When I was a small girl, 7 or 8 years old, I made a list of what I didn’t like about grownups, with the intention of reviewing it in later life, so as not to be like that. Sadly, I lost the list somewhere along the way of growing up. However, I still have another similarly intentioned list, begun in 1997, outlining what I should guard against when I got “really old.” (I was 56 at the time.) “Don’t wear pink!” I admonished myself. To which I added in 1998 “Don’t still be working!” and in 1999 “I don’t want to be dissatisfied with my life because I don’t think I’ve done it all.”
Lists of negatives . . . not the best approach to planning one’s “later years,” but, then, envisioning how life is going to play out in retirement is difficult, probably impossible. Too many hours, days, years, too many unknowns. But without doubt, having some idea of what you’d like to “do” when you don’t have to work and thus “have time” would be helpful.
I did have one fixed idea of what I wanted to accomplish in retirement. I wanted to learn to draw. By this I suppose I meant learn to draw realistically and with linear perspective. What I couched in terms of learning a specific skill set was probably just a wistful yearning for some creative outlet, but in my mind, it was the one definitive project I was going to tackle when I retired. I began retirement in 2003 by buying a drawing kit that came with a pad of paper and a fancy box of pencils. And now here I am, 15 years later with a website celebrating the public domain audio books that I’ve recorded!
The impulse to express oneself through drawing or painting, must run deep in the human psyche, because the most popular book I have recorded for LibriVox is Sir Alfred East’s The Art of Landscape Painting in Oil Colour. As of June 2019, it has been viewed on the internet over 257,802 times. I picked East’s book to read because of his perceptive chapters on how to draw and paint.
One of the delights of East’s book are his pencil sketches–which, of course, cannot be seen in an audio recording.
East devotes a chapter to “Pencil Drawing from Nature.” He recommends a pencil with a thick lead and then goes on to say “do not attempt to sharpen it to a point. If you wish to get a thin line, use the edge of the lead. Touch lightly, and in the faintest possible manner, the salient features of the subject, the main contours and position of the masses. This should be the merest suggestion of an outline, and when you are satisfied, draw it in with courage, in big lines, with a firm, bold touch. Do not hesitate. Include only those things which are important, characteristic, and essential.”
East’s almost scriptural description of the drawing pencil and it use brought back to me, in sharp relief, childhood memories of my father. By training an engineer, my father was scrupulous about the care of his pencils, which he sharpened with a pocket knife. He too, favored a flat sided tip, good for drawing lines. I was rebuked if I so much as touched his drafting tools, and to keep me out of his pencil supply, he finally resorted to giving me, once a year, a box of a dozen Turquoise brand HB pencils in my Christmas stocking. There was no asking for more!
Alfred East is a proselytizer for the theory of practice makes perfect. “Never let anything prevent your drawing a little every day. It is necessary discipline . . . One’s hand grows sensitively obedient to the brain, and answers directly to one’s power of observation, like the touch of a musician’s hand upon the keyboard. . . Draw anything, everything. You may do it badly at first. Never mind. In a week or two you will be surprised at the progress you have made.” I like East’s enthusiasm.
Have I learned to draw? Well, no. But I’m not so much bothered anymore by my “failure” in that regard, because I’ve taken up oil painting . . . How this came about is one of those serendipitous changes of direction that can happen when you let them, I guess. In my case, it happened in 2014. I was 10 years into retirement and still hadn’t accomplished my “one” retirement goal. “Better get moving on it, Sue,” I said to myself, ” before it’s too late.” So I thumbed through our local park district’s newsletter with its cheery listing of self-improvement courses: “Lunch Break Yoga,” “Windows PC Troubleshooting,” and, yes, there was what I needed: “Fundamentals of Drawing.” I signed up.
Anyone can imagine what happened next–a call from the instructor. “They got the description all wrong; it’s not a drawing class; it’s an oil painting class.” I still took the class. This early oil, dated March 7, 2015, is one of my very few attempts at realism. At best, it illustrates my fondness for watermelon!
Sir Winston Churchill was another person who slipped, serendipitously, into oil painting as a pastime. I’ve recorded his enthusiastic story, Painting as a Pastime, for LibriVox. Churchill writes “If you need something to occupy your leisure, to divert your mind from the daily round, to illuminate your holidays, do not be too ready to believe that you cannot find what you want here. . . Buy a paint box and have a try.”