willy-nilly. It's a side-effect.
I expect that will happen with my drawing now, though it might take a long time. Even if it doesn't happen, no matter – I'm only doing it for me, for no better reason than wanting to.
I am struck, though, by how MUCH I want to, how much I have always wanted to. Yes, writing is my great love – poetry, to be specific – but, now that I have put all this down here, I notice how I keep coming back to the drawing, in one form or another, all my life, despite the obstacles and the wounds to my confidence.
It's never too late!