I like big ideas. As I learn to draw and comprehend perspective, I’ve come to see the truth of my title in a brighter light. It’s not a new idea, but it takes on greater meaning as I begin to study perspective in detail. Recently, I decided to take up sketching, or drawing, even some painting. Call it what you will, but for a writer whose primary tools have always been words, visual art is a whole new language requiring a completely different skill set.
One of those skills is called “perspective.” The tools of both crafts may appear similar–pens or pencils, paper, journal or sketch book, etc–but the essential building blocks (words) will not make drawing one whit easier, no matter how much of a command of the language you may have. How does a writer, once safe and satisfied in the world of words, come to this alien planet of art seeking entry into a place occupied by a plethora of truly great artists? With humility, for one thing. But also with determination and commitment. (I blame the ducks. They are so darn cute! I wanted to capture them with drawings, not just words.)
I simply decided words weren’t always enough to express my Self, my feelings, my sense of how lucky I feel to be alive to experience all this beauty. I didn’t want to just write about creativity, I wanted to ILLUSTRATE it. I wanted to throw in some sketches, throw a few pots, throw down my writing pen in favor of paints, clay, and #2 pencils! I wanted to get back to that pure state many artists and Buddhists refer to as “Beginner’s Mind.”
Beginner’s mind is actually common to all of us. Remember back in elementary school? Do you recall learning to read; the actual moment when you didn’t need the illustrations any more because the words alone made sense? Wow! It was a miracle! Truthfully, it took me a long time to want to read a book without pictures because they were so beautiful. Those illustrators (Alice in Wonderland, Mother Goose, Wizard of Oz) were so gifted. But as soon as we realized words were all we needed because we could IMAGINE the pictures in our minds–whoa!–a whole new world, and thousands of books, opened up.
The same was true with writing. There we were busily copying A a, B b, C c and the next thing we know we are writing our names! We are writing letters to our Mommas in those big blocky letters with #2 pencils on Big Chief tablets. Yes! (I do hope kids still do this. If not, it explains a lot.) Beginner’s Mind starts with those sweet “ah-hah!” moments when we discover we are capable of creating something new. We can communicate our ideas in a different and exciting way. We require this principle so we remain vital in the world. This is how life stays fresh, we remain involved, why we long to learn something new. Beginner’s Mind is the beginning of discovering a new perspective.
Step #1 to getting into this frame of mind at 60, or at any age, is to try to recall what it is you always wanted to do. Was it to become an accomplished cook? A master mechanic? Did you want to create beautiful objects from clay? Make hilarious cartoons? Be a stand up comic? C’mon, you know there’s something. I wanted to draw like my friend Debbie Kelly, especially because she always had her art to occupy her during church. I watched her draw on the bulletin, fascinated by the worlds she created. I tried, but mine looked nothing like hers.
Step #2 is to gut it up and actually try something new. Oh, how we hate to get out of our comfort zones. Somebody might laugh at us. They might make fun of what we have spent hours creating. They may shake their heads and say, “Shame, that.” Probably, nobody will give a damn what we are about. And if you are in a class like Sketchbook Skool, which has the beginningist beginners posting before and after the most experienced artists, you will find endless comments of encouragement and help from everyone, no matter what level they occupy in the high rise of artistic ability. There is kindness after art!
Okay, that’s two steps steps and enough for today. Ponder them. Trust me when I say that you will learn much more than you think when you take on something new. The first thing I learned with my beginner’s drawing mind is that the world is not how I imagined it. The old way of looking at things and describing them with words will not work in my sketchbook. I must learn to see things differently; like an artist as opposed to a writer or regular person. Not only is learning perspective necessary for drawing, it’s beneficial to my writing, and helpful in my relationships.
Perspective allows us to step back and observe the difference in how we perceive our immediate surroundings, our world, the Big Ideas. If we can see and sketch this perspective for a friend, an ally, an opponent, or even an enemy, we may realize we are looking at the same thing from a different angle. It only appears different to each of us because of the place we occupy. Shift slightly right or left and the picture changes. The thing itself could be as common as sliced bread. It’s all in how you look at it. So let’s sit down where we are, sketch it out for one another, and share a sandwich. Any way you look at it, the ability to share our varying perspectives can only be an important tool to have in a combative culture.
*Note: Since beginning this piece, the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris occurred. Twelve people, mostly satirists and cartoonists, are dead. There is power in perspective and in expression through art. I stand for freedom of expression and the right to create art as each of us sees fit. No artist deserves to die for their images, but many have and, no doubt, many more will. My heart goes out to all those families affected by this useless massacre.