I Thought it was just a Drawing Class, but it Turned out to be a Lot More

Bursting Into Fall

We all have days in our life that are significant turning points. Often-times we tend to think only about major life events such as getting married, the birth of a child or the loss of a loved one as the milestones along the way that shape us the most.

These events certainly are important and life changing, but I sometimes think some of the less apparent interactions and activities may play as big of a role as the obvious ones. I can think of more than a few such days in my life and how something as small and innocuous as signing up for a drawing class as an adult has changed my life in ways I never would have imagined.

On March 1, 2012 I hesitantly opened the door to a whole new world, I thought it was just the door to an art studio. Three and a half years ago I was afraid to pick up a pencil and draw a circle on a piece of paper. Today I can say with pride and joy that I’ve sold a few pieces of work and thoroughly enjoy exercising my creativity nearly every day.

Bursting Into Fall

More importantly, I can say that crossing the threshold into the art studio on that cold day in March set into motion a series of experiences that have helped me become a better person. I thought I was just going to learn how to draw, but it turned out to be much much more.

It’s ok to be perfectly imperfect

In fact it’s totally awesome to be perfectly imperfect. Whether it’s human nature or societal expectations, we almost all have a tendency to compare ourselves to others and deem ourselves a “failure” if we feel that we don’t measure up. I’ve learned that it’s both an exhausting and limiting way to live.

My teacher of this lesson has been art, specifically drawing in ink. When you draw in ink, if the pen slips and goes in an unintended direction there are two choices. You can crumple up the drawing and give up, or you can find a way to make it work. More often than not, there’s a way turn the mishap into a part of the drawing; I’ve come to think of this as“knowing how to resolve the lines.” And it’s an approach that can be applied in all areas of my life.

I still find it strange, but I no longer dread making mistakes because I know they often-times turn out even better than the original idea after I take a step back and think about how to make the “oops” work in my favor. Believe it or not, this fun little ink rendition of a cat perched in a tree looking at a full moon is full of “happy accidents.” 🙂

cat in a tree

It doesn’t work every time, and that’s ok too, it’s all about recognizing the difference between an opportunity that might be different from what we planned and also knowing when to cut our losses short and move on. It’s also having faith that even though there are obstacles and set backs, we’re still moving in the right direction and we never know how things are going to turn out in the end.

It’s never too late to bloom

It is never to late to learn something new and potentially discover things about yourself that you didn’t know. I really do believe this.

Sure there are certain things that it may be too late to attempt, it’s unlikely that I’ll become an astronaut – but then again I’ve never had the desire to be one, so that’s perfectly ok.

Lately it’s occurred to me that we tend to think about successful people in a somewhat one dimensional way. We look at where they are today and mistakenly think that they’ve always enjoyed success and abundance. My bet is that in most cases, the people we maybe envy because they “have it so easy,” are people who kept moving forward, kept learning and adapting to overcome and succeed in spite of the set backs and heart breaks along the way.

fun flowers

We are all teachers and students

During the course of my life, I’ve been blessed with good teachers and I don’t mean just in the classroom. If you think about it, nearly every moment of every day and certainly almost every interaction has the potential to be a teaching moment.

The lessons don’t all have to be big and earth shattering, the small lessons are just as important. The key is to be open to learning from others as well as sharing what you have experienced. You never know how you might inspire or touch someone in a positive way and all of us should be striving to constantly learn and grow.

Even Michelangelo has been quoted as saying, “I am still learning.”

new paper_experimenting with ink

Perseverance, Faith and Self-Confidence

Lastly, for today, March 1, 2012 opened the door to being aware of and understanding the importance of perseverance, faith and self-confidence.

It took me roughly three weeks to finish my first drawing for the class, it took everyone else roughly three hours. It was no small feat for me to keep going and not compare myself to others in the class, but at the end of the three weeks, I was amazed and pleased with the outcome. It was a lesson in perseverance in addition to drawing and shading.

For me, art is a bit like meditating and it forces me to be present in the moment rather than worrying about the future or “what ifing” about the past. The act of spending more time in the here and now and less time trying to control the outcome has deepened my faith and belief that what I need will be taken care of.

The more I let go of trying to control the outcomes, the more at peace I become.

Self-confidence – wow, it’s actually amazing when I think about how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown since that fateful day in March. Now instead of feeling nervous and anxious about taking a beginning level drawing class, I seek out opportunities that are challenging and will stretch my skills, knowing that the classroom will be full of artists much more advanced than me.

The confidence that I’ve gained through improving my skills and learning new things has overflowed into the rest of my life as well and I’ve never felt better about the person I am, inside and out.

dreams and memories_final

Yep, I thought it was just a drawing class, but it changed my life.

You Can’t Always Erase a Mistake, but You Can Find a Way to Blend it In

Pine Cone in CharcoalA few weeks ago I wrote about my experience in drawing a pine cone and how difficult it was to make the shape transform from the outline of a soft rose into the hard but delicate shells that protect the inside of a pine cone.

As often happens with me lately, I took the original experience one step further.  I decided to draw a companion to the pine cone and replace the candle sconces in the living room (the ones that Christian can’t stand) with the unlikely mates, a pine cone and a rose.

I bought roses to celebrate my new outlook on life and my recently discovered talents.  One of the pink roses was just starting to open and in my eyes was the same shape as the pine cone.  I tried to prop it so it would match the angle and proportions of the pine cone.  After a couple of hours decided it was fun, but it was “take one.”  I couldn’t get the proportions quite the way I wanted them to be so I called it a night but not over.

take one_first rose

I didn’t get around to “take two” for a few weeks, life and other priorities called.  But today after a long and productive day of hard work, my porch and the beautiful weather called my name and my easel.

I won’t reveal what, but I will reveal the fact that I was almost done with the drawing, I goofed big time.  It was a mistake that was bad enough that, in a previous place and time, I would have been in tears and I’d have tossed the whole thing out.

Tonight, I took a step back and looked at the tools on my table.  One of them was an eraser, “Ah ha!” I thought.

The only problem was that using the eraser only made the charcoal smudge more and the mistake seem even worse.  I took a deep breath and held a tiny piece of charcoal between my fingers, a pencil in the other hand, and the eraser within easy reach on the table.

a roseThe tool I used the most to ‘fix’ the mistake was the eraser, but as it turned out, I didn’t use it to erase.  I used it to blend, and what seemed to be a mistake, became part of the beauty.




This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Its a Matter of Perspective

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.

A Rose by Any Other Name

I never realized until recently how similar a rose and a pine cone are.  On the surface, if you think about it, they share a comparable shape.  They have ‘petals,’ but yet one is soft and her lines are subtle and the other is hard and his lines are defined.  Both are beautiful, and when you look at them from a certain perspective they belong together.

The lesson in my drawing class this week was to draw a pine cone; it took work and guidance for it to take shape.  The focus of the lesson was to create the shape (not draw it).  In essence, use a piece of charcoal to create the foundation of the sketch and then pull out the lights and add back in the darks to draw the object; a method to bring life to black and white. (Who knew that an eraser is a way to help create and not just a way to hide mistakes.)

My beautiful instructor provided me with encouragement, support, and experience which helped me turn my rose into a pine cone, and an equally beautiful shape.