When I was a kid, I drew. All the time. I lived for trips to art supply stores where I might procure new pencils, fresh erasers, some colored pens. Drawing was what I lived for.
This was long before poetry moved in when I was 14 and took over much of my creative time. Before then, I was rarely without a charcoal pencil, a pastel stick, or a colored pencil in hand and never without a sketchbook. I took a lot of classes, thanks to my art-supportive parents, starting with a kid art class at age five at Brooklyn College and dabbling or completely immersed myself in acrylics, pastels, watercolors, ceramics, and other arts. Making things was one of the only things that calmed me enough to sit still.
But what I started drawing and drew throughout the drawing years were trees. I fell in love with trees about the same time I started drawing, as soon as I could hold a fat crayon, and that was all she wrote....or drew.
Until I stopped. I remember the exact moment: I was in a high school art class, working alongside a lanky, old-soul fellow student who looked like a Jethro Tull character. He pointed to a corner of a pen-and-ink drawing and explained he spent five hours on the exquisite detail in a three-inch square. "I could never do that," I told him and myself, then decided on a dime that I wasn't patient enough to be an artist so I wouldn't do it anymore.
Looking back, I believe it was more a case of needing words and poetry so desperately that I just didn't have the bandwidth for drawing. I didn't yet realize patience is relative and art was so central to how I was made that it would never leave me even if I thought I was leaving it. All those years of concentrating on curves of a neck, angles of sunlight across lawns, textures of old trees were embedded in how I create and have served me well in crafting vivid images and shapely poems.
As for art, I never got very far away. In the years since I gave up on drawing, I've always had visual projects going: quilt-making, weaving, mandala-coloring, beading, a bit of sculpey, marbling paper, and various attempts at crocheting. I've stocked up on everything from a glue gun to piles of magazines for collaging to trays of beads, and let's not even get into how much fabric and yarn festoon shelves, waiting for their day in the sun.
But last fall, I noticed that I was actively accumulating a lot of good pencils, the kind that make drawing an inevitability although it took me months to catch on. One October day, having bought a new set of fabulous pencils from Wonder Fair, a great shop in downtown Lawrence, I realized it was time to return to my first love. When I pulled out an old sketchbook with some empty pages and started scribbling, I immediately felt an urge to figure out how to draw trees again.
So that's what I'm doing now. Trees are gracious and patient models, whether outside the window, and when it was warmer, simply outside.....or in drawing books that lead me branch by branch into remembering how to draw. I'm also taking a representational drawing class starting this next week too.
Having trained as an artist while I was growing up, I'm acutely aware of what I'm not getting right yet, especially as it relates to shading and perspective, but I know that in drawing as in writing, it's always a practice. It's also a wellspring of deep delight -- the way the pencils feels in my hand and on the page, the thrill of using a blending stump to create something that feels more three-dimensional, the daring of making a line on paper to mimic a line in the world.
Drawing is also something I recommend for just about anyone: it's very portable and mostly relaxing (if you can put your judgments on a shelf). It's visceral and a great way to take a break from scrolling on phones. Erasers are kind friends. Pencils are pals.
Drawing also reminds me of what I learned long ago: to draw is to see things anew -- to notice one longer tail feather on a juno's back, the bend of a branch that's darker than the branches around it, the rivelets of grooves up the trunk of a cottonwood. It's not just "how would I draw that?" but "how is that made?"
First loves, or actually any true loves, will do that to us, showing us more of how to perceive the world and understand how we're also made along the way.
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