Since I was a child I have loved to draw. I wanted to grow up to be an artist, but I didn’t manage to do that until late in life.
My mother was excessive in her praise and delight at my early drawings. She and my stepfather gave me a blackboard and colored chalks and many other drawing materials. The blackboard was on the wall of my bedroom where I spent hours making elaborate colored pictures on it. I had a fat book on how to draw, and a big wooden desk with lots of drawers filled with colored paper and pencils, paste, scissors, glitter, stickers, decals, tape, ribbon and more. Sometimes my mother would call to me, “What are you doing, Anne?” and I would answer, “I’m making things.”
Then, when I was 10, my sister was born, and I had to sleep on the sofa. I wasn’t allowed in my bedroom where the baby was because I had germs. We moved, my stepfather became increasingly hostile to me, and when my sister was about 9 months old I asked to be allowed to live with my aunt and uncle where I had stayed for extended periods in earlier years.
This sounds more complaining than I intend. That was a difficult time for all of us. There was a new baby, we lived in a 2 bedroom apartment, the war came and my stepfather was called to Washington for a government job. He was head of wage stabilization at the War Labor Board. He was a volatile man who drank too much, but he and I made peace after I grew up, and he eventually became a nice old man.
In Andover, living with my aunt and uncle, I rapidly become adolescent. My uncle was the director of an art gallery, the Addison Gallery of American Art. He was quite big in the art world, and for a while was on the board of the Smithsonian. Famous artists came to lunch and generally hung around. My aunt had been to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris before she was married, and she painted and drew in a disorganized way, making beautiful beginnings but becoming distracted by futile attempts at housekeeping or serving afternoon tea or taking the poodles for a walk. I drew with her.
My uncle was very critical of both of us. In my opinion he had little reason to discourage my aunt. Her work was lovely and had a delicate, whimsical, feminine strength. But it wasn’t modern. My drawings were childish and my uncle said I had no talent. He urged me to become a writer.
When I was growing up progressive thinkers were beginning to advocate that women have independent careers. I was told I should be able to earn a living. Artists were supposed to starve so I shouldn’t go to art school.
When I went to college I first majored in speech. After a year I gave that up and majored in art history. Then I got pregnant and got married (yes, in that order) and when I went back to college I had 3 babies. My husband said there was no money in art. He was a political science professor, so for a brief while I majored in political science. I really wanted to major in anthropology, but I couldn’t see how I could do field work with 3 babies. I took zoology in order to satisfy the science requirement. The first part of the course was the study of invertebrate animals, and in the lab we drew little creatures we saw in the microscope. I loved it. The teacher was a tough dry spinster who made no effort to entertain. She just gave the facts. I was fascinated by the facts. I majored in zoology and did graduate work in biology.
I went to art school when I was over 50. By that time I was married for the third time to a prosperous lawyer who could afford to support an artist.
I have been drawing and painting off and on ever since. From time to time I have been distracted by other things — house building, gardening, caring for the sick and dying. And I do not really blame my elders for my failure to persevere in art. My interests were fragmented and diverse, and I was apt to make sudden decisions, embarking on life changing programs without thinking carefully. I am still fragmented. I read science and novels and cookbooks and I visit children and friends and grow plants and take trips. In between I draw. But I am lazy, and I never concentrate fully enough to get really proficient.
Now I am taking a course in figure drawing at the local community college. I am learning new things. The teacher actually has a method, something I didn’t get in art school. My drawing is improving. Here are some of the things I have been working on lately.
These are 2 pieces I am working on as a birthday present for my British daughter. I drew the figures from life in ink on paper that I had printed with scraps of ink and old stencils. Then I drew with colored pencils, almost doodle drawings, to integrate and unify the images. The process reminded me of times in childhood when I “made things” from pretty junk.
Here are some of the drawings from my current art class.
I have done no drawing or painting for a week. I have been distracted again by life, by a whirlwind visit from my friend Gwen. But that is my next post!