March 31, 2015 @ 7:58 pm | Filed under: ,

One of the earliest lessons of having a special-needs child was learning to recognize his progress not by comparing him to typically-developing children of the same age, but by comparing him to his own earlier self. I say ‘lesson’ and ‘learn’ but in truth this was something that happened naturally and almost instantaneously after his multiple diagnoses and the beginning of various therapies—physical, occupational, speech. As soon as I had an understanding of his developmental challenges, I was able to rejoice over each increment of progress, each small accomplishment along with the big ones. It was like my brain was wiped free of comparisons to other babies, including my first three, and all that existed was this baby, making these tremendous (even when tiny) strides.

That mental shift keeps popping into my mind lately as I keep working (and working and working) on drawing. Only here, it isn’t natural and instantaneous. Here, I have to keep relearning the lesson; some days I practically have to shout it at myself. The trouble, of course, is that I have so many friends who are spectacularly good artists. Years of training, years of dedication and work. Hundreds or thousands of pages of finished art under their belts. If I compare my drawings—or my slow progress—to them, I feel bleak. I don’t have it, that thing they have. Vision, natural talent, hand-eye coordination, vast knowledge of technique—you name it, I don’t have it. All I have is…earnestness. A belief that everyone can learn to draw, and that includes me. And this long-simmering desire to learn, kindled last fall into a full-boil determination.

So I keep reminding myself, baby artist, to compare myself to the even babier artist I was a few months ago. I remember when my son was finally able to climb up stairs on his own. He was well past a year old. He had motor planning issues, and we spent hours and hours over a period of several months, moving his limbs for him up stair by stair by stair. Hand, knee, hand, knee. Or was it hand, hand, knee, knee, I don’t remember now. Either way, it took so much practice. Until one day his brain figured it out. The pattern was learned. The pathways were formed. Soon after that we could hardly remember what it was like before he learned to climb stairs. We had to scramble to help him learn how to climb down.

Stair by stair, I’m making progress. For every ten drawings I hate, I make one that I like. But I like looking at the bad ones, too, because I know that the fact that I can see what’s wrong with them is another sign of my progress. My eye is improving along with my hand. (“Your taste is killer. Your taste is why your work disappoints you.”)

Today I looked at something I’d done, a couple of quick, surreptitious gesture sketches of some women in a meeting, and realized I’d attempted people—in complex postures, no less—without even thinking about it. Six months ago, I wouldn’t have done that. It’s nice to know I’ve made it up a stair or two.


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7 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. sarah says:

    Fabulous post. And I think your sketches are pretty impressive – I could never do anything like that!

  2. Tabatha says:

    Yes to this whole thing!!

  3. maria says:

    Draw on! 😀
    Ignore the outcome and embrace the experience. It’s not about producing a finished product. It’s the adventure of drawing and painting itself. Preconceived ideas block the view of what’s right in front of us. See. Paint. Draw.
    You’ve got this. 🙂

  4. maria says:

    P.S. but by the way…’re finished products are amazing! 😀

  5. Jax Blunt (@liveotherwise) says:

    Oh, this is wonderful. A friend pointed me at this via twitter, I’m learning to draw at the moment too. You have a good understanding of the process. And I love your sketch.

  6. Erin says:

    “For every ten drawings I hate, I make one that I like. ” This reminds me of sewing. You make one thing that you like, and can wear, but hanging in the closet are the things you just can’t quite love, they don’t quite look good on you. And people say, “Oh, I could never sew so well, you make it look easy,” and so on. I wonder whether I’m being dishonest in not showing the entire body of my work, some of which is unacceptable, but isn’t this what we all do about everything? Show the best, hide the rest. Maybe I should wear some of the duds sometimes just to even things up. But then, sewing is a funny art. Success is if nobody can tell you’ve made it yourself. If your craft disappears into the background, you’ve won. In that way, it’s a little like writing, I guess.

    I’m enjoying watching you learn to draw. I agree that your skill is impressive. Thanks for letting us in on the process.

  7. Penny says:

    Phenomenal. I can’t wait to read the first book you illustrate and write all by your awesome self.