NOTE: It turns out that I couldn't leave my computer for maintenance as the store is shutting down on Monday for two weeks to do renovation, and they don't want to risk taking in computers that they might not be able to return before they close. I knew this was coming but thought I'd gone in far enough ahead of time. Oh well. I'll have to go back some time in June.
I'm going to start this post with a family story. My mother-in-law's father came from Poland, and her mother's family was from Czechoslovakia. Several years ago, my in-laws took a tour of Eastern Europe. One morning at breakfast, my mother-in-law turned to the waitress and suddenly blurted out the words for bread and butter in Czech. She had absolutely no memory of ever having spoken the language, which had lain dormant for decades and suddenly resurfaced when she was in the right circumstances.
That's how I feel about my sketching.
As you've no doubt figured out by now, I tend to be very self-analytical. For the last month or so, I've tried to understand how I could have gone for more than 30 years repressing something I love as much as art. My brain has been circling round and round, trying to analyze what happened and why. This post is as far as I've come with the analysis. I don't suppose it will have much meaning to anyone but me, but this story has been on my mind, so that's what I've decided to write about.
I drew all the time when I was a child. When I was only eight, I stunned my family by looking at a photograph I saw in the newspaper and drawing a recognizable portrait of the mass murderer Richard Speck. I followed that up with other portraits. And I drew all kinds of other things.
One thing that surprises me in looking back at my childhood is that my parents were actually fairly supportive of my art. They didn't have extra money . . . or much time for running me around, yet they enrolled me in art classes twice. Once was a summer school class and the other was a set of evening classes at the YMCA. Both of those were when I was about 10 or 11. My dad even thought I should consider becoming an artist when I grew up.
Then I started high school. In my school, kids who were college bound usually didn't take art. (Music was ok. Art wasn't. I don't know why.) From the time I was about three years old, my family had told me that I was supposed to go to college and that I needed to do well enough in school to earn scholarships. So I didn't even consider taking art classes. Instead I took four years of science and four years of math and four years of French, etc.
And I stopped drawing. At one point in my teens, I got a sketchpad and drew one picture I really loved. It was the silhouette of a bare winter tree with a vivid sunset behind it. Then I drew a sort of melodramatic picture of a woman weeping in a graveyard on a cliff, and I hated it because I couldn't get the figure to look right. I think I made only one or two other pictures in the sketchpad after that. I kept it for years and years afterward, but now I have no idea what happened to the sketchpad. I wish I did. I'd love to see that sunset drawing again.
I think through the years I found other, secondary ways of dealing with this interest/aptitude. I spent hours and hours drawing designs for my garden. When I worked for a publisher as a textbook editor, I drew up sketches of how I wanted the pages of my chapters to look instead of just leaving it up to the designer. I bought far too many clothes and planted more roses than I could care for because of my craving for color. At no time, did I realize that these activities were substitutes for the art I'd given up.
A couple of times I did try to take up sketching again. In the 1980s, I bought the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and I did maybe a third of the exercises. But after a few weeks I stopped. About ten years later, when I was in counseling for depression about being childless, I started drawing a lot of symbolic images to help me with the grief. But I stopped then too. I think in both of those cases, I was overwhelmed by how much I had to learn and how much time I'd lost and how far my execution was from what I wanted it to be. I've never dealt with being a beginner very well.
Now sketching is back, and I'm stunned at the importance it has assumed in my life. I feel as though I'm reclaiming a huge piece of my identity that I'd lost. And I keep wondering . . . why did I never miss it? How did I neglect to see that I was walking around for more than three decades with one arm bound tightly to my side?
I thought I knew myself better than that. It's been disconcerting to discover that I gave up something so important . . . and that in this case, I have only myself to blame for the loss.
I am so grateful to have this piece of my life returned to me, but I'm still not sure exactly where I'm going with it. It's not like I don't have enough other things to do. Making time for art has complicated an already complicated schedule.
On the other hand, I feel calmer when I'm sketching than I do during any other activity . . . including meditation. So I can't see myself giving it up again.
My class starts in two weeks, and I'm really looking forward to being with other people who are exploring the visual arts. Until then, I'm trying to experiment with different styles. I don't want to settle on one way of drawing too fast.