So, It happened. At the age of 12, my oldest child, Abe, had to draw a person for a school project, and he displayed all the signs and symptoms of a tween in drawing distress. It took hold of him like a bear trap and left him to moan, “It’s not going to look right” and “It’s going to be dumb”. This sort of “dread-and-fear-of-drawing-people-panic” typically sets in around this age, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit to my disappointment that Abe didn’t escape it. Afterall, here was my kid who spent years drawing sprawling maps of kingdoms and rainforests, filling his sketchbooks with castles, swords, and trees, and letting his big dreams take shape with pencil in hand.
So, I impatiently watched him make a mark and erase it immediately because “It wasn’t right!” He repeated this process growing more frustrated with each attempt. I tried to explain that those first marks rarely are “right”. That is what sketching is for.
You have to make a mark and make adjustments by leaving your first marks there on the paper. The first time my beloved painting teacher Billy Ray Sandusky told me this, I thought he was crazy. Leave your mistakes? Aren’t our mistakes just the evidence of our inability - our drawing shame - evidence of how much we don’t know? Don’t we want to erase them as quickly as we can?
What Billy Ray wanted us to know is that when we leave our marks, our mistakes, we can see what didn’t work so that we can try something else. Often when we erase our mistake, we will make the same one over again and again. By leaving our first marks, we can know what not to do, and draw marks until we get closer and closer through studying and observing the spatial relationships of our drawing. Eventually we will get it “right” ?
This idea of sketch is powerful! We make tentative, but brave first moves. Sketching is testing it out, feeling the space, learning it, assessing it, and in time making it better! Expect mistakes and failed first attempts. It is part of the process. How else will you know what’s right?
In the end, Abe satisfyingly drew his person for his school project. He settled into the process, grew more patient with himself, made some marks, erased some more, and finally got it right.
NOTE: I drew this sketched portrait with no eraser. So, these are all the marks that I made. Some of them worked and lots didn’t, but I think I got closer to drawing my resemblance. I do know that it was fun change of pace.
Anna Lentz, artist, writer, and creativity coach who blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.