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Drawing Pictures of Dogs

 

When I was in graduate school for fiction writing, one of my teachers complained that my work was too “heady” and not placed enough in down to earth details. She wanted descriptions of rooms, clothing, weather, anything to make it more believable that these scenes were happening somewhere outside of my loopy brain.

I had a lot of respect for that teacher, so during the summer I signed up for a local adult education class in drawing. I had hopes that I would immediately be able to capture scenes and squeeze depths of emotion from stale memories. I would suddenly understand color and shading, and line and texture, and I could design the clothes I always wanted to wear, and draw complicated murals on my walls.

The adult education art teacher was a little bit ethereal and not quite as down to earth as I’d hoped. Even her white hair seemed to be reaching up to the sky, unwilling to stay tacked down with barrettes. But I bought my supplies anyway: pencils and chalk and paper and erasers. I sat in the classroom and listened to lectures about shading, and perspective, and complementary colors. It was all a struggle, though. I had to push myself to go to class, and push myself to practice at home. My brain resisted each lesson with a ferocity I had not expected.

After six weeks of drawing lessons, it was time to move on to painting. I thought I would be excited, instead I was tense and short tempered when Mom and I went to the art store and scoured the aisles for all of the new items on the syllabus. I was uncomfortable with all of the money I was spending on supplies, but that did not really explain the panic rising up in me.

The night of the next class, Mom had to drive me, because otherwise I would not have been able to even start the car. The bag of art supplies felt like heavy bricks, and the school building cast a shadow like a haunted castle. When I reached the door of the classroom, where I’d safely entered six times before, I could not go in. I could barely even breathe. My body felt like it was filled with poison darts. I raced out of the building to the safety of the car and I couldn’t explain any of it to Mom as she dutifully drove me home. I couldn’t even tolerate keeping the paints – it all had to go back to the store. I never went back to the class.

I spent the rest of the summer working on the revisions for my novel, and deepening and dressing up the interior of the scenes as best I could, but I felt sick, and guilty, for having failed, inexplicably, to finish the adult education class.

I am prone to panic. Usually, if I feel twinges of that whirlwind going off in my head, it’s a sign that something is buried in that particular corner of my brain that needs to be excavated. Over the years I’ve been able to excavate a lot of those corners and draw off the panic, but certain land mines remain potent, and unexplained, no matter how many times I’ve tried to clean them out. And painting is one of those land mines. Maybe it’s just that I’m not talented in this particular area and, being a perfectionist, I hate that. Or maybe there’s something deeper and I’m not ready to see it yet. I don’t know.

I would love to be able to paint a picture of Butterfly’s eyes, and capture her moods more thoroughly than I can manage with a camera. I want to put Cricket down on paper, though she’s unlikely to actually stay there.

Butterfly's eyes speak volumes.

Butterfly’s eyes speak volumes.

Cricket is a blur.

Cricket is a blur.

I spent a lot of time last year just coloring, with pencils, working on a brain coloring book because it made me feel slightly less silly than the Little Mermaid coloring book I really wanted. Maybe what I should really do is print out pictures of Cricket and Butterfly in black and white and try to color them in. Cricket would look great in orange, with a blue Mohawk. And Butterfly could really come to life with a few touches of pink!

My coloring book.

My coloring book.

Cricket!

Cricket!

Butterfly!

Butterfly!

Maybe drawing pictures of the dogs would be a safe place to start.

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

91 responses »

  1. ramblingsofaperforatedmind

    You should start with Zen tangles! But the dogs would be lovely….

    Reply
  2. If it is any consolation, I’ve been painting for over 30 years and I am still uneasy about it. However, my efforts to give it up have been dismal failures. I have to paint and painting is difficult. C’est la vie.

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  3. I really like the line “prone to panic.”

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  4. There’s a book you likely already heard of: Drawing From the Right Side of the Brain. I tried to draw a westie I had years ago. Capturing who she was and what she looked like, together, was too much for me!

    Reply
  5. Sometimes when I am singing a loud song with my voice teacher, I get unaccountably nervous and unable to sing. Putting our voice or vision Out There is scary. Thanks to my Very Patient Voice Teacher (and Idina Menzel and John Denver) I am no longer having this problem so much. I think drawing the dogs is a great idea. They are going to love you now matter how it comes out!

