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Learning to scrawl

Learning to scrawl

ARTFUL LIFE

Tara O’Neill

Drawing is a form of language you can conjure an image, a story, a feeling, even an idea, using pictures instead of words. Our prehistoric ancestors may have had the capacity to grunt and bark basic concepts – yes, no, danger, hunger, lust, scram – but they could also tell whole stories, epics even, by drawing pictures in the dirt or on rock walls. Drawing may not have preceded verbal language, but it does preceded written words.

How do we learn to talk? We learn through practice, through trial & error, and by making many, often silly errors; children learn to mouth the sounds that become the words that mean actual things. Of course it would be ridiculous for a 3- or 4- year old to try to learn the rules of grammar and the elements of style while they’re still trying to form the sounds that tell you “shoe” or “thirsty.” So it is with drawing.

As an instructor, I start every course with my second favorite quote from the Dali Lama, “It’s important to know the rules so that you can break them properly.” (My favorite quote being “the purpose of life is happiness.”) Loyal readers will know this quote appears occasionally in my columns – but I can’t think of an arena where it would not apply. You can learn tricks and short-cuts, but to master anything you simply must begin at the beginning.

Opening lessons with a proper singing coach will be breathing exercises, diaphragm control, and, eventually, scales. Culinary instructors will make you begin with measurements, tools, and basic skills such as knife handling, before you even attempt ‘mother’ sauces (the sauces that all others are but variations). If you expect to make drawings while learning to draw, you might as well expect to sing an aria at your first voice lesson, or to make a soufflé on your first day of cooking class.

The best instructors don‘t teach you how to do…but how to learn. Otherwise how could you ever move beyond their limits? As you throw away your first thousand drawings you will be improving your ability to see, and to understand, your subjects. You will be gaining the knowledge, through experience, necessary for clarity of expression. Every course of study, no matter how glamorous, has a most unglamorous starting point. What some will refer to as errors, I refer to as the proper experience. If you miss this this crucial step, if you believe you can reap the maximum results through a minimum of effort, you are wasting your time; and eventually, if you wish to pursue artistic competence, you’ll have to go back to this point.

In drawing, your first task is to learn to observe. Learning to draw is really about learning to see, and not just with your eye…many non-artists are able to draw things of which they have intimate knowledge…things they’ve touched, handled, smelled, heard, and tasted; things they have experienced. An avid fisherman can probably draw a convincing boat, but probably not a flower. A florist could probably sketch a particular flower, but doubtful a boat. And I’d bet that any football player could draw his helmet, if nothing else. And, if you can draw one thing, with practice and patience you can draw anything.

I once had an instructor who believed if you could draw an egg, you could draw anything. We spent weeks drawing eggs: single eggs, piles of eggs, eggs scattered over the table. We drew eggs until I couldn’t stand the sight of one. Then one day, indeed, I had that aha! moment. I suddenly saw egg-shapes in every living form, and boy did I know how to draw an egg! I worked through the tedium, and sure enough, I got it.

Tara O’Neill, a lifelong, award-winning, artist has been an area resident since 1967. She holds degrees in Fine Arts and English from the University of South Florida and is currently represented by Blue Mangrove Gallery on Marco Island. Visit www.taraogallery.com


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