For most of high school the main bane of my life (there were many) was my sketch book, and more particularly the fact that every week (sometimes more often) we’d be required to hand it in for our latest sketch to be marked out of 10.
Don’t get me wrong, technically I enjoyed art. The creative side to it. What I didn’t enjoy was the fact that, quite simply put, the teacher’s idea of what was fantastic was not the same as mine. Now I understand that obviously, if you’re doing art to Matric as an actual subject, you’re going to be evaluated and criticised. But I felt (and still do) that it’s a really subjective subject. There were only a couple of girls in our class who were heralded as talented.
My teacher and I didn’t fight (unless you count one small scrap which saw me almost slam the door on my way out), but she was frustrated by the fact that I didn’t quite meet the standards that the Degas of our class did.
Can I just take a moment here to point out – we were working with powder paint. All the way to Matric. That’s what we had to create our masterpieces with – to express the depths of our souls. Oh, and the black powder paint was hidden and reserved for only the most talented in our midst.
In her infinite wisdom, my teacher decided that the way to get me to unleash my creative potential was to force me to paint upside down. So there I stood, at an easel crusted with decades of flaking cheap paint, trying to make sense of the negative space going on in a delicious monster and beach chair. It was dreadful. And far from teaching me to allow a deeper part of my brain to click into gear and take over, it made me angry.
Sure, I was never going to be an artist. Not the kind who would exhibit and sell work. But I actually enjoyed being creative and it was supposed to be fun, not frustrating.
So one day, in a fit of irritation, I painted the most simplistic, hideous painting I’d ever done. Upside down. I put zero effort into form, depth or texture. And wouldn’t you know it. She LOVED it. It was my “breakthrough painting”, I had finally “got it”.
Needless to say, I was bemused. I couldn’t take any of it seriously. Guys, honestly, it was a dreadful painting. I kept it in my portfolio for a few years and I think I recall ditching it when we moved a while back. (I’ll check though, and if it’s still there I shall post pictures of the recycling thereof).
For the five years of high school, that’s what I was dealing with, someone who just didn’t get my art. So handing in sketches was dreadful. Not only because I knew mine weren’t going to be marked more than 6/10, but also because I have always procrastinated. So I’d leave them to the last minute. Most of us did (Degas aside). We’d sit during first break in the quad desperately trying to sketch something that looked like we’d done it at home days before. I loathed it. Only once did I get a great mark (8 or 9/10) and that was because I’d used pastels (the ones I had at home where the world of art encompassed more than powder paint) to add yellow and red to the shadow of a bowl. She was ecstatic that I’d seen more than just grey in the shade.
All of this leads us to a point though. I have recently started to discover the joy in sketching or doodling. It’s just small super quick pen drawings in my diary. Of birds at the moment, because that’s what’s flapping around in my creative brain. But I’m drawing again, for me, and for fun. It’s only taken 19 years. And sometimes, I even like my pictures enough to post them on Instagram. They’re not perfect, but I enjoy making them. And I get to draw them the right way up, and there’s not a sniff of powder paint involved.