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  6. I could feel your anxiety from the page, I get that because for me drawing in a structured setting is stressful and not at all relaxing or freeing. My best moments with art were always sitting at the bar at my father’s restaurant tracing the mouth of of large wineglass onto a bar napkin and filling in the circle with random cirlicues and fanciful flights of lines swerving and dancing within the circle. Maybe sitting at home with the girls and letting your pencils be your guide would be so much more fun and relaxing than any formal lessons could ever be. 🙂

    Reply
  7. I struggle with my ability to be the artist I see in my mind. I didn’t finish my first art class because I could understand the color wheel still don’t. I started last year with zen tangle and I loved it but now I think about it too much and they are not as good. Today I attended my Urban Sketches group and I struggle with putting on paper what my eyes see. I will continue.

    Btw- your two dogs look like my Mia and Tanner. Are they Maltese Poodles? They are so cute. Thanks for sharing your story .

    Reply
  8. Perhaps instead of trying to draw or paint a dog, you could focus on the individual components of the dog. Try drawing an ear. Most people I have known who have had trouble with drawing have quite simply not drawn what they saw …. instead they have drawn what they believe is there. A child drawing a landscape is a typical example. The blue sky is at the top of the page, the green grass at the bottom, and nothing in between! Try drawing the dog’s nose, or a paw etc. etc. When you are happy that the drawings are representative, then would be a good time to try and draw the complete dog. Like everything else in life ……… be patient and persevere. All the best.

    Reply
    • Maybe I could draw the pieces and then put them together like a jigsaw puzzle. There just the problem that these dogs are gonna move a few thousand times before I get all of the pieces drawn.

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      • I really don’t think that the jigsaw puzzle concept would work! Waiting until they are asleep seems practical. Eventually you should be able to draw with the dog moving, or without him/her being there. Unfortunately, you’ve got to start at basics 🙂

  9. teachers are the ruination of so many of us, aren’t they? I’m glad you didn’t go to that art class, Rachel. Your body was telling you something! I smile every time I see a picture of Cricket and Butterfly. Some things cannot be captured by photos or paint. When I close my eyes, I can still see Muffin and Daisy running through the house when the door bell rang. For me, that’s the best.

    Reply
  10. You are right. Cricket would not stay on paper. It might be safer to start with Butterfly, one eye at the time. I wouldn’t enjoy learning art that way either, to me it has to be something that flows from the inside…not so beautiful to start with, but with practice…

    Reply
  11. Rachel Do the following exercise for me. Instead of beautifully capturing in your writing the things you aren’t good at or haven’t been successful at or have trouble with, do a post highlighting one of your many talents. You have lots of talent and wonderful qualities so you have more than enough to choose from. Happy Valentine’s Day.

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  12. I love your description of the art teacher’s hair!

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  13. Your words paint a wonder-filled world complete with mohawks and blue hair. I gave up trying to paint actual things years ago and simply call my art abstract mixed media. And I love to color to, I’ve finished most of the human anatomy coloring book, at least the bits I like.

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  14. Another well written piece! I find a bit of distance between myself and what you’ve written here (and with your piece on music). I have always had a bit of natural talent when it comes to art and music, so I think everyone can do it with ease. It’s interesting to hear that you’ve struggled in those areas. And yet, you are such a gifted writer! Creativity flows within you and just needs to be refocused in different directions (the eyes and fingers mainly ;-)). And there are no failures in either area by the way…an exact likeness can become a brilliant piece of “abstract art” if you like…and consonance can easily become dissonance (which often makes a much more impactful statement anyway). Don’t give up!

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  15. I understand. I entered an art class years ago. I went to (2) classes and never went back. I can photograph but, I lack talent in drawing. Maybe there is a key. We have not found it. 🙂

    Reply
  16. Most folks compliment me about my painting and beg for more. So far I’ve done several walls, a ceiling and the exterior of a small shed, in high gloss enamel no less, but I think I have much more inside me just waiting to burst through.

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  17. Rachel, we are lucky that this happened in regard to the painting classes, and not with your writing sessions. You write so well! Thanks much!

