Once I finally got my head together, the rest of the basil drawing happened almost effortlessly.
The string technique is a very left-brained way of understanding an object visually. It was helpful for me in demystifying realistic drawing, and it was amazing for figuring out relative sizes and distances among the leaves, and especially the angles in the pot and the stems. However, when it came time to draw the edges of the leaves, I found myself using a combination of the string technique and modified contour drawing. I’d figure out the angles of a leaf (or a cluster of leaves, if it made more sense to draw a few together) and mark those lines, then redraw it while focusing intently on the edges of the leaves, checking occasionally to confirm that my edges fit together and made visual sense.
Friday’s session of studying the basil without drawing anything paid off today. There was a part of me that was concerned that trying to see the basil was a class-related form of procrastination that would doom this project. Today, when I needed to see the leaves as they are, I had a foundation of understanding to build on.
It only took two more hours of drawing to get from stems to a full plant, but making them come in was a pleasure.
It’s strange to realize this, but I have spent more time drawing the basil and the chair than I’ve spent on any other drawing in my life. I’ve spent about 11 hours on the chair and 10 on the basil. That’s very nearly a full day of my life over the course of the past week. I never imagined that I could spend this much time drawing such simple objects and continue to learn about them and improve them. I’ve always treated drawing as something I do quickly for light entertainment, and it does feel almost frivolous to spend such a large block of time on it. I know that art takes time, but I feel as though only Serious Art is allowed to take more than an hour. However, I know that a major part of my process in developing visual thinking skills is to start taking myself seriously as an artist.
There’s a certain element of detachment involved in my previous efforts at art. If I never put this much time into a piece, if I never seemed to take it seriously, surely no one would notice or care that I’m not very skilled, because I wasn’t really trying. I was a little embarrassed that I didn’t draw well, but I felt like that was okay, as long as I didn’t obviously care. There are so many things in life that I’ve managed to avoid learning because I thought that the struggle would be embarrassing. It’s only since I’ve realized that Aristotle disapproves of my avoidance and I can improve at things I find initially difficult that I’ve been willing to grapple with things like cooking, dancing, and drawing. I’m not embarrassed at my efforts anymore. I’m proud.
It’s hard to get started, but everything worth doing well requires practice: days of it. Years of it.