There was a time when I could draw with ease and the feeling of pen or pencil on a blank sheet felt empowering, filled with possibilities, or so I like to tell myself, but it’s not actually true. The honeymoon didn’t last. It’s true that there was a time of exploration in my teens when I discovered a natural aptitude and spent a lot of time drawing nudes from Photo Magazine. We had a stack of them, all editions from the 70’s and early 80’s — which I still have. I would pick just about any image and do a pretty good drawing of it. It was an exciting time, a sort of grace period before the inner critic came crashing in uninvited. Since he showed up, nothing has ever been the same. That first flush of excitement when picking up the pencil, enjoying the simplest thing, like how it felt physically to draw and move my hand across the page, lingering as I drew long lines which curved and swelled and then shorter strokes, drawn quicker with more assurance — like writing music — that’s what it felt like. But instead of music, when I looked at my finished piece there was an image that I had somehow brought to life. It truly felt like the whole process was magical. I would lose the notion of time and of self even, becoming just an instrument, only to come back from a kind of trance, almost surprised to see what I had produced.
But things quickly changed under the inner critic’s regime. He became more and more demanding, relentless too, and very adept at finding all my soft spots so that it could hit me where it really hurt. “How can you take pride in these drawings that are no more than copies? You’re no better than a street artist but you’ve got even less imagination. You’ll never amount to anything” “You’re going to have to learn to draw other things than naked ladies, the world is filled with interesting things. What’s the use of having a talent if you don’t exploit it properly?” not to mention the play-by-play I would get of how bad I was at everything, as I was trying to finish up a drawing. Well, I don’t know if that’s what the inner critic was after, but pretty soon I became scared of drawing. All the cruel criticizm was too painful to deal with, and I chose to throw the baby out with the bath water. I had enough problems to deal with. I didn’t need to get so much grief for trying to do something which should have given me pleasure and a sense of freedom.
I did pick it up again here and there. While I was putting together a portfolio to get into design school, I took Drawing From Life and painting classes. My teachers were very encouraging and more than once suggested I continue on to a Fine Arts program. But I had made my choice. I wanted to study and work in commercial arts and make a proper living. I found nothing romantic or appealing about that whole “starving artist” thing. I spent years without doing any kind of personal art project and then suddenly I’d get a little burst of creative energy and do a few drawings or paintings here and there.
Whether or not it’s a coincidence, I don’t know, but those times that I’ve felt strongest that I needed to draw again came when I was in a depression. This time around… I’ve been wanting to get drawing for many months and so far have dared pick up my pen only twice. Mostly I’ve been terrified. I’ve gotten past the fear in the past by doing deliberate “bad drawings” or frantic scribbles with colored crayons, that sort of thing. Last night, I finally picked up my brand new Moleskine sketchbook, determined to take a stab at drawing again. I couldn’t decide what to draw, so I took Fritz as a model. Only I should have known better, because Fritz, feeling observed and hearing the pen scratching the paper, grew restless and took to changing positions every 2-3 seconds. It was maddening. I’d barely get a chance to draw an ear of an eye and oops! he’d moved again. I told him I was officially firing him as a model when I saw all I had managed was a dozen or so single ears, one paw and a couple of eyes — not even a pair at that. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass is what I think he answered me.
So today I told myself I’d try something very simple, like geometric shapes or squiggles. One thing I found out yesterday is that I have no hand-eye coordination left anymore. That was really shocking. It had never occurred to me that you can lose that, figuring it was an aptitude like any other and once you had it you just kept it, like the ability to ride a bicycle. Not so. All right, so we can start with the basics, only… I always want to be skipping ahead to the more advanced exercises, figuring I “should” be able to since I’m supposed to be talented, right? Well now I’m learning that all along, it’s been this thinking that I’m talented that’s been the real problem. I never could give myself a proper break here and there because I was supposed to do brilliant drawings every time. Fine, so I’ll go about it as though I’d never drawn in my life before. It’s awfully humbling, but if it helps me draw…
My inner critic is already having a field day with this. Hysterical laughter and then pfoaaa! Look at what our little Leonardo is drawing now! Squares and circles, how cute! (more evil laughter). Whatever. Fuck off. Show me YOUR drawings why don’t you, smart ass. Say what? You don’t have any? Because you don’t have a body or hands to draw with? Aw that’s just terribly sad but if you’ve never even tried it, why don’t you just shut the fuck up and leave me alone then?! And of course I don’t mean you, dear reader. I’m going to go and make some kind of markings on my Moleskine sketchbook. When I start getting my confidence back, I may show you what I’m up to.