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  18. I’m not sure if your teacher was right about descriptive scenes! I find myself skimming when I come across long sections of description. I must have unconsciously known I do, because a common critique of my writing is that I don’t spend much time describing things and hence almost every reader has her own image of the places and even looks of the characters. Words are meant to invoke imagery – you shouldn’t be laying it all out with no room for movement!
    Perhaps you would be good at abstract paintings! I imagine it would be full of pink tongues and whirling shapes of white fluff and happy little button eyes!

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  19. Making art of any form of someone or something you love is best, for that is where you get inspiration which engages your heart. Give it a go. My favourite drawings have all been of those I love.

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  20. my only talent is spent with my elders, yours is loving your pawbabies that is perfect in my eyes

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  21. I can relate to your panic! I love to doodle cartoons, but any attempt at serious drawing brings up resistance in me – and don’t even get me started on painting! A few years ago I bought Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain and all the equipment it suggested, and I still got in a panicked rage every time I tried to follow the instructions. I ended up giving most of the equipment to an arts and crafts project in Africa.
    Incidentally, my art teacher in school was a b***h. Could be a connection there!

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  22. I couldn’t get to grips with art at all, and my photographs are all more luck than judgement. I was a perfectionist to a degree with my music, but not necessarily to the original score, just my interpretation. You are right about dogs though. Their faces can be very expressive.

    Reply
  23. I want those dogs! My birthday is rapidly approaching – can I have ’em? 😀

    Seriously, they are some endearing dogs, and your photographs always manage to make me grin.

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  24. I don’t think that the skills for describing something verbally and painting it are the same. Waste of time.

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  25. I am constantly being told how ‘creative’ I am. I do not feel creative. Even within the things that I am very competent in, like training horses, instructing, healing,animal communication,writing etc start to feel like work or some sort of external/internal expectations instead of joy. The thought of painting horrifies me and I used to be pretty good at drawing. I think that these blocks that hold us down, can be worked through; but you do have to have that safe place to start; honoring ourselves, being good to ourselves, as we work through the process.
    .

    Reply
  26. Dogs are always a safe place to start. If it’s any consolation, I always felt like running from art class, and I am a designer… I still have a hard time sketching it down and coloring it in. I know what it looks like, exactly though, in my head!

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  27. That last pic tho! Ack! My heart explodedM

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  28. These lhasa apsoes look sooo damn adorable!!!

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  29. Cricket & Butterfly would make lovely piece of beauty..some handsome art for sure!!give it a try for real..ur gonna hv fun!!!!

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  30. Reblogged this on poumukherjee and commented:
    My Overpowering Lhasa Love is pictured while I REBLOGGED this without even reading this, though I later read it … M so fond of this breed of canine that I STRONGLY resent calling it a Dog..ITS a precious endearing creature that would be in my abode someday apart from just 3D wallpapers OR MY desktop of this darling animal running amidst some purple orchids!

    Reply
  31. I am an artist and find art supply stores a little bit of heaven on earth (except the prices). But maybe art is not for everyone. I would love to write like you do. Whether you are writing, or photographing, or drawing, the dogs are always a great place to start. They don’t care if they look like a blur or are orange. They still think you are the greatest thing on earth. Relish that.

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  32. I ‘dabble’ at all the arts – except music and that’s the one where. like you, I started a class as a youth and I could NOT even finish it. I’d love to play the piano and/or the guitar and have people swoon with the beauty of the sound. I realize the reality is that I’d have to practice for YEARS to get to that point, because I am not musically gifted. So I limit myself to singing in my church choir (the director is very forgiving) and to myself in the shower and along with the radio; BUT I am working up to approaching a teacher here and seeing if now, with age, I can handle the required structure of practice and being frustrated at only being able to play something like “The Little Caterpillar” when I want to blow out Mozart or Beethoven with little effort. 😀 … I LOVE painting and I also suck at it, but I have done one picture that I kept for myself and that is in my bedroom where only I have to look at it. AND the thing I was going to suggest to you (before I derailed this comment with me me me) was that there are computer based programs for photographs that you could use to turn your babies into the rainbows you see them as, and it’s not hard to learn how to do at all. I hope you do find out why painting freaks you out, but perhaps as you age the terror of it will lessen and you’ll be able to pick up a brush and dive in. Or maybe you’ll still be wowing us with your blogs and that’s where you’re supposed to be!

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  33. I’ve had that kind of panic before. So unpleasant.

