artful attempt


When I was in school, I sketched during class.

I was a hybrid as a child. Sometimes, I’d pay diligent attention (literature, history, social studies, art, occasionally science) and then sometimes I would not (math, math, math, French, math, math, occasionally science, mathfuckingmathmathmathugh, français). I hated homework (what can I say, I’m a rare breed of human) and I’d go to incredible lengths to avoid doing it, then turn it in late, and watch my grade sink lower. In short, I was smart and lazy and my teachers probably wanted to smother me with books from time to time because in class I wouldn’t shut up, but if they gave me something to do at home with the exact same information we’d just discussed, I’d turn my nose up at it because eyugh, who’d wanna do that? The bell rang! That stuff’s done.

Then in junior high, I became a straight-A student. Did all my homework on time, read all the assignments, studied more than I used to, and the As just kept rolling in. I can’t remember why I suddenly had the motivation to try – maybe it was me getting older and finally connecting with my teachers’ approaches. It might’ve been the fact that I had just moved from Vermont to New York City and the comfort zone I’d lived in since I was four years old was far, far away and so I had to try hard and succeed or I’d fail and be new and stupid. Or maybe I just liked the curriculum enough to want to try. Maybe all of them. So anyway, while I can’t remember the reason, I do remember how good it felt to actually have my homework done on time rather than avoid it guiltily and then suffer more when I turned it in late.

It also gave me leeway to sketch during class. I’d finish the classwork quick, glance at the teacher at her desk, find her busy with something else, and tug my sketchbook out. At the time, I was committed mind and soul to the Backstreet Boys, and I spent a lot of time drawing them. Nick’s features were pretty easy, AJ’s facial hair was always fun, but Howie – as my favorite – got the majority of my efforts. (I didn’t draw Brian and Kevin much. Brian’s cheekbones and curly hair were too difficult and I remember kind of making him look like a clown with a bad haircut, and I always accidentally ended up giving Kevin glaring eyes for some reason.)

I wasn’t great, but I loved doing it, so I improved purely through daily repetition. I was more interested in writing, but I couldn’t pay enough attention in class to write a story and be ready with an answer when my teacher noticed me looking down and not reacting at all to her lesson. (Reminds me: I had a friend in college who would knit during our playwriting classes, and she was able to concentrate on both simultaneously.) I think had I continued drawing every day, I would be incredible now.

Instead, that drawing up there is about as good as I get. I can’t draw realistic faces, which my aunt-who-is-an-artist has informed me is, actually, considerably difficult because you’re not just drawing features – you’re trying to capture emotion, too.

Ever since junior high, I’ve had drawing in the back of my head as a thing I want to be very good at. I want to use Photoshop to create stunning characters and moving scenes. Every so often I’d buy a sketchbook or colored pencils, and I’d draw for a day or two and then stop. For some reason, my brain assured me that all I needed was a fresh sketchbook and I’d automatically become a fantastic artist.

But the only thing that’ll get me to being a fantastic artist is practice. If I compare my writing to what I was scratching out at thirteen to what I can accomplish now, the difference is damn near miraculous – but it’s because I’ve written nearly every day since I was ten. I like what I can do with words, but it’s come from relentless practice (which I never actually considered practice so much as “WHEE FUN!” but the point stands).

This year, instead of just thinking, “Ahh, if only,” I’m going to combine my goal of becoming a fantastic artist with writing my book. Whenever I’m stalled on my book, I’m going to draw the scene, or the character, or some aspect of the book until inspiration returns. I managed to do this Saturday night when I couldn’t wrap my head around a scene until I’d drawn it and marked where every crucial character physically went throughout the scene.

I think that in the past, my problem was that I saw drawing as a separate goal. I think to succeed at it now, I can combine it with something I already do every day anyway.

And that is the story of one of my New Year’s Resolutions. In March.

Good night, citizens of humanity!


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