For almost 2 months, I’ve been taking drawing lessons up in Grand Case on the French side of the island of St. Martin. Often, if I feel I have a reasonably successful drawing, or I’ve done something pretty neat (for me, not necessarily for the rest of the world), I post my accomplishment to Facebook as a sort of living portfolio. Last night, because I had gotten up very late in the morning and ended up staying up very late again, I decided I would try out some painting supplies that I thought were really neat. It was a set of three pre-“inked” watercolor brushes that contains the typical three sketching colors: black, gray, and sepia. I had used the company’s water-filled “travel” paint brushes a few times, and found that I really preferred them over regular watercolor brushes, which can be a bit clunky to take along in my purse. I’ve been using the water-filled brushes (when I remember I have them and have something interesting to pretend to paint) with a pocket-sized watercolor set of pan-style colors that came complete with its own attach-to-the-side paint mixing tray–and one of the brushes. That kit and a pad of watercolor postcards is what I take to the beach. When I saw the ink sketching kit, I thought it would be interesting to try. The set of brushes was inexpensive enough, so I added them to a recent Amazon order, and they arrived last week.
Well, you know how it is when you first get something new–you want to try it out (or on) as soon as possible. I was so busy during the week that I didn’t get a chance to even think about it until last night, while watching the same episode of Penny Dreadful for the third time or so. Being me, I knew I would ruin any attempt to use the inked brushes last night; on the other hand, there was no harm in sketching–in pencil–the basic subject I would work on in the morning. Well, the inked brushes clearly take a lot more time to get to know than the pre-filled water brushes. I didn’t wonder about tonal effects and how to get them, or whether I could handle the brushes without practice since I’ve been playing with the water brushes for a while.
And so, I produced a total dud! Yes, I am an inexperienced artist. Yes, I have progressed from poor stick figure drawing to some decent sketches of stationary objects or photograph subjects. But that was with using graphite pencils and sticks, not watercolors–about which I know less than nothing. I wish I had taken a photo of the results using only the inked brushes–but I didn’t think about that. All I could think about was “saving” my dud–making it a little more presentable.
In the process of making it a bit less dud-ish, I used watercolor pencils (which I’ve been practicing with for a while) and even my little kit of watercolor pans. I started to “save” the work first with the watercolors, then remembered reading about how the watercolor pencils can really help define a piece. To my amazement, it was the pencils that saved the work from becoming a complete disaster that I didn’t want to tear up and start working on all over again. The result is the photo above–still no great work of art, but a definite improvement from where it started.
Then I posted it to my Facebook account with an explanation of it being a dud and that I just wanted to post something I wasn’t so proud of for a change. When I look back at some of my earlier “proud of” shares, I can see how much I’ve progressed. So I also know how bad this dud is in comparison to most of my shares. What surprised me was that I got 3 “likes” from the same people who always support my efforts and generally comment on my progress or something. This time, although I had asked for feedback on how to improve it, all I got from my fan base was the likes.
That made me wonder–are they liking the photo just to indicate that they saw it? are they liking it because they are trying to be supportive? are they liking it because of my self-criticism and agreeing with it? I will probably never know, but it makes me wonder if my friends think I’m fragile and can’t handle the truth, or if all they see is another attempt at something new and just want to show support, either without reading the comment, or just without giving their opinion?
Next I started to wonder about what I do. Like these three friends, I would undoubtedly “like” whatever they posted to indicate support. But I don’t know whether I, too, would not leave a comment. After thinking some more, I decided that I would leave something along the lines of “nice try with a new medium” or “nice first attempt,” or something equally as inane. Since these are friends I actually know and went to high school with years ago, and since they’ve seen the same cat in many positions as a drawn critter, maybe they just felt no comment was necessary and that just liking the photo indicated that they know I’m there and that I’m trying.
One of my friends has become a real outdoor photography fan–something I wanted to do since I was little, but couldn’t afford the supplies that went with my little Brownie camera from Kodak. That was back in the days when black and white film was inexpensive, but photo development and flash bulbs that burned your fingers if you tried to take a couple of shots relatively close together cost more than my family could afford. My father subtly suggested I turn to another hobby, as my mother was complaining about the cost–particularly of film development. Now, of course, the cost is in the DSLR equipment itself if you really want to learn about photography in all its aspects. But my friend was using his iPhone camera and went from typical snapshots to some really masterful pieces shot in and around Philadelphia and any trips he took with his son. Over the past two years, he has become quite good, even if most of the photos are either of his son or of woods or old historic buildings. We all “liked” his work, and some of us took time to comment on how much his son is growing or sharing reminiscences of past outings where we saw the same subjects. And, as I said, his photos really improved. The process was gradual, but he is learning to do magnificent things with his iPhone camera.