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  34. I know what you mean when you say your professor asked you to keep the details down to earth. But actually I like experiments with language and setting, or long monologues, (thinking Lawrence Durrell here,) and dont care for redundant dialogue unless it is some popular fiction I am killing time with. Where can I read your work? I would be glad to read some.

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  35. I have the same fear of drawing – I encourage you to pursue photography. Less room for error once you begin Picasa.

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  36. I saw some “grown up” colouring books the other week. Maybe at the art gallery in Sydney. I didn’t get one because they were kind of pricey, but I wish I had!

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  37. thesproutinggourmet

    I am prone to panic as well. I’ve always loved the idea of writing, but have found myself unable to do so. I stare at a blank screen afraid to put words to my thoughts. Why? I’m really not sure, maybe deep down I feel I’m not good enough to write, or maybe no one cares what I have to say. All I know is that I have a strong desire to write, but I need to break down that wall in my mind.

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    • I’ve met so many people who struggle with writing because they think every word they write has to be brilliant (kind of like how I feel about drawing). For some reason, with writing, I feel really comfortable with editing, and therefore, really comfortable just writing nonsense for as many pages as it takes to get to something good. Whereas when I’m trying to draw, I feel like someone is watching over my shoulder and judging every move I make. Very strange.

      Reply
  38. I really enjoyed this post and found it interesting, Rachel. I have always done art and once painted my way out of a serious depression. I can understand both the tension of learning a new skill set, since i teach, but also how art is connected with therapy. I think you are very perceptive in connecting the pursuit of art to going into those corners. I hope a point will come where you can pick up a pencil and pad and give sketching the dogs a shot without expectations or anxiety,just because you want to. Life’s too short to do things we don’t enjoy.

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  39. Rachel, First, thank you for liking so many of my posts/drawings—most recently “Candy Marie.” I really appreciate it. As you know I draw dogs so I was interested by the title of your post. I just want to say that when I am drawing I am not really thinking about drawing. I find the act of making marks, which is how I like to think of drawing, a calming and meditative practice. It is all practice for me.

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  40. I’d love to be able to paint well enough to capture the expression in our little dog’s eyes, too. Anyway, your photography is really good, so maybe no need for regret.
    By the way, I’ve tweeted this post and three others. Best wishes.

    Reply
  41. Oh Rachel 🙂 I SOOO understand your feelings of panic. We suppress many things in this marvelous brain of ours, only to have then fly free at times like magical butterflies. I am still “peeling the onion”, all the layers with which I have covered myself over with to keep my little self safe. So many layers… Thank you for this lovely post, and for liking my silly post …

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  42. Fantastic post (I could feel the tension about the art class!), and your dogs are adorable. I really enjoyed this.

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  43. It looks like you already have plenty of sage advice and support. I can be an artist, but I haven’t taken an art class since I got a D in art after attempting to recreate a winding river in water color in middle school. I hated that teacher. I at least deserved a C as watercolor is a PITA. Some people are willing to wait for paint to dry to tell you what it will do. I am not. However, I have found that when words don’t work for me, I bought a five dollar sketch pad and a five to ten dollar box of colored pencils(I’ve always been a little obsessed with colored pencils), and I simply let myself sketch, no matter how weird it came out. I let the the paper and the pencils tell me what it wanted to be, but it often spoke as I put color to paper. I allow my brain to decide my coloring book. I have ventured into acrylic painting, and my ex-husband even “stole” one of my favorite paintings. But its never been anything fantastic. You don’t have to know the why, ever. But you may find some other talent or technique that works for you. Perhaps you’ll recreate miniature scale models out of yarn-wrapped plastic baby blocks or something else like that. Find something you enjoy, then work with it! Or, you could just learn Photoshop;-) or whatever program their using now, to give the puppies an orange and blue mohawk.

    Reply
  44. lisalday111711

    One of the things I do to relax when I am stressed is color!! Every year for Christmas my husband buys me a new box of crayons, pencils and coloring book and I love my Little Mermaid coloring book!!
    I too have always wanted to draw my dogs. I use to love my germans shepherds that sloped down at the end. They are all so beautiful. But I am not an artist…a writer and a photographer. There is just something so intimate about actually drawing the things you love about a person or a dog…

    Reply

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