I, like most photographers, feel way more comfortable with a camera in my hand. Drawing pencils? Forget it.
When a favorite professor suggested that I try a figure drawing class, I decided it was legit to step out of my comfort zone. Figure drawing. Not my thing. Terrifying, really, in so many ways. To be honest, my greatest fear with trying new things is failure. I have this innate desire to be successful at everything I try, the first time. And at his suggestion, I immediately flashed back to 5th grade art class, and how I drew the most deformed, terrifying clown ever known to mankind. After that, it was only stick figures for me, and as soon as I possibly could, I picked up other forms of artistic expression. Give me a camera. Give me a journal. Give me a microphone. But please, please, please, do not give me drawing pencils.
I’m very slowly learning that it’s acceptable, and often even a good thing to fail. And that what I’ve failed at in the past can be attempted again in the now. So, drawing class beckoned.
The purpose of my attending was to help me view people as shapes and compositions a bit more clearly. I felt all cool and artsy, sitting on a stool with an easel in front of me, charcoal pencils and drawing paper in hand. Coffee, boots, denim jacket… you know, my comfort items. And then it happened. The model stood up on the platform in the middle of the classroom, stripped down, and I had 3 minutes to draw her position before she moved again. 50 times this repeated. Gesture drawing, it’s called. It was slightly terrifying. I sat there, pencil in hand for the first few minutes, just laughing at my stupid self. It was also a bit more nudity than I was prepared for before my coffee was even finished.
The teacher was incredibly helpful. Just imagine that Minnie Driver, in all her fabulous ways… and you have an accurate picture of this lady. She talked to me about my own projects, and how learning to sketch could be incredibly helpful for photographers. She gave pointers, and assured me that I could be bold, and actually draw dark enough on the paper for other people to see. It was only failure if I didn’t try!
Here’s what I learned: My inner critic will try anything to keep me from learning new things. I had to work hard to shut that voice up. As soon as I started drawing, it looked like a lumpy, lopsided alien. And I looked over that the ladies on either side of me… oh geez. Theirs looked great! And my aliens screamed failure at me. But as soon as I told my critic voice to shut up for a minute and take a back seat, my drawings got better.
(Here’s what I was looking at on either side. Oh, and a shot of my neighbor showing me her charcoaled hands, and why she was glad she didn’t polish her nails the night before)
I did start to see shape. The teacher had me draw the different parts of the body as ovals, connected by circles the joints. I started to see form, and lines, rather than this person that I couldn’t reproduce on paper. It was an excellent lesson in slowing my mind down, and simply observing what was in front of me. A practice in quieting my harshest critic, hand-eye coordination, and getting what I see with my eye out on the paper with a tool that I am definitely not used to.
I ended up enjoying it so much that I think I’m going to buy myself a sketch book and practice some more. I know! Change of heart. Practice. Who knows, maybe my aliens will start looking like people some day.