I’ve always wanted to learn how to sketch. For years I’d been telling myself to get a sketch pad and start drawing. And then some months ago, I asked my artist friend Joëlle (who I’ve mentioned several times in this blog) if she could teach me how to draw. And so one afternoon we sat down in her atelier, and she put a portrait of a woman in front of me. She shoved a pencil into my hand and said “draw her.”
“Um, how?” I asked. I felt so self-conscious and vulnerable, knowing that Joëlle was watching me take the first strokes with the pencil. I felt awkward and so out of my comfort zone, but I continued anyway. I began with the hairline, then the jaw, then the ears, then the eyes. I had no idea how off-proportion one can draw when one is inexperienced and has no sense of dimensions. The lady’s eyes were far too big for the rest of her face, that she looked like an alien.
My strokes were safe and timid, and I was so careful to keep everything correct. More and more, I noticed the self-talk in my head. There were hundreds of judgements and self-criticism that automatically went off like fireworks at New Year’s Eve. In the end, J was nice enough to say that at least the finished drawing looked like a woman. Not quite THE woman that she asked me to draw, but a woman nonetheless.
My next assignment was to use coloring pencils. Joëlle chose another portrait of a young, chic woman sporting a bob. I learned how to use my subject’s skin undertone—a light yellowish shade—as the base layer of my drawing. Still timid and hesitant, I continued. J pointed out my timid strokes, and said I needed to be brave enough to use bigger strokes and bolder colors. I needed to be brave enough to make mistakes, and to be okay with imperfection.
A light bulb turned on in my head, and I realized that in many aspects of my life, I’m afraid to make mistakes. It’s difficult to admit, but realized that in many ways, I want to be perfect (or close to it). But I can’t always be perfect. I can’t “nail it” every single time. I can’t get everything right all the time.
As I colored and colored, Joëlle repeatedly gave me two instructions in German (our entire session was conducted in German): “Mut!” and “Trau dich!”, which are basically commands to be brave and daring. To be brave and to dare, even if it means making mistakes. Don’t be afraid to make them; you can only learn from them. Without bravery you stay fenced in tight boundaries, but with it, you gain possibility. J’s constant reminding helped me produce a colorful, multi-dimensional face. Okay, it turned out to look like a bearded squire rather than a smart-looking bobbed girl. But after finishing the sketch, I felt I was a little braver, a little bolder, and a little less critical of my self.