When I was a teenager, I thought there was nothing that I couldn’t do if I worked hard enough at it.
Except art and music. All my attempts at drawing ended in tears and my attempts at playing the recorder made people cry. Miss Sindy, my art teacher at Chis and Sid, always seemed to lose my work. I never did figure out why.
About 20 years ago, though, I bought an electric piano. I don’t remember why I bought it but I remember that I used to practice and practice for hours on end. I got to the point where I could play, like, 20 pieces all the way through without a mistake. My downfall was Clair de Lune. I had always loved Debussy and that piece in particular and it became a matter of pride that I was going to own it. Sadly, it owned me. I could play it through nicely until those fast arpeggios at the end. I spent months and months trying to get it but eventually gave up.
About 10 years later, I had my piano shipped out to the states. I was never really able to get the hang of it again and it sits in the corner now, daring me to try again. To this day, I hear those first three notes in a movie, or in a store, and I shake my fist and curse Debussy.
I was reluctant to try guitar for the same reason. I hate starting things and giving up but I eventually got a guitar to keep Dylan company when he was having lessons. It quickly became obvious that I was never going to be good at guitar no matter how hard I practiced. But a guitar is pretty forgiving and, unlike a piano, you can get a pretty good tune out of one even if you are not very good. So I keep strumming and having fun without ever really feeling that I am getting any better.
Drawing grabbed me about 10 years ago.
I started with sketching in MS Paint with a mouse. Then decided I needed a better drawing program, then a graphics tablet. I had a lot of fun. Drawing on a computer is forgiving too. If you make a mistake, you just hit undo and try again.
One day, I had a fancy that I might try drawing on paper. I had drawn an eagle that didn’t suck when I was 14. Maybe I could draw another one of those.
I went to Barnes and Noble and came back with armfuls of books: How To Draw What You See, Lifelike Drawing, Drawing a Likeness, Drawing the Female Nude. I read all the books that night. Next day, I went to Aaron Brothers and bought a sketchpad, a box of pencils and an eraser, rushed home and opened the first book and started drawing. The first couple of portraits were crap but by the third or fourth I was thinking – Hey! This isn’t so hard! Let me try a nude!
For about a year, I drew like a maniac and then one day I just stopped.
I was halfway through a portrait of my wife. I had a five year old child and a newborn and I could never seemed to find a couple of hours of quiet to sit down and sketch. All the books went back on the shelf and all the pencils went in the closet and that was the end of my drawing career. I never did finish that picture.
I had put a few of my portraits up on the wall and, every now and again, I’d stop and look at them and wonder who I was when I drew them. It was a different person who no longer existed. I picked up a pencil every couple of years to try again, but I could never make any sense of it. But then I got an iPad.
With my iPad, I was able to recapture that sense of freedom to make mistakes. You make a mistake? Just paint over it!
I even managed to turn my sins into a virtue. If you paint over your mistakes – over and over – you get a nice layered effect. Hey! I had discovered a style!
I’m still enjoying sketching on my iPad – with Art Studio – but I feel like I’ve hit something of a natural limit. I can copy pretty well now – I’ve learned to draw what I see – but I can only draw exactly what I see. As soon as I try to deviate just a little from the script that the subject has written for me, everything goes to crap. I have no control at all. Cliche, but: It’s like my drawing is in control and I’m just a vehicle.
I have a couple of pictures in my head that I’d like to draw but I know that there is no chance that I can attempt them at my current skill level and I’ll need lessons to get past where I am now. Meanwhile, it gives me enormous pleasure that I can paint a beautiful little girl and have the result turn out beautiful too.