Journal

On Discovering I Could Draw

by | Jan 8, 2015 | Editorial

Whenever I give workshops to elementary school students – usually on art, calligraphy, and poetry or some combination thereof, I always share with them my work-in progress.
I will read to them and show them illustrated pages and they will be enthralled and always ask the question. “How long did it take you?”

I consider the answer to that question very important for children, especially, to hear and so I answer very carefully and honestly. When the book in question has been Mindel and the Misfit Dragons, I tell them I have been writing poems and stories since the second grade. (And, since I am probably the age of most of their grandparents, they know this is a very long time!) In other words, I tell them, I have been learning how to write this book for most of my life. The actual writing of Mindel took about two years. Then I tell them it took close to four years to do the calligraphy and artwork, during which time I studied under a master calligrapher, DeAnn Singh of Designing Letters. I worked at the calligraphy for hours every day. They are astonished at the time it took.

Then onto drawing. I am surprised and saddened at how many elementary school children already claim, “I can’t draw.” I say to them: “You don’t know that. I was over 40 before I realized I could draw.” Then I tell them my story: I’ve basically always been a writer and sometime in my forties I read a book called The Power of Your Other Hand by Lucia Capacchione, Ph. D.* She talks about using your non-dominant hand (in my case the left) to write or doodle as a way to access the creative right brain. So if you are stumped for the next line of poetry or paragraph in a story, try your left hand. Amazingly, it worked for me, but I found writing with my left laborious. The doodling, however, was liberating. I doodled with my left hand while I was writing, while I was on the phone, while I was in faculty meetings. Not only did my doodling help me think of the next line of poetry or story idea, but something else happened.

My doodles turned into grass and hills and then trees. Then there were rabbits behind the trees and meadows full of flowers and sheep. Then somehow my left hand was drawing castles and knights and farmers pulling plows. Everything was crooked and whimsical and I never quite knew what my pen would do, but the drawings were recognizable. People started asking me if I was illustrating my poems. Eventually I started saying “yes.”

Then my right hand grew courageous and began taking over when I needed straight lines, such as for castle walls, or very precise detailed work, such as for dragon scales. I like to say that my left hand taught my right how to draw and now they collaborate, depending on the task at hand.

I emphasize for the children how many years it’s been, how much I love it and how much practice I still do. I want them to understand that there aren’t just a chosen few who can do artistic/creative things. They can do it too, if they have a love for it, determination and dedication. Then we begin in class writing poems and illustrating them.

(The Power of Your Other Hand by Lucia Capacchione, Ph. D. is now available in a revised 2001 edition from New Page Books/Career Press. Learn more about her books and workshops here.)

Whenever I give workshops to elementary school students – usually on art, calligraphy, and poetry or some combination thereof, I always share with them my work-in progress. I will read to them and show them illustrated pages and they will be enthralled and always ask the question. “How long did it take you?”

I consider the answer to that question very important for children, especially, to hear and so I answer very carefully and honestly. When the book in question has been Mindel and the Misfit Dragons, I tell them I have been writing poems and stories since the second grade. (And, since I am probably the age of most of their grandparents, they know this is a very long time!) In other words, I tell them, I have been learning how to write this book for most of my life. The actual writing of Mindel took about two years. Then I tell them it took close to four years to do the calligraphy and artwork, during which time I studied under a master calligrapher, DeAnn Singh of Designing Letters. I worked at the calligraphy for hours every day. They are astonished at the time it took.

Then onto drawing. I am surprised and saddened at how many elementary school children already claim, “I can’t draw.” I say to them: “You don’t know that. I was over 40 before I realized I could draw.” Then I tell them my story: I’ve basically always been a writer and sometime in my forties I read a book called The Power of Your Other Hand by Lucia Capacchione, Ph. D.* She talks about using your non-dominant hand (in my case the left) to write or doodle as a way to access the creative right brain. So if you are stumped for the next line of poetry or paragraph in a story, try your left hand. Amazingly, it worked for me, but I found writing with my left laborious. The doodling, however, was liberating. I doodled with my left hand while I was writing, while I was on the phone, while I was in faculty meetings. Not only did my doodling help me think of the next line of poetry or story idea, but something else happened.

My doodles turned into grass and hills and then trees. Then there were rabbits behind the trees and meadows full of flowers and sheep. Then somehow my left hand was drawing castles and knights and farmers pulling plows. Everything was crooked and whimsical and I never quite knew what my pen would do, but the drawings were recognizable. People started asking me if I was illustrating my poems. Eventually I started saying “yes.”

Then my right hand grew courageous and began taking over when I needed straight lines, such as for castle walls, or very precise detailed work, such as for dragon scales. I like to say that my left hand taught my right how to draw and now they collaborate, depending on the task at hand.

I emphasize for the children how many years it’s been, how much I love it and how much practice I still do. I want them to understand that there aren’t just a chosen few who can do artistic/creative things. They can do it too, if they have a love for it, determination and dedication. Then we begin in class writing poems and illustrating them.

(The Power of Your Other Hand by Lucia Capacchione, Ph. D. is now available in a revised 2001 edition from New Page Books/Career Press. Learn more about her books and workshops here.)

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