The sun was streaming warmly through the kitchen window as my 6-year-old niece led me to the table and set down two pieces of paper and a couple of markers before our seats.
“Follow what I do,” she said.
“Okay,” I replied, as I picked up my small piece of paper, which turned out to be an envelope with a Valentine card from her classmate inside. I look at her piece of paper, which was, well, also a Valentine card from another classmate.
As she opened her card and uncapped her marker, I exclaim, “Wait! But these are your Valentines!”
“I know.” She continues to prepare herself to draw. “Follow what I do.”
“But…they’re your Valentines! From your classmates! Don’t you want to keep these…?” Even as the last words left my mouth, I knew how silly it all was. Valentines picked out by parents who force their kids to write the inside messages. Of course a 6-year-old wouldn’t want to keep them! They were meaningless pieces of card stock whose sole purpose was to be the vessel that held what truly mattered – lollipops, Smarties, and temporary tattoos of superheroes.
So without speaking more of the matter, I start to draw, following my niece’s every stroke. Her firm grip led the marker across the paper, and she never stopped unless it was to run to the next room to search for a desired marker color. She never paused to contemplate what would look best in a blank space, what details to add, or even worry about whether or not it was the correct composition or if it was sensical.
The story of her illustration flowed smoothly along without any interruptions, as if it was a well-known story that she was just repeating. She never made a mistake, not even when she sat the lion on top of the tree, telling me that he was behind the tree, watching the girl who was sleeping underneath the apple tree.
And as effortlessly as she had begun, she was done. No nitpicking over minute details, no fretting over a misplaced line…
She picks up a pair of scissors and cuts off the part of the card that read, “I love you beary much! From, Chelsea”, and then, she was ready to move on to the next game.
I remained where I was seated, studying both drawings. My rigidity shows through in its straight lines and meticulous placements. Hell, I even drew on the envelope right-side-up rather than flipping it vertical to match the length of my niece’s card! That was something I didn’t even contemplate when I started to draw. That was just how I saw the envelope and how I was taught it was meant to be. Not what it could have been.
Last month, I wrote about wanting to doodle more – not only to get my ideas down quickly in short amounts of time, but also because I wanted to loosen up in my drawing. Release the iron grip that Perfection has on me and allow the strokes to flow freely from inside me without feeling embarrassment or failure.
The college I attended used to have an art class about copying the techniques of Old Masters (Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Caravaggio…). Well, on this day, I felt as if I attended a rare lesson with a very Young Master. A Master of Doodling.
If one learns from doing, then I learned that things don’t have to make sense, and they don’t have to be a particular way. When it comes to drawing, you’re the one calling the shots. You can make them anyway you want, no matter how illogical. There are no rules.
I learned that mistakes are only Mistakes when you give them that name.
I learned that you may understand what certain objects look like, but when it comes to drawing, you can forget the details, and it’s okay; draw what you know and move on. Don’t let that be the red light on your seamless race lap.
And most of all, I learned that you don’t have to draw when you dream up a specific idea. You draw because you need to; it is inside of you and demands to come out.
It is the children who truly understand the imagination and creativity. The eagerness to draw when the Wanting comes along, the desire to sing when the make-believe music fills their hearts, the need to pretend because they know the outside world is not as colorful, nor as extraordinary, as the ones they know CAN exist.
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, she recalls what American singer-songwriter Tom Waits said about his children’s creative freedom:
“He noticed that his children felt fully entitled to make up songs all the time, and when they were done with them, they would toss them out ‘like little origami things, or paper airplanes.’ Then they would sing the next song that came through the channel. They never seemed to worry that the flow of ideas would dry up. They never stressed about their creativity, and they never competed against themselves; they merely lived within their inspiration, comfortably and unquestioningly.”
It’s the children that hold not only the Secret of Doodling, but also the Secrets of the Imagination, Curiosity, and Creativity.
Perhaps it is they whom we need to learn from more.