by Lesley Reece
Most young children, if you give them paper and crayons, will draw. They all seem to like it. They'll happily whip out pictures of houses, families, animals, or whatever else you might ask for. The drawings will be at least recognizable, though often you'll need a bit of explanation from the artist, especially when the subject is something like a monster eating the neighbor's mean dog. Some kids are more artistically inclined than others, of course, but I've never heard a little kid say, "I can't draw."
Grownups are different. Obviously, anyone who has the necessary physical equipment can draw something, but I don't know many adults who will claim the ability. In other words, what people mean when they say they can't draw is they won't draw. When pressed, many will admit the reason for that is they are unable to produce realistic representations of the things they see around them. Apparently, this is so frustrating that they refuse to put pen to paper, even though the invention of photography, well over a century ago, meant artistic realism was no longer necessary.
I'm not saying there's anything wrong with realistic drawing; it's just that it's only one approach. By imposing the standards of realism on art, people deprive themselves and others of a chance for expression. I suspect there are a lot of closet artists out there, people who like drawing but are reluctant to indulge themselves. Otherwise -- barring the existence of marauding elves who sneak out at night and draw all over the first thing they can find -- there would be no explanation for all the decorated margins and phonebook covers in the world.
Besides, until recently, I was one of those closet artists myself. In high school art classes, I'd learned calligraphy, silkscreening, color combination, the elements of design. All that was fun, but I wanted to write. A career in art would have meant giving that up, or at least pushing it to one side. So I never made time for drawing lessons, but I didn't stop altogether. During meetings, I covered my tablets with unflattering caricatures of the boss, and later, I illustrated my lecture notes during question and answer sessions in college.
If you'd asked me whether I could draw, though, I would have denied it, and not just because of a fear of criticism. Once people know you are willing to draw, they start asking you to draw things for them. That isn't a problem, unless your ability to draw realistically is limited. Since realism is what most people expect from someone who "can draw," they will rarely be satisfied with an artist's interpretation of what they asked for. After the fiftieth time I'd heard that one of my efforts didn't "look like" a tank, or a lizard, or the Empire State Building with King Kong hanging from it, I decided not to take any more requests. If I couldn't make my audience happy, why bother?
It was Victor who discovered my guilty secret. One day when I wasn't around, he went in search of a piece of blank paper and found my school notebook. I had a long-winded, diagram-loving geology professor that quarter, so my notes were particularly embellished.
"This is great," he said, pointing to a cartoon of aliens frozen into a glacier. "I didn't know you could draw."
"Um -- " I said. I knew what was coming next.
"Why don't you draw something for the fanzine?" he said.
"Aaaagh!" I said, but it was too late. I'd been outed.
I managed to resist drawing anything for Apak for several months, but the editors kept reminding me of how fandom is a pretty small group with its own set of references. Using a large bearded bald figure to represent the concept of Hooper or glasses and a cigarette for "Victor" is therefore realistic enough, because fans are able to interpret those icons. Finally, I was convinced there wouldn't be too much pressure on my abilities, so I caved in.
My most ambitious effort to date was the four-panel cartoon I drew for Apak 66. That's four times as much as I usually draw, but I felt up to it, and Hooper and Victor helped me write the dialogue. Several people told me they thought it was amusing, and encouraged me to do more.
Even Hugo-winning artist William Rotsler was moved to respond. He sent a stack of illos, with a note about how people always tell him what to draw too, and he ignores them just like I do. He even said the art was the best thing in the fanzine.
He closed the note, however, by saying that I was "obviously self-taught," and what I needed was lessons, not in what to draw, but in "how to draw" (italics his).
Thanks for the suggestion, Bill, but I don't think I'll be signing up for classes anytime soon. I'm no D. West; I'm certainly no Dan Steffan, and my lifetime output won't equal one ten-thousandth of Rotsler's. But as I told Victor and Hooper, I'm a writer who likes to draw, not an artist who likes to write. For me, drawing is fun. My goal is to keep it that way.
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