All I've ever done is doodled. I am not an artist in terms of drawing and painting. I strive to be an artist at writing, with mixed success. With drawing and painting, I don’t try so hard.
Whatever I say about art, Ms Keogh, my cherished companion, is likely to disagree. She will eagerly interrupt and mention that I don’t have the authority to speak about art. After all, unlike her, I did not graduate from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
I assumed everybody doodled. Admittedly, I do it more than most. Ms Keogh says not everybody doodles. Well, maybe not as adults, but didn’t everybody do it at least during their childhood? “NO! No, no, no,” says Ms Keogh.
I draw because it’s fun. “I was told in school,” says Ms Keogh, “that art was not supposed to be fun. If you’re doing it right, it is hard work.”
A curious thing; composing this essay about drawing has brought back a memory. It is the earliest drawing I can remember producing. It was in school, the first grade, when my family lived in a suburb of Wilmington, Delaware. I was six years old and we had a session of drawing in class. I remember what I drew. It was a horse. Not just any horse. It was a golden brown palomino with yellow mane and a flourishing yellow tail. It was, of course, Trigger, cowboy Roy Rogers’ companion. “I thought Dale Evans was his companion,” inserts Ms Keogh. I drew Trigger because it was fun; why else would a child draw?
My sister, Bette, six years older than me, has a memory from the same time in our lives. My parents had a three-bedroom house in Delaware, so Bette and I had our own bedrooms. She remembers coming into my bedroom and finding the walls of my room had become my canvas. She claims she was astounded. Although she admired my murals, my mother went apoplectic. She had the walls repainted.
Painting on the walls is only human, from the Sistine Chapel to the Lascaux Cave. Where did cavemen practice until they were good enough to paint the walls of their caves? To my eyes, the works on cave walls are evidence of a practiced hand using formulated colors that weren’t just discovered on the spot. Where did cavemen rehearse their skill? What was their equivalent to our sketchbooks? Again, Ms Keogh disagrees. She sees no reason some cavemen weren’t born with the talent and went directly to the cave walls during long periods of boredom.
Still, I think I was a typical eight-year-old boy, drawing B-17s (the Flying Fortress) and battleships. “No,” again remarks Ms Keogh. Until this writing, I never considered otherwise. However, when I was a ten-years-old, my father revealed that he had studied a little art in college. He taught me to draw perspective and had me sketching endless cones, boxes, and spheres to understand the way light falls on an object and to give it three dimensions. My father also taught me how to begin a portrait by first drawing an egg shape, then placing eyes, ears, and nose in accordance with proportions and ratios. I never got the hang of the egg.
When I was twelve, our sixth grade music teacher gave very exacting instructions to the class to put down pencils and pens and pay attention to The Nutcracker Suite. Mrs Getz saw me drawing despite her command. When she reached my desk to put a stop to it, the suite was at the Chinese Dance. She found me immersed in drawing the dancing mushrooms from Disney’s Fantasia. She allowed me to continue uninterrupted. Perhaps the only reason I remember this is because she told my mother and I have heard my mother repeat the story a thousand times. “Your mother saved that picture. I’ve seen it,” Ms Keogh just informed me.
I believe to be an artist you need only a modicum of talent, but a great deal of motivation. I have a restricted amount of motivation. I am not a sketch artist or painter. Maybe I was supposed to be – if only I had more confidence in my ability. Would my life have taken a different trajectory if my mother admired what I had done on the bedroom walls rather than perceive them as damaged and reacting hysterically? Well, I lack sufficient desire and adequate patience to be an artist.
Whenever I leave the apartment, I carry a carnet. Carnet? In the introduction to his wonderful book, From the Sketchbooks of the Great Artists, Claude Marks writes, “It is not always easy to distinguish between the sketchbook and the notebook. The French word carnet covers both.” I sometimes carry in my hand an octavo-size carnet in a zippered leather binder. That binder is now 25 years old. But when I’m not carrying it, I will then always have on my person a pocket-size carnet, these days that being the Leuchtturm1917 (A6) with army green cover. I fear being inspired and not having someplace to write, but the carnets also contain my silly drawings.
It is the silly drawings that George Simmers, Snakeskin’s editor and publisher, became interested in. It began during the time Ms Keogh and I were stuck for eight months in the USA. I decorated a blank Fabriano Medioevalis notecard with the image of a reading raven to send to a friend and in-law in Cardiff. Then I did another reading animal, and another, until I had a growing series. These I scanned and shared with George. Whether he was inspired by my drawings or they coincided with ideas already in his head, he saw the chance to collaborate. He also requested that I create additional reading animal images for which he had poems so he might publish the poems and pictures in a book. The book becomes available this month.
Ms Keogh laughed, “Maybe you’ll become better known as an illustrator than a writer.” For all her training, I have produced more drawings than Ms Keogh. Maybe she’ll become better known as the wife of a celebrated illustrator.
Selected Suburban Soliloquies, the best of Mr Bentzman's earlier series of Snakeskin essays, is available as a book or as an ebook, from Amazon and elsewhere.