It is December, 1966. I am ten years old and in sixth grade at North Willow Grove Elementary School. In a parallel universe there is a girl my age with perfect hair walking to school with her little sister:
In this parallel universe this girl’s name is Elizabeth Terry (although it appears that we use the same Lennes Arithmetic book):
(N. J.Lennes was the chairman of the mathematics dept. at The University of Montana, a fact that I was not aware of until I googled it five minutes ago.) Yes, I drew this picture when I was ten years old in December 1966 (I dated the pic on the back). From the same year I also have two short stories that I wrote and illustrated, both with a main character named Peggy Anne who lives in Oklahoma and made friends with a new girl who had just moved from Canada.
When I was ten years old I thought Oklahoma was the coolest state in the union but I don’t remember why. I am not showing you those two short stories, which I made into chapbooks, because it creeps me out: I have to tell you that it does not give me any pleasure to look at this old stuff. Me and Johnny Rotten both agree (and if you have not read Johnny Rotten’s memoir, titled Rotten, you are missing out on a memoir that speaks to my heart and soul): we hated being children.
It’s not about having a sad, bad, or dangerous childhood. Me and Johnny Rotten were born old souls and neither one of us has anything good to say about being trapped in that powerless, dependent, and repugnant phase of life called childhood. I hated being a child, hate it with a white-hot a fury that incinerates my peace of mind even now, 40 years after the fact, and to this day I don’t like being around things or people who remind me of it .
However, in spite of the fact that it floods me with memories of a terrible time of my life, I can look at that drawing of mine from 1966 and see that I had pretty good draftsmanship for a ten year old. Yes, I always knew I could draw. Yes, I used to amaze the dim wits in my elementary school that I could draw FREEHAND, especially since I’m a leftie. No, I do not remember deriving any particular satisfaction from the fact that I could draw well.
Which brings me to the Thought Of The Day.
Drawing well is the worst thing that can happen to an artist.
Thomas Kinkade, the so-called Painter of Light, whose over-priced mass-produced “art” hangs on the wall of one in 20 American households, could draw.
I’m picking on him because he is dead and I do not want to call a living artist (oh, honey, I could name names…) banal … but sadly, that’s the trap of being able to draw well. It’s like being born beautiful. Pretty girls don’t have to dig deep to find a personality or an I.Q.; good draftsmen don’t have to dig deep to find their own unique style. Pretty girls and good draw-ers tend to be bo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ring.
Claude Monet couldn’t draw…that’s why he invented impressionism:
Edward Gorey himself said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, March 2, 1986…
Edward Gory: All his people look the same, he draws them wearing fur coats and in profile so he doesn’t have to bother with clothes or faces, his “settings” are rudimentary…and yet, his work oozes with portent and depth and connotations…
Maira Kalman can’t draw either:
Maira Kalman: Can’t draw a recognizable human figure, doesn’t have a hint of perspective, can’t even draw a believable TREE … but her work is saturated with nuanced color, and humanism, and yes, love.
Maira Kalman and Edward Gorey are two of the most famous, beloved, successful artists around because they had to go beyond draftsmanship and create style.
So, if you can not draw as well as the ten year old me (see above), STOP TRYING. And start looking at what you can do well, what you can do really, really well — color, subject matter,composition, point of view, etc. — and let that be your springboard to make the art that only YOU can do.
Meanwhile, here’s what I did this past week to make my art a little less banal:
I’m working on a memory of a Brazilian garden for my Damn Garden Book. At first, I painted it like this:
But this did not seem true to my memory of it. So I hit upon the idea to represent it more like a true memory:
Yes, I sliced it. (Truth to tell, I sliced it and then painted over bits of it, and then re-constructed it whole for the blog — which is why there are some subject matter discrepancies in the “before” shot, if you know what I mean.) Now the image looks more memory-like and the text will look interesting on the page.
I liked this idea of slicing up an image so much that I did it for all of my Brazil illustrations, and even tried it out on a banal picture of Long Island:
Maybe I’ll make a collage-type page out of it:
But maybe not. Maybe I’ll have to re-do the whole thing. It’s a work-in-progress.
Speaking of collage, I did a flower for my Brazil garden, the Datura metel:
This flower blooms at night, so the only way I could show it on a night-timey background was to paint it, and then cut it out, and glue it onto a watercolored background. Yeah, I’m pretty good with the scissors, considering that I cut right-handed. I can’t use left-handed scissors, although I can only use my left hand if I’m cutting with a mat knife, which I had to use in this case to get at some of those small bits between blossom and petal.
Next week I will have some news about the Damn Garden Book, having heard from my editor and publisher about the first three chapters that I sent to them last week. So, until we meet again next Friday, I hope you’re all hanging out in the back yard and enjoying these last wonderful Summer days.