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Day 4: Drawing with Children, or, Drawing the Way Cheryl Strayed Learned to Write

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Day 4:  Drawing with Children, or, Drawing the Way Cheryl Strayed Learned to Write


1.  Draw something every day

2.  Learn about art

3.  Read blogs and learn how to promote my own blog

P.S.  Check out Burlesque Press’s Hands-On Literary Festival in New Orleans this New Years Eve! 

A few days before I decided to make my June goal “draw something every day,” I found a book on my mother’s bookshelf called Drawing with Children: A Creative Teaching and Learning Method That Works for Adults, Too by Mona Brooks (1986). This made me hopeful. After all, the cover of the book is a five-year-old’s drawing of an elephant that is better than anything I’ve ever done in my thirty one years of life.

I started reading the book the other day. So far there’s a lot about feelings and communication and “giving the artist in you permission to unfold.” There’s an entire section on relaxation techniques you should do before every drawing session. But I was especially interested in a reflective quiz at the beginning of the book that my mother had apparently filled out at some point in the late eighties.

“Read the list of statements and pick the one that best fits the way you feel about your drawings,” one question asked. Next to “I can draw, but I would like to draw better,” she wrote my brother’s name. Next to “I can’t draw, but I think I could learn,” she’d written “Eva.” It occurred to me to take offense, but it was true, and still is. I’ve never taken a drawing class, and I’ve never applied myself to drawing. It’s not that I can’t learn, but at this point, I don’t even have the rudimentary skills.

So, on June 1st, I did the beginning exercise in Drawing with Children. I was to draw a scene, from my imagination, with a house, a person, a tree, some flowers, and at least five other items of my choice. As I drew, I was to jot down my thoughts and feelings.

I didn’t know how to begin, and when I finally did, I worried that my drawing looked childish and horrible. I craved something to look – something I could copy. I reverted back to the simple way I always doodle flowers and trees and people instead of trying to make my sketch look realistic. I was frustrated, so I drew a giant octopus at the top of the page. Ultimately, I ended up laughing because the drawing was so bad.

Bad scene.

Bad scene.

On June 2nd and 3rd, I did some more exercises from the book. They involved basic elements of shape: learning to make circles, ovals, lines, angles, curves. This makes sense to me. If I can look at an object and break it up into simple shapes, I might be better able to draw it.

The way I feel about drawing must be the way some people feel about writing. When they sit down to write, they don’t know where to begin. They feel overwhelmed and frustrated and they revert back to old habits. They need to learn the basic elements first – how to describe characters, how write dialogue, how to set up and develop a scene.

Exercises from book.

Exercises from book.

 In February I heard Cheryl Strayed (author of Wild) speak at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference. She said that in her twenties she would sit at her computer and type out paragraphs, word-for-word, from her favorite novels. She didn’t know how else to study writing than to literally copy authors she admired. It sounds a little crazy, but as she copied those paragraphs, she was forced to pay close attention to the basic shapes of writing: to the structure of the sentences, the rhythm, the word choice, even the punctuation. It must have helped, because today Cheryl Strayed is a best-selling author of some of the most insightful and beautifully-written books on the market.

So often I read for quick, over-all meaning without looking at the building blocks of language. And so often I look objects without seeing the shapes that make them up. I think that drawing every day will force me to look at my world from a different perspective, and maybe I can bring the same clarity to my writing.

The art teacher at the school where I used to work had his students make sketches of famous pieces of art all the time. This is just like Cheryl Strayed’s strategy: copy the masters until you learn how to do it yourself. And so, I’ve decided that there’s no shame in copying. It’s a good way to learn.

Last night, I mostly copied a Mexican Loteria card. I feel like I learned the basic shapes involved in drawing a skull, plus it’s my favorite drawing so far this month!

Loteria Card inspiration and my sketch

Loteria Card inspiration and my sketch

 Related Reading:

Drawing with Children

The Process of a Master Copy Drawing

Copy Other Writers


About evalangston

Eva Langston is a writer, among other things.

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