A few weeks ago I used the word petrified to describe how I felt on the first day of my drawing class, perched on the edge of my stool and facing an easel and an 18 x 24 sheet of blank drawing paper armed with very sharp and never before used pencil. Over the course of a few weeks my feelings faded from petrified to slightly scared and much to my surprise I felt confidence poking its head through the cracks in the wall of my self-doubt.
Two sessions of six remained. Anne passed out copies of a black and white picture of five misaligned and crooked farm buildings, lots of shadows, and a very daunting tree.
“Ok ladies, for our final project we’re going to build on what you’ve done and learned in the previous classes to draw these buildings. I took this picture a couple of weeks ago and I thought it would be a great lesson in perspective,” she said.
I’m fairly certain I heard a collective “Gulp,” from the class.
She didn’t miss a beat, “The main focus of the lesson is to get the perspective correct so everything looks right and then we’ll have some fun by mixing in the use of ink along with the pencil. But the main focus is the perspective. If that’s wrong it doesn’t matter how good the shading or texturing is, the whole thing looks off.”
Anne went on to explain the concept of linear perspective used by the very famous Leonardo Da Vinci. I listened carefully as she described the process of drawing the horizon line, identifying the vanishing points, the point on the horizon that lines up with the edge of the object, and using a ruler to draw guidelines to align the edges and corners of the buildings.
“In fact, each building could have its own vanishing point, but that would just be crazy. This is an artist’s rendition, not an architectural drawing so we’re only going to use two points,” she said.
I figured out where the horizon line should go, scoped out and marked the vanishing points, and bravely drew my first line from the corner of the first building on the left to the tiny dot on the skyline. After three hours I had barely sketched the outline of the buildings on the left, used my eraser more than my pencil, and the sting of tears bumped in frustration against the inside of my eyelids.
Relentless in her encouragement Anne put her hand on my shoulder and said, “You can draw Beth, you will get this. Take it home and take your time, we’ll work on it more during the next class.”
A long time ago my daughter Katie got it in her head that you had to be able to write your name or you wouldn’t get into kindergarten. Determined not to let the letter “K” get in the way of her future she spent countless hours tracing every “K” she could find until she figured it out. I understood what she must have felt like as I watched video after video about drawing perspective on YouTube, tried to apply what I learned, failed, and tried again.
I have no idea what it was, but something clicked and I finished the buildings on the left, then on the right, my lines were solid and strong. I completed the entire line drawing, including the outline of the trees, in time for the final class.
“That’s terrific, great work! Now take your pencils and start shading and then use the pens and experiment with ink,” Anne said.
“Really? Ink…? I’m not so sure I’m ready for that.”
Smiling Anne leaned in and made one tiny stroke with ink on a tree along the horizon, “There you go, see how awesome that’s going to look?”
I grinned like a four-year-old who had just mastered the letter “K.”
There was no going back now. I had two choices. I could abandon it or embrace it and see how far I could go. I smiled to myself, thought about Katie and her “K” and knew that there was only one choice and I also realized that the stakes really weren’t all that high. The worst thing that might happen is that the drawing wouldn’t turn out and I would be disappointed, but I would have learned a lot.
It took a month of Monday morning open studio sessions and more than a few in home sessions, late night tweaks, and surprisingly no tears to finish. I thought it was going to be an experience in drawing and the use of different mediums, it was, but it turned out to be much bigger lesson than that.
It seems easier to quit than it does to finish, especially when it’s new and it feels completely out of your reach; but what you can learn is worth the risk. It’s hard to ask for help and it’s even more difficult to accept it, but the rewards are tremendous. And maybe most importantly, mistakes aren’t fatal and something doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.