Musicians who can pick up an instrument, anytime, anywhere, and start playing beautiful music are mind-blowing to me. I am also in awe of singers who can not only carry a tune, but bring such depth and complexity to a song by smartly using their “instrument”. It is also a joy to behold when an actor can take a script and breathe such life into a role that I am able to completely suspend judgement and believe in a fictional character.
I especially envy visual artists who can take a pencil and a sheet of paper and produce picture-perfect images worthy of a gallery showing.
In high school, while certain teachers droned on in that Charlie Brown teacher’s voice, I remember looking over at my artist friends during class, pencils blazing over whatever piece of paper (or flat surface) was at their disposal. Blank pages were magically transformed into masterpieces with images of eyes, faces or pets from different angles, and all from the perspective of their mind’s eye.
There was seemingly no struggle to their process. They did not stare at a blank page, think hard about it, draw, erase, draw, erase and start over. It just seemed to flow out of them like they were on auto-pilot. They made it look effortless.
In one of my first jobs, there was a graphic arts department in our building, and I remember feeling so envious of the team walking around with their big flat portfolio suitcases. I imagined they contained their sketch pads full of ideas and beautiful artwork. To me, those portfolios just oozed of creative spirit. I wanted one, but had no idea what I’d put in it, since I wasn’t a visual artist. But their presence inspired me nonetheless in my pursuit to become an artist. I just hadn’t figured out yet what my discipline was.
Whenever I see the designers on Project Runway take out their sketch pads and start planning out the design for that episode’s challenge, I am on the edge of my seat and glued to the screen, observing how their plain sheets of paper turn into charming sketches of models in the gowns that will grace the runway in a few short hours.
Even though I can certainly draw pictures with a cartoonish esthetic, I cannot say that anything I’ve drawn ever looked terribly lifelike. Could I get better with time and practice? My sketch pads are waiting with bated breath for a bad case of writer’s block, for me to divert my attention from the writing and pick up the drawing pencils again.
My envy for visual artists is not entrenched in any kind of jealousy. It is just a bad case of the grass being greener on the other side, where artists of other disciplines are so cool to me.
It is in those times that I need to take a step back and find consolation and gratitude is in my own ability and reflexes as a writer.
Much like my friends who let the ideas flow through them and through the pencil, I know I don’t need much prompting to write things. Give me a blank sheet of paper and a writing implement and I’ll start writing whatever ideas happen to be running through my head.
Also, at the office, I have been known to pull a rabbit out of a hat on a few occasions and come up with the right words at the right time, for some challenging memos and emails required on very tight deadlines.
Ironically, I have recently taken the large sketch pads out of my art supply cabinet and started using them for sketching out my own story outlines. Standard 8 ½ by 11 inch sheets of paper don’t seem to be big enough for my one-person brainstorming sessions, for mapping out the progression of a story through its life cycle, or the many connections between the characters of a story.
When an idea has been fermenting in my mind for some time, the extra-large sheet of sketching paper is not a scary blank canvas. Instead, it becomes a convenient outlet to finally commit ideas to paper, bringing with it a huge sense of relief to have the ideas out of my head, laid out in a logical format and ready to start taking flight.
That is when I realized that even though I am using the sketch pad for a different purpose, to someone on the outside looking in, when my pencil starts blazing across the pad they might have the same impression as I have of my visual artist friends:
“Where are the ideas coming from?”
“It’s like he’s on auto-pilot.”
“He makes it look effortless.”
Hmm… Maybe I’m not that different from visual artists after all. Maybe I can justify a big flat portfolio after all!
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