My philosophy in life had always been, “If at first you don’t succeed, quit, don’t make a fool of yourself.” But my recent small success in the domestic art of crochet opened up new possibilities. So, at a time when my physical abilities were becoming seriously limited, I decided that I needed to risk failure and persevere at something totally new and foreign to me, that didn’t involve walking.
While debating what I would try, I received some note cards with art by paraplegic artists. They painted holding the brush with their teeth or even their toes. The art was very good. It dawned on me that being a klutz with my hands, might not preclude learning to draw.
As early as kindergarten it was obvious that I lacked eye-hand coordination and any natural artistic talent. Stick figures were my limit and when cutting out paper dolls, I inevitably cut off their heads. Even later when dissecting frogs in college biology lab, I was nick-named, Jack the Ripper. And over the years on report cards of almost all A’s, the C’s in art and handwriting were pure kindness on the teachers’ part.
But now, I came across the book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which claimed that anyone can learn to draw. It showed first attempts by students of all ages, who obviously had no natural talent. Then, it showed portraits they had drawn after less than ten weeks of instruction on learning to draw in right hemisphere mode. The differences were astounding.
When we use our right hemisphere, we see things as they really are and see the parts in their relationships to each other. In left hemisphere mode we transpose things mentally into symbols, similar to cartoons. It’s a sort of minimal and generalized way of depicting lips, eyes, trees, and so on, that isn’t a true replication with shadows and depth and correct proportions. Our left hemisphere is linear and used for language. Our right is spatial and used for images. One or the other is usually dominant in each person. But, even if our left hemisphere is dominant, there are simple tricks that help us use our right hemisphere.
After reading the book, I found a drawing class for beginners using some of the same techniques. Like the students in the book, my first attempt was laughable, but by the end of nine weeks, I too, produced a detailed shaded drawing of my great-grandson that actually looked like him. And when the teacher moved to another city, she even asked if she could use my first effort and my end of the course portrait to advertise her classes there. For me this meant more than just success in producing a likeness. The most helpful thing I learned was that perseverance is the greatest talent of all. And a bonus was that being in right-brain mode is an experience of living in the present moment.
Throughout my sixties, I took color pencil, watercolor, and acrylic painting classes. I have learned to live with the fact that most of my fellow students are right-brain dominant natural artists, who often, but not always, produce better art than I do. But, I’ve also found that even if it takes me three tries, I can end up with a painting that I actually like and that my children will hang in their homes. Finally, I can accept my failures as part of the learning process of life, which should never really end.
Besides, cut into strips, my failures make great book marks.