One of the problems with us Boomers is that we didn’t get the same kinds of opportunities many Gen-X-ers had in schools. In hour town, the schools were so overcrowded that the junior high was on “split sessions” (7th and 8th graders from 7:00AM to noon; 9th graders from noon to 5:00PM), and the high school was on some incredible schedule that you needed a slide rule to figure out when to be in school on what day. By the time my class reached high school, we entered into a brand new building that was big enough to accommodate us all at the same time. But in 7th and 8th grade, although we were lucky enough to have art classes at all, we were limited to 35-minute classes for one-quarter of the school year. And there is not much that can be accomplished in an art class in 35 minutes, especially when your teacher goes on to become one of the great sculptors in the art world for quite some time. So we didn’t even get the basics, and students whose parents could afford it sent their kids for private art lessons or private group classes. The rest of us were pretty clueless, except that our parents seemed to all agree that music needed to be part of our education, whether lessons given in school or those given privately. For college prep students, art wasn’t even an option as an elective in high school, although I can’t for the life of me remember why not. The school offered art classes, but seemed to reserve those for non-college-bound students. Instead, our electives tended to be things that would either help us succeed in college or that were musically or theatrically oriented–band, orchestra, drama. Some electives were preselected for certain students–the school newspaper, the yearbook committee. But I really don’t recall the physical arts as being part of our offerings.
And so I missed my chances at becoming a better drawer or photographer, as did many other Boomers who attended city schools. That is one of the main reasons so many of us, as we approach retirement or are in retirement (or are pretty much unemployed, like myself, with retirement looming before the year is out).
Personally, I think it is remarkable that people who have not seen each other in many years–especially those of us who live so far away from our home towns and no longer have family to stay with–are able to keep in touch and support each other’s efforts through social media and share the progress we are making on things we only dreamed of taking up in our youth. When we graduated from high school, computers were used only by the biggest businesses and institutions. Our high school had a computerized grading system, but I am certain that the computer was not “on site” and that information was sent out (probably to the school district offices or the state department of education) and reports were sent back. During my own teaching days, personal computers–nothing like what we have in our homes now–came out after I had already been teaching for more than 10 years. I took a teacher training class on a computer that was so slow that today’s kids would use it only as a door stop–except that it was too big and ugly and heavy to be aesthetic enough to please even the least aware young person. But I fell in love with the things, dropped out of teaching, and went into computers for a ten years, working on mainframes for large companies in the greater New York metropolitan area. By the time I was ready to learn to program personal-sized computers, I had remarried and moved across the country, where the whole world of computing was so different that I went back to teaching.
I’ve remained in education in one capacity or another ever since, but have only recently started taking up art forms. Even my drawing lessons were predicated on a theory about educating both sides of the brain, either for people recovering from stroke or the loss of a dominant writing hand, or for students with special needs who might benefit from learning to become ambidextrous.
But back to my original problem: Are my friends being supportive, or are they afraid to give their actual thoughts? I’ll never know, and wonder how much I care. Feedback of any kind is supportive, even if positive critique is even more important. I’m finding that as I develop my creative writing skills. Whether taking a course online or in a classroom, writing students are as reluctant to share positive or constructive criticism, too. It’s not like being with your best friend who tells you exactly what they feel and have no guilt about telling you the absolute truth. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I started a small writers-in-training group, with the help of WordPress, for those of us who were feeling we were not getting the level of feedback we wanted from other participants. On the other hand, there were about 130 students enrolled in an intense one-month class of writing, and no one could get to reading more than five people’s submissions per day, with or without honest and constructive and positive feedback. Even in the small group, only two of the five or six participants are actually giving “real” feedback.
Should I expect more from my friends on Facebook than I get in the writing group? No. I should not. My friends want to be supportive, not critical, and–although I am much more likely to be the one to give a different opinion–I have tried to respond with either a “like” or a positive or otherwise very supportive comment. We are all flawed beings, no matter how wonderful we believe ourselves to be, and we each are involved in those things that are meaningful to us, whether we are doing a “great job” or a mediocre one. Each of us is living one day at a time, especially at our time of life. Why spoil things by being critical?