by Yolanda Wysocki
I’m standing at my easel in class, sweat on my upper lip, more running down my belly. I‘m not hot; it’s anxiety, panic. Drawing is not easy for me. I draw a line to connect with another line to make a fold in fabric, but my mind gets confused about which line connects where. Where does the shadow actually dissolve into the fold? Where does the curve begin? How does it relate to the next fold and its shadow? I think I see it, but as soon as I look away, my mind jumbles it up. I erase and draw, erase again, feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information in a yard of fabric.
I never knew how to draw. That was an accepted fact throughout my school years, confirmed by experiences like my second grade teacher saying, “That doesn’t look like a pumpkin.” Every twenty years or so, I took another class just to have this belief verified once again.
At the Art Institute in Chicago one summer when I was in my twenties, the teacher kept asking me, “What do you see?” Apparently the gap between what I was supposed to see and what ended up on paper was so enormous that we both agreed I had absolutely no drawing ability. Another twenty years passed before I tried once again in a continuing education class in Hawaii.
Why? Because I am one of those people who stare and gasp whenever I see a beautiful realistic drawing. I feel envious of the skill that produced it. Whether old master or current student, a good drawing is a good drawing. By this time I was painting for the pure pleasure of it, not trying to make anything look realistic. I had done photography off and on for several years and had begun again in Hawaii. I was also working with glass and loved the fusion of light with color. My confidence and joy in creating were high so I braved another drawing class. This time something changed. I finally understood the question, “What do you see?” It was the first time in my life I could actually make a few things look recognizable. It was the first time I understood drawing was a skill that I could learn.
Being a kindergartner
The next year I became a full-time art student in photography. I was not so naive about my new awareness to become a full-time drawing student, but drawing classes were a required part of the curriculum. Every week I stood in front of that easel and every week I felt like a kindergartner among PhDs. This time I knew I could learn, so I spent hours on my homework correcting, redoing until the drawing had some semblance to reality. But my marks on the page were so light that at a distance they disappeared.
For the final project we had to draw a life-size portrait of ourselves. Imagine a six-foot long, four-foot wide piece of paper that needed to be filled with an image – by Monday. I started Friday morning and ten hours later I was sitting in the bathroom crying – with not one bit of drawing on the page. I had spent ten whole hours drawing and erasing, drawing and erasing, creating a grid, then erasing it all because it wasn’t correct. I thought of not doing the assignment, but I hadn’t worked so hard all semester to quit now. I needed a solution. A little voice inside me said, Do the grid again. This time it worked.
Thirty hours later
There are many ways to approach a drawing. One way is to start with a light-colored or white paper and fill in the blacks, lines, shades of gray – the usual way we think of drawing. Another is to blacken the entire page with charcoal and erase to create highlights, line, and shades of gray. I blackened with charcoal and erased out the image, inch by inch.
As each little square of the grid slowly developed into something recognizable – a foot with real looking toes, a rocking chair solid enough to support me – I became increasingly excited. Magic was happening. The power and love I had always felt for other people’s drawing – the mystery of creating a realistic representation out of darkness and light – took over. Every bit of my attention was focused on making this drawing. For more than thirty hours I drew, stopping only for quick meals and bathroom breaks. Like the energizer bunny, I felt like I could keep drawing and drawing. As every crease in my hands, and the walls and floor blackened with charcoal, I slipped into another world – one of magic, mystery and joy. To this day I hold that drawing as one of my prized possessions. After that I thought, now I can draw, but it wasn’t that simple.
Drawing is a continuous dance with the unknown. To be able to draw something I have to show up, all blinders, filters, and expectations removed. I have to be fully present and willing to see what is right in front of me, not what I think or imagine is there. I become an intimate lover of the object I draw. When we love we want to know everything; the object of our love engages our mind, feelings, senses. We give our full attention. In that we are also affected, touched. We are stripped of our protection.
Drawing is about relationships: relationships between objects and to space on the page. Everything in a drawing is related and impacting everything else on the page. Light and shadow create depth and richness, time and space. In class, everyone has a unique perspective – literally. We stand in slightly different places which shifts our point-of view just enough to make very individual drawings. Not only must I see what is there but, if I don’t like something, I can shift my perspective, re-organize, re-create it.
Erasers are important
Because drawing is also about correcting. We are often afraid of making mistakes. We need to be perfect right from the start and are embarrassed by what appears not to be. In drawing, every “mistake” is an opportunity to learn again, to look again, to see again, to strip off another misconception until you get to the truth of it. My eraser is as important as my pencil or charcoal. In fact, I don’t hear the word “mistake” in a drawing class; it’s always about correcting. If we could see mistakes as constant opportunities for correcting, for clarifying, getting closer and closer to getting it the way we want it, there would be no “mistakes.” There would only be the continuous process of becoming more accurate, creating life as we want it, seeing life as it is.
Although each time I draw is different and new, a fresh opportunity to step into the unknown, I bring along tools I learned from previous times. So it’s always starting over, but with experience that builds on itself – like wisdom. When overwhelmed, whether with life or drawing, I have learned new tools for dealing with it: Either break it down into smaller chunks, or step back to get a broader perspective, drawing the largest shapes and filling the rest in as I go.
When it is working I feel completely alive, present, connected to whatever it is I am drawing. And afterwards, when I step outside, I see everything so much more clearly. I feel connected and in relationship to life, to myself, to people. I feel at peace and in joy. That’s why, despite – or because of – what I go through, I will keep putting myself in front of that blank piece of paper over and over.
And here I stand, drawing a line that suddenly becomes a curve, disappearing into shadow, adding another line, highlighting, darkening until the lines become folds, the fold become drapes, and I am in love again.
Yolanda Wysocki works as a life/transformation coach. Her background has been in counseling and social services for over 25 years. She went back to school for a second bachelor’s degree when she was 51 years old. Seven years and three schools later, she completed her art degree, a lifelong dream.