During my childhood, until about the time I finished high school, I was constantly drawing pictures. Realizing I possessed talent for drawing–and being recognized for that–I strived with paper and pencil to capture my world as realistically as possible. I admired and studied the work of well-known illustrators as M.C. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell, as well as lesser-known personal favorites: aerospace artist Paul Calle, automotive illustrator Werner Buhrer and sports artist Bob Peak. Art teachers encouraged me to develop my talent further and experiment in other media. And, sometimes, I even fantasized about becoming a professional artist.
I really enjoyed drawing, and felt excited when I realistically depicted a subject or when I noticed my technique improving. When I was immersed in a drawing, I could lose track of time. Moreover, beyond simply making a drawing “look like” a particular person or object, I sometimes sensed a deeper intuition about my subject–as if I were “seeing” it more acutely. Many of my most contented memories from adolescence echo moments when I was listening to my favorite music while absorbed in a new drawing.
While I appreciated art in an immature way, “doing art” was personally more a means of imaginatively injecting myself into typical adolescent male fantasies: sports, automobiles and motor racing, and, especially for me, space exploration. Consequently, I most often drew from my imagination or copied photographs from magazines and newspapers–while disregarding the advice of a well-meaning high school art teacher, who implored me to draw more from real life. Venturing out to depict the larger world seemed like too much effort. And, for the introverted teen I was, drawing offered a socially acceptable mode of keeping a low profile.
Sadly, as I grew older and my interests shifted, I also lost much of the impetus for my creativity. Adult concerns increasingly monopolized my attention and free time. Eventually I all but abandoned my interest in drawing and illustration. By my late-twenties, however, I discovered photography. “Making photos” seemed to fill some of the visual-creative void left when I gave up drawing. Certainly, the gratification from making a good photograph came quicker than from painstakingly drawing an image.
Taking pictures also relieved me of a discomfort that increasingly undermined my creative efforts: namely, persistent and pointed self-criticism. In my perfectionism, I unrealistically compared my every result to the achievements of seasoned professional artists. This nagging doubt and internal fault-finding led me to mostly avoid drawing. (They certainly undermined any interest I harbored about formally pursuing art.)
More than a generation has passed since I last completed an art course. I’m now approaching my 60th year. But, in the last few years I’ve woken to recall vivid dreams in which not only was I again drawing, but also now painting. I also find myself particularly interested in media profiles of people creating various types of art. And I enjoy pondering the wonder of the creative process–and whether some vestige of it remains latent in me. Late last year, I mentioned to my therapist how I’d “just been thinking” about resuming drawing. Being alert to such telltale psychic hints, she promptly suggested an ongoing “homework” assignment: to practice drawing at least four times a week.
For the last few months I’ve been gradually practicing and reviving some of my drawing skill. Especially at the start, I struggled to sit and draw for even 15 minutes at a time. And I was very “rusty” and out of practice. But enough of my old ability surfaced amidst the discomfort–and outright strangeness–I felt to encourage me. For sure, drawing no longer centers on teen fantasies; I now draw exclusively from objects and scenes I find in “real life.” Moreover, I’ve yet to really feel as absorbed by drawing as I recall. Mainly, it seems like I’m mentally hacking through a tangle of weeds that for decades gradually enveloped my creative potential.
Up to this point, I’ve mostly succeeded in keeping my expectations in check (including occasionally “forcing myself” to draw more spontaneously–and not erasing “mistakes!”). But my old perfectionist side doesn’t succumb easily. I’m still resistant to–if not outright scared of–beginning a new drawing. And I know I rarely hit the “four times a week” target. But, recently, I felt inspired and reassured by reading two passages that offered perspective on my creative commitment. The first reminds me of the importance of being attentive and mindful–which are both key to working creatively:
“We have these brief lives, and our only real choice is how we will fill them. Your attention is precious. Don’t squander it. Don’t throw it away. Don’t let companies and products steal it from you. Don’t let advertisers trick you into lusting after things you don’t need. Don’t let the media convince you to covet the lives of celebrities. Own your attention — it’s all you really have.” -Jonathan Harris
The second passage is perhaps even more pertinent to me. I daily fight for the discipline–and outright courage–to simply sit and draw. I really need the reassurance that it’s okay when my motivation wanes–or when I get irritated and frustrated with the drawing process:
“Passion is such a key ingredient to living life truly alive. … The root of the word “passion” is found in the Latin word “passio” which means “suffering.” On the surface, the word “passion” can stir emotions in us that inspire, motivate, and elevate us to live life at a higher, more exciting, fulfilling level. But … “suffering” is always at the core of passion. We cannot have one without the other.” –Barb Elyett
So I’ve decided it’s okay for me to keep chipping away at this drawing thing–even if it’s not always fun. Feeling “unmotivated” is part and parcel of any worthwhile pursuit. What’s most important is that I keep “suiting up” and following through, especially as I develop a long-term habit for drawing.