Teachers can have a profound and lasting impact on us. While overall I have positive memories of school, there are a few incidents that I remember like they happened yesterday. Like the time I tried hiding my stewed tomatoes in my milk carton in an attempt to fool the teacher monitoring the lunchroom into thinking I had actually eaten them so I could go out to recess.
It was an epic fail, she not only caught me but I found myself bundled for the weather and watching the snow crunch under my classmates’ feet from the window.
I think I got in trouble a grand total of four times throughout grade school and on at least one of those occasions I was not the perpetrator. In some ways I have to laugh when I think about the fact that I was such a chatterbox in art class that my teacher thought the solution was to put dry paper towels in my mouth. I admit it did the trick and I was quiet in class from that point on.
Unfortunately it also had an unintended consequence and I developed a negative association with drawing and art classes in general. I avoided them like the plague, took only what was required, made sure to stay a safe distance from the instructor, and did the bare minimum.
I’m not sure why it is but it seems that as human beings, some of us more than others, we are pre-disposed to remembering the negative experiences and we allow them to limit ourselves when it comes to achieving our full potential. Combine that with a healthy dose of perfectionism and you have a recipe for never trying or, in my case, more than a few false starts.
After college I dabbled a bit in the world of drawing and painting with a few lessons and a class. I created a couple of pieces I was happy with. However I never really put my heart into it and I paid more attention to the ones that didn’t turn out instead of those that did. I highly doubt it was the experience in fourth grade that caused the start and stop syndrome, although that’s what I tended to blame it on. It was more likely the fact that I like things to come easily and when they don’t I tend to quit.
The most amusing attempt was when I registered to take a life drawing class with Jeff. Little did I know that a life drawing class didn’t mean penciling bowls of fruit and landscapes but involved portraying the human form in charcoal. I’ve always been intimidated by the prospect of creating a representation of a person, let alone when they are nude and my easel is set up next to my seventeen year old son’s.
As a result of my experience with Walking in This World (Julia Cameron), I dusted off my desire to draw, bought a sketch book, and took the bold step of registering for the Intermediate/Advanced level drawing class through a local organization, Artists of Yardley.
I was petrified the first day of class. My one and only “real” class took place twenty-two years ago. I perched in front of the easel stiff and nearly paralyzed, staring at the sunflower we were supposed to reproduce. Unsure of everything including which one of the two dozen pencils I should use I picked one and drew a circle, the center of the flower.
I felt my instructors hand on my waist and the other on my arm.
“Relax, you can draw. I can tell,” she said.
“I really think I should have waited for the next beginner session,” I replied.
She touched my shoulder, “You’re right where you should be. When you complete this, I really hope you frame it because it’s going to be beautiful.”
I took a deep breath, nodded, and tried not to look at the other students as petals and leaves seemed to fly out of their hands and onto the paper. After three hours my outline was complete and I had shaded seven petals, less than a third of what anyone else had completed. I have to admit that I felt the symptoms of start and stop again syndrome coming on strong and the voice inside my head said, “You can’t do it and you shouldn’t even try. It’s too hard and the other students are so much better.”
I posted my unfinished drawing on Facebook, used the encouragement and feedback from friends and my instructor’s words, “you can draw” and “you’re right where you should be” to drown out the doubts.
Three years ago today I discovered a town named New Hope and bought a necklace, a silver sun, which I haven’t taken off outside of airport security and the chiropractor since I put it on. Yesterday I completed my sunflower, a flower that represents the sun and like the sun it symbolizes warmth and happiness and for me it also stands hope and faith. I enjoy the ironies and coincidences life brings.
I can’t wait to show it to my instructor followed by a trip to Michaels after which I can officially say, “I’ve been framed.”