The Day I Quit Drawing

Boy riding a bike and laughing at a girl who got peed by a squirrel. -Drawing by Manolo, 5 yo.

Boy riding a bike and laughing at a girl who got peed by a squirrel. -Drawing by Manolo, 5 yo.

I still remember it and it’s so clear:  the day I quit drawing. I grew surrounded by art supplies because my mom is an artist and was a teacher while I was growing up, so I was always very exposed to materials, to different mediums, to other artists, to the smell of turpentine and to all the other fun that accompanies being the daughter of an artist with an in-house studio. 

I loved it when my mom took me to the classes she taught or to the workshops she attended.  I loved watching her paint, and painting with her.  I admired her drawings and frequently asked her to draw things for me.  And shed did, many times, and it was all fine for some time. But one day, I don’t know what happened, I must have been around 7 or 8 years old; I asked her to draw something for me, and then I tried to draw it, but it didn’t look quite as good (or so I thought), and I got frustrated, so frustrated I lost interest in drawing.  I never told anyone what I was thinking at the time, but I remember my thoughts: “I am not good at drawing, the things I draw don’t look like the real version”.  And I quit.  Yes. I quit.  Although I was disappointed then, today I am glad I experienced this because it has given me a broad understanding of the importance of drawing as a tool for non-verbal thinking and meaning-making.  

My kids love to draw. And my intention is to foster this passion of theirs because I see so much power in this non-verbal language, so much potential for investigation and analysis; so many connections being made in every drawing.  All hail the right hemisphere! The non-rational, non-linear and non-verbal king of the jungle! If only our education system and science in general would stop neglecting this form of intellect. Sigh. Ok. Enough whining.  Back to the reason I’m sharing this post.

It goes to teachers and parents out there, this one is for you, because I love you, listen to me, open your ears (I mean eyes): STOP SAYING YOU CAN’T DRAW! Yes, you can! Don’t be the 8 year-old version of me. QUIT thinking your house has to look like that idea or symbol you have traditionally associated with a house. Do not tell your child(ren) you can’t draw. I’ve heard this phrase 3 times this week from adults (who said it in front of their kids or students) and that’s one of the main reasons for this post. Allow me to uplift your spirit a little… YES YOU CAN!  You have your own mark making process, which is valuable, just like any other.

I read this on a wonderful book called Drawing Projects by Mick Maslen & Jack Southern, and it really shook me:  “Every drawing has something to offer, and no drawing or way of drawing will provide permanent solution to what drawing is or should be. Because of the subjective nature of drawing, and the massive potential for individuality, there are always alternative ways to make either different or better drawings”.

So from now on, make an effort to stop saying that you can’t draw.  Keep in mind that we draw what we are, and that our drawings say a lot about our personality.  Trust yourself, as this is what you will transmit to your child or student.  It doesn’t matter if your house does not look like the traditional conception of a house; it doesn’t matter if you draw the stereotypical house, or alternatively, a round or tall and skinny one. What makes it special is the fact that it is your house. 

And when you look into a child’s drawing run away from that thought that haunts you immediately: “huh, this does not look like a flower”. Instead, look closely and inquire.  Ask what’s going on.  Highlight what you see with phrases like “Oh wow, I love how you made these vertical lines on the side” or “I like how you chose to repeat the shapes over again”, or “ I really like the placement of the drawing within the page”. Just use words to describe your observations.  What may seem to you like a ‘big doodle’ might have great relevance to that child; since it is how they represent their world. It is their non-verbal language through which they are making connections and it is meaningful.  So care. Truly care.  And draw. Never quit drawing. I started drawing again in my teen years and I know I am never again quitting. And I intend to keep supporting and encouraging my children’s thinking process and learning through drawing…or clay, or music, or just about any form of (verbal or non-verbal) language available. 

“One must always draw. Draw with the eyes when one cannot use a pencil”. - Balthus

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