Life drawing

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.

mixed media

mixed media

mixed media

mixed media

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.

charcoal on newsprint

charcoal on newsprint

charcoal on newsprint

charcoal on newsprint

charcoal on newsprint

charcoal on newsprint

charcoal on newsprint

charcoal on newsprint

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!

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26 Responses to Life drawing

  1. Marja-Leena says:

    Fascinating life you have led! I think it’s harder for women to focus on their career, especially something like art, when they are wives, mothers, gardeners and all the myriad things we do and interests we have. Most ‘successful’ female artists do not have children. Love your work! Hope you are able to keep it up.

  2. Kay Dennison says:

    I love your drawings!!!! I’ve considered taking art lessons but so far I haven’t.

  3. Chaya says:

    Your uncle was Bart Hayes? He was extremely influential at the Addison and Phillips Academy and is still spoken of in reverent tones. Do you have memories of the Addison from when you were young? I’d love to know more!

  4. Tessa says:

    Lucky Duchess! Those two pieces are my kind of art, the type that draws you in and leaves you wondering. Beautiful.

    My sister in law is an artist who, in her 60s, is just beginning to attract attention. For most of the past few decades, she has been teaching a seniors’ art class and she often speaks of very talented students for whom, like you, life got in the way of art. I’m glad you are finally getting your heart’s desire.

  5. wisewebwoman says:

    Oh well done, Anne, I love how we reclaim ourselves. I love the study of the boy, it speaks to me.

  6. annie says:

    Finally following a dream. I wish I could be so brave. Maybe one day. I love your work, I remember all the miniatures you were doing in Alaska.

  7. Friko says:

    You are Renaissance Woman!
    I would still say “damn that pram in the hall” but maybe when someone is as multi-talented as you appear to be it is hard to concentrate on one thing.

  8. Dale says:

    Wonderful stuff!

    I don’t think you need make any excuses: I think a life lived solely in the service of art is a poor one, no matter how good the art. I don’t want to have a just-one-venture life.

  9. Sally says:

    Anne, you say you are fragmented, but my dear, your stories show that the fragments add up to way more than a whole. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Hattie says:

    I loved this post and think it is so great that you are expanding your talents in art.
    Alice Neel had four children. Her life was very hard but terribly exciting. She never tried to make things to be anything but what they were in her life or her art, and I think that was her greatness.

  11. Mage B says:

    Those bottom two are excellent. Bravo to you. Yes, starvation is the norm, but I had several galleries and a “plan”, so I only starved sporadically. Keep it up.

  12. rosie says:

    sometimes our paths meander a bit don’t they!
    My family was not well off enough for me to study a musical instrument. Over the years I have flirted with the piano again and again, then gone off to follow another interest. But I always return to it. I keep telling myself it is never too late…

  13. Kass says:

    I loved reading your account. You remind me a lot of myself, so of course, I think you are fascinating.

    Your art is wonderful! There is such freedom and movement in your current sketches. I am loving your mixed media. I want more.

    Thank you for stopping by my blog. I’m glad to know you.

  14. Darlene says:

    Your Uncle was wrong. You do have talent. You have many talents, it seems. I’m glad you are finally following your dream. That’s what everyone should do; you are an inspiration.

  15. Annie in TO says:

    Your story is fascinating. The complications of life and the accepted attitudes toward women and children in other times. Your convoluted and complicated life path bearing fruit in a wealth of talent, insight and expressiveness. Absolutely wonderful. I am so glad you write this blog and illustrate it with your work!

  16. Jan says:

    I love your art. How wonderful that the time finally came when you could give your inner child the support it needed. Let community give you encouragement. You definitely need to “follow your bliss.”

  17. Lavenderbay says:

    Anne, I think your uncle Bart was half-right. You are a fine writer. I’ve just spent most of the day reading through your earlier blog posts (even found the answer to my question of how you pronounce “Gibert”!).
    You’re also obviously a talented artist and an enviable renovator. I love how cats and other critters crop up in your frames and on your upholstery.
    Thanks for dropping by and making me aware of you.

  18. Rain says:

    Sounds interesting and typical of how it goes especially for women in art unless they are graphic designers. It’s tough to have it be a career and even those like some of my friends who have stuck with it their whole lives often don’t make enough money to even pay for their supplies. Still it’s a consuming interest if one has the desire to do art and we will find a way. I like what you are doing.

  19. Echoing Tessa: I’m envious of the Duchess. Would you like to adopt me?

  20. Jan says:

    In order to make a living being an “artist” I had to become a professional cake decorator. Now my artistic outlet has become photography; if I thought I could do it professionally, I’d be all over it like white on rice.

    Your work is stunning, Anne. I hope you’ll show us the finished pieces.

  21. Karin Doyle says:

    I agree with Friko. You are a Renaissance Woman! Every fragment is wonderful especially your art and writing.

  22. Marja-Leena says:

    A little bird tells me it’s your birthday today! Happy Birthday to You! Hope you are out having fun and lots of bubbly and cake! May it be a great year full of love and creativity, my friend.

  23. Tessa says:

    The same little birdie with a big beak (cough) Duchess (cough) told me the same. Happy birthday, Anne. Looking forward to seeing you in the Fall!

  24. pa alum says:

    Your uncle was an idiot, despite his accomplishments. Your drawings show both talent and accomplishment.

    Keep at it, old girl.

  25. Linda says:

    I loved your charcoals. You have a real flair. I went to Columbus College Of Art and Design for 3 years (didn’t finish) and I never do art anymore. You have inspired me. Also Happy Birthday. I never realized you were the duchess’ mother. how interesting. I have followed you both off and on for at least a year- usually jumping on from Jan’s Sushi Bar. Have a great trip with Lawyer daughter.

  26. Taina says:

    great drawings. i enjoyed your story about your life with “art.” happy belated b-day and hope your journey goes well!

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