Draw the Line: Jennifer Smith continues her Kelowna Art Gallery classes

Jennifer Smith is learning to draw at the Kelowna Art Gallery; follow her progress over the course of the remaining four weeks to see what she discovers. - Jennifer Smith
Jennifer Smith is learning to draw at the Kelowna Art Gallery; follow her progress over the course of the remaining four weeks to see what she discovers.
— image credit: Jennifer Smith

There was a time when at maximum frustration, temper raging, tears flying with no one understanding your perspective, most of us could calm down with a pad of paper and good green crayon.

Or I know I could.

Pull out a pack of Crayolas around the average two year old and you'll see what I mean. Once the waterworks subside, the interest piques and the table, the floor, your bills, whatever happens to slide within reach, will start to look like Joan Miró stopped in for tea.

Jennifer SmithNow that we're adults, very few of us have a deadly battle with our boss or spouse and think: "That's it! I'm pulling out the pencil crayons" (unless there's colouring implements worked into the marketing of your favourite wine).

But how did we get to this point? How does the average adult go from loving the process of making art so much it's one of those safe places to relax and hide from life's problems to totally disregarding that joyful space and thinking, ah, drawing: "I can't."

This is a lot of what I've been thinking about this week as I work through my second week of Drawing for the Absolute Beginner at the Kelowna Art Gallery. After receiving lots of great notes of encouragement, I've come to understand that believing you can't draw is pretty normal. In fact, it was such a prevalent theme, I gave UBCO education professor and artist Sharon McCoubrey a call to find out if there's an academic perspective on how this shift occurs.

In the very early stages of a child's development, a colouring implement is something to scribble with and it's great fun, she said, noting it's critical for a small child's development to colour. It's not until about three years old that the average little one starts to try and make shapes out of those scribbles and it takes another development stage still to start relating those sketches to physical objects—as totally unrealistic as those representations might seem to surrounding adults.

This is the awesome stage where arms come out attached to heads and people just might appear in x-ray vision, the objects on the other side of the room totally visible right through bodies. At this point, kids are less concerned about the representation on the page than art as a form of storytelling and they love it.

Sadly, it doesn't take long for them to progress to a realism stage where an important realization occurs: "Hmmm, the flower pot on my page doesn't look a thing like the one on the table."

Jennifer Smith's cube and box drawingThis was me this week I'm afraid. My sphere and cube exercise found me chasing a styrofoam block around my page like a mad woman as I quickly discovered lines coming out of cube that shouldn't be where they were, but didn't fit in the next position either and would totally destroy my cone if moved them a few inches left.

Ironically, this exercise was called a "still life," though there was nothing still about the geometric tease flitting about my page.

Thankfully, both my art teacher, Rena Warren, and McCoubrey seem to think that with some instruction on perspective and negative space (or the space behind my objects), and concentrated observation I should make progress.

It appears, far more important than getting it right, is believing what you're doing is right enough to want to keep going.

Westside artist Noelle Nadeau had some brilliant advice on this point. Following my first art class, Nadeau sent me a really awesome and encouraging email talking about the importance of desire versus technique.

Her technique is really unique. After converting to Buddhism, she began using water and acrylic paint and rolling the colours around her canvass as she chanted in meditation. The result is really breathtaking and obviously no two works are ever remotely alike.

When I met Nadeau a couple of years ago, she glowed with enthusiasm and seemed to possess perfect knowledge that her work would turn out great, just as it did.

I'm not so sure I see this just yet when I look at my hand drawing—that's a drawing of my hand drawn by hand—but I'm coming around to the idea that it might come together.

And if inspiration is needed, there's always grandma Elizabeth Layton. Layton began drawing the year I was born; she was 68.

On a daily basis, she worked at creating self-portraits that reflected social issues important to her.

Layton was a newspaper person, from a family in news and managing editor of her hometown paper, The Wellsville Globe, according to a website documenting her art and life.

By the time she started drawing she was apparently struggling with bipolar disease and had raised five children alone following a divorce.

Nadeau tipped me to her work by way of a pick-me-up and it's certainly worked.

Jennifer Smith takes a six week learn-to-draw class with artist Rena Warren at the Kelowna Art Gallery and will be providing weekly updates.


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