Artistic Talent, Wherefore Art Thou?

“If you had the talent once, you still have it. You just have to keep practicing, or you lose it.” These wise words came from my artistic young nephew Ben yesterday as he and his equally gifted brother Garrett set up their projects for a homeschool art show being held today.

Viewing their intricate drawings, watercolor paintings and even handcrafted Samurai armor, I can only say I felt humbled to be in the presence of such talent.

I used to be able to draw. I drew all the time, even during class while the teacher talked at the front of the room. The sides of my papers were always full of my doodling.  In the summer I drew as much as I read, and that was a lot. As a young teen I took my sketch pad with me everywhere, especially when I was babysitting at my art teacher’s house, where delicious art books filled every shelf.  It was at his house in 1977 that I drew this picture;

This one is dated 1979, a self-portrait:

It was the 70’s and we were the “ME” generation.  Our teachers had us do a lot of self-portraits, in many mediums. This one from freshman year was done in pastels:

At the same time I was writing stories about old men who collected sandwiches and poems of unrequited teen love, I was doodling pictures that reflected my teenage angst:

I wrote a poem around this same age that reflected the fractured feelings I’d experienced after a break-up with a boyfriend, one who left me “in pieces” like the puzzle pieces of my face in the picture above:

You see, it was sometime during my teen years I began turning to writing more than drawing to express myself.  In college I didn’t take any art classes at all, but I did take several writing classes. After my son Daniel was born in 1980, I attempted capturing his image in drawings a couple of times, once while he was asleep, and another time from a photo of him, but the results were disappointing.

My children all learned to draw and paint without having a mother who did the same.  They have all seen me writing, however, and known the glazed look in my eyes when they interrupt one of my writing sessions. Oddly enough, in the speeches I give on writing I often say the exact same thing my nephew said, “Practice your craft. If you want to refine your craft, you must continually work at it.”  When I told my nephew I used to draw and wondered aloud if I could still do it, he gave me the same advice I always give to aspiring writers.

If you had it once, you still have it. You just have to practice.”

Did I still have  it?  I went home from setting up the art show, wondering that.

Then I remembered the pencil I’d found in my mother’s work room, set on the windowsill as if she’d just set it there while working on one of her own sketches.

It wasn’t even a drawing pencil, just a thin pencil advertising Stanley products “moving forward in 1950.”

But my mother was one of the most creative people I know, and she’d used this pencil. Artistic prowess had formed from this very pencil.

What if I tried using this “magic” pencil? Then could I still draw?  I sat down at the kitchen table with this pencil and a piece of my daughter Katie’s drawing paper and started sketching. When Katie walked in a few minutes later, she audibly gasped.

“You can draw?” she asked.

“I think it is Grandma’s magic pencil,” I replied, and her eyes narrowed while she scrutinized the simple writing instrument. She is 11 years old, that magical age between innocent childhood and the hardened skepticism of teenhood. Could a pencil really give her mother the ability to draw?  But she’d never seen me draw before, except for a few rudimentary dog and cat sketches I entertained her sister with during church services.  She snatched the pencil from my fingers.

“Can I try it?”  And within minutes she’d effortlessly drawn a picture of a bird, one of her better drawings.

“It really works.”

Now, I know the single picture I drew with my mother’s pencil is not that great. If it were a poem and I were an English teacher I’d probably scrawl in red pencil at the bottom of it, “Needs work.”

But for someone who hasn’t practiced the craft since 1982, it isn’t half bad. My nephew was right.  The art talent is still in there, latent.  If I ever decide I want to draw or paint, the raw talent is still there, a craft I could refine if I chose to do so.  The same advice I give to anyone interested in writing.

What are you waiting for?  If you want to write, start writing. And don’t stop. Keep writing and refining your craft of writing.

So it is with drawing or painting. If you want to be an artist, start drawing and keep drawing.

And you might want to search eBay for a case of Stanley product premium pencils from the 1950’s.

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