Growing up, I always wished I knew how to draw. I envied people who could draw a horse that looked like a real horse, or a face with contours and shading and expression, a real human face, not a circle with three dots and an arc. It seemed a rare and magical ability possessed by only the lucky few—maybe one kid in my class each year, and Artists in Museums. Later it turned out my sister was one of the Lucky Few. Whatever *it* was, she had it. Most of us didn’t.
Then, my senior year in college, I took a costume design class which, much to my surprise, began with a full six weeks spent not on costuming, but rather on drawing. Our one required book for the course was Betty Edwards’s Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which turned out to be the best book I ever bought in a college bookstore. Because thanks to it, I discovered something astonishing.
Anyone can learn to draw. If you can write your name, you can draw. Really, truly. I don’t mean that anyone can be an artist, just as not everyone who learns to properly construct a sentence can write poetry. But basic drawing skills are not that elusive gift bestowed by fairies at your christening that I once thought they were.
About three weeks—only three weeks!—into our drawing lessons in that costume class, I drew a shoe that really, truly looked like a shoe. Contours and shading and everything. When I finished, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It wasn’t great art, mind you. But there—the frayed shoelaces, the worn place on the toe—it really was my shoe and if you held the picture in front of a pile of shoes, you could pick out the one I’d drawn.
This doesn’t mean I became a stunning visual artist. That particular gift isn’t mine. But if I want to draw a tree—and IF I have plenty of time with no interruptions to concentration, which is a mighty big if—I can draw a darn good tree. Good enough to please me, at least. And I practiced alligators and elephants to please my kids. It’s always handy to be able to whip out an alligator on demand. During the months young Jane spent in the hospital, years ago, I discovered to my great surprise that I had an undeserved reputation for being a good artist—solely because, due to Jane’s frequent requests, I’d perfected a quick giraffe sketch that apparently impressed the playroom attendants. They didn’t realize it was the ONLY thing I could sketch quickly and cleverly. I set them straight when they asked me to help draw a mural on the clinic wall. It was an outer-space mural, so I told them I was afraid I wouldn’t be much help. No giraffes in space, you know.
Anyway, the reason I’m posting about this today is because we’ve got a holiday weekend coming up, and it’s very likely there’s going to be a stretch of time somewhere when everyone is lazing around, and you’ll have obliging grandparents or uncles on hand to entertain the kids, and if you’re like me and always wished you could draw, well, you should. That’s all. Check out the Betty Edwards book, or Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too by Mona Brooke, and give it a try. Remind yourself: if I can write my name, I can draw a respectable shoe. Or giraffe. Or whatever.
These are some drawing books my kids are nuts about. The Usborne ones NEVER stay on the shelf; someone is always using one, it seems. They’re also fond of the Draw Write Now series, but we’ve always ignored the Write part. They just like the step-by-step instructions for drawing things like the Statue of Liberty and buffalo. (We only have a couple of them, but I’m assuming the others are just as good.)
And these are two books that I’ve been using to improve my own skills a little…I especially love the snippets of advice Claire Walker Leslie gives for drawing trees, plants, birds, etc. She has a knack for pointing out just the right way to approach the tricky bits that don’t come naturally to me, like how to make a tree branch look like it’s really curving out of a trunk.