When I was younger, I wanted to be an artist because I wanted to add flowing lines and shapes to blank pages, filling them with something my hand and eye deemed aesthetically pleasing. I observed and understood landscapes, objects and the bright neon shades of candy bar wrappers I liked to crumble and interpret in pastel and pencil.
There as nothing more resplendent and soothing to walk a single line across a creamy white page, letting it explore and better understand the big wide world. And then when I learned what the word “perfection” meant, I lost some of this childlike curiosity with creation; my shapes were suddenly misinterpreted and lost by everyone, and it mattered. So I started to draw portraits instead. I’d look for celebrities and long-gone icons to try and sketch in charcoal and to mold with oil paint, never satisfied, never happy with the outcome. Their faces would be asymmetrical, you see, and I couldn’t look them in the eye any more than I could my own reflection in the mirror, for I failed to render that in pen and ink too. Or charcoal. Or crayon, which I chose to avoid like the plague since the day I moved to that city alone.
I stopped drawing for a long time, because it was easier to spend time in the open air, moving, never pausing, filling my head with too much irrelevant sound and my body with unnecessary distractions. Then I picked up a camera and everything tilted. My eye could see and my hand manipulate, and everyone was happy with the work I produced, despite a nagging chill that failed to leave my extremities. I was always cold, even though living here brought better temperatures and fairer weather than places I’d lived in the past.
Over time, the camera brought the sun back to my limbs and wind to my hair and my toes were a little warmer, most of the time. Then we sat that one night in front of a roaring fireplace and tumblers full of whiskey. It could have been a pub in the Scottish highlands, or a house on windswept moors, but this was an ordinary location in an ordinary city. And on that one night with a new radiance I’d not encountered before, ever, we debated the merits of chiaroscuro and my fingers itched to reach for a piece of charcoal, a smooth, open page. I had sensation in each and every digit, something I sensed from within and without and somewhere I could not describe. I almost wanted to buy an entire sketchbook, that evening, but before I voiced my desire you produced one from your bag and presented it to me. On the very last page you’d already sketched something abstract and light yourself, signing and dating the image. I knew to look there before scanning the other pages. You knew that I would.
I spent a few weeks taking old art materials out of storage; some I had to throw away because I had abused them too much in fits of furious frenzy, when I finished another bottle of wine, or couldn’t understand why I would – and could – never warm up. Then I found an unopened box of pastels and called you to explain this phenomenon; somehow they remained intact after all this time. They were a gift, I said, from my past to present self, and so I honored the premonition I had way back then and sat down with the new sketchbook. I drew circles, I drew vivid lines, I drew shapes I had no way to name for they all came to me with ease and a new, better understanding of light and shadow. The next time we sat together, I didn’t feel the fireplace’s heat, and I let your hand guide mine as your creativity embellished my drawings. That evening you showed me your dreamy canvases, smooth, clear sketches and shining pen and ink images, and I knew just where it was right to include color you had missed or why you thought to copy that Picasso.
Then I brought you to the oversized canvas I’d found on Craigslist, of all places, and smiