This post was inspired by a post on Lisa Hosokawa’s modelmirror blog in which she re-visits her drawings of ballerinas from childhood. Lisa writes about drawing on her blog, shared experiences of drawing, and of teaching others (particularly children) the joy of drawing. Four months ago I gave birth to my first baby, and ever since I have been fascinated with watching his little eyes as they marvel at the big wide world. What might it be like to observe things for the first time? His presence has led me to think about my own experience of childhood. Lisa’s Ballerina post addresses where her thinking was when she last created, a period of drawing coinciding with dancing. In some sense my period of studying science and later working as a research scientist was a break in my art-making, and now with the real possibility of not returning to science, I’m looking to my creative work pre-science to help to shed light on the direction my creative path might take moving forward. Lisa’s post reminded me of two specific experiences of drawing from primary school which I will share with you.
Unfortunately not many of my drawings have survived from childhood. Having moved through nine rental properties (to date) and four years of art education post-A-level, my early artwork was pared down long ago. Although they would have fascinated me now, the ‘failed attempts’, less strong and unfinished pieces were likely discarded first, leaving the ‘complete’ works I would have been most proud of.
I have a clear memory of lying on my stomach on the floor in our loft space and drawing on a large piece of paper. This space hadn’t been properly converted into a room, but a large number of boards had been laid down making easy passage through the space as well as reasonable space to play. Furthermore, it was well lit so I would spend a long time up there, hiding away from my parents. This drawing was my first recollection of thinking about the ‘edges’ of a drawing. At what point do you stop? Why should the edges of the paper define the edges of the drawing? For example, in the drawing of the house above, why not draw the house next door? Why not the layout of the rooms or the plants in the back garden? In this large drawing I was occupied with drawing a small imaginary village, with a road running through as the focal point, a fire station, playground and several houses. Needless to say the drawing doesn’t survive – I remember being frustrated at the time that I couldn’t contain all the information I imagined in the drawing.
It’s interesting that this is a concept I have returned to in more recent work. In ’94…’ (2004) I attempted to describe the house that I lived in with my family from 5-14 yrs. The memories of events are just as important, if not more important, than the physical layout of the space. As I drew the house I imagined moving through it, and added notes or drawings of particular memories as they came. The drawing therefore doesn’t take the form of a recognisable floor plan, or of a view of the house one could take using a camera. This drawing is limited by my stream of memory; my childhood drawing of the small village was bounded by the limits of my imagination.
The second drawing memory is a conversation I had with my teacher in the first or second year of primary school (5-6 yrs old). Again, the drawing itself is long gone but the memory remains very strong. We were each given sheets of newsprint. At the centre of the table were pots of poster paint, presumably mixed up in advance by the teacher or a helper into appropriate colours. We were asked to draw a self-portrait. I’m quite sure we weren’t given mirrors to look into, so I suppose we were being asked to draw ourselves how we thought we looked. I began with a large black oval and was just about to add further details when the teacher saw what I’d done and challenged me: “Does your face really have a black line around it?” “No”, I replied, and began with a new piece of paper: a white oval. Again, the teacher asked: “A white line?” “No”, and on another fresh sheet I painted a flesh-coloured oval. “Is your face really an oval shape?” On a fourth and final piece of paper I drew the darks of my eyes and eyelashes with black paint, and from there I moved on to the blue of my irises. I have the distinct memory that none of the other children were being challenged on their self-portraits, but this was the first time that I felt that I was presented with a problem to solve using creative means. I really had to look at my subject, understand it (my face is not flat and therefore has no edges), and represent this visually. I still remember the exhilaration I felt at solving the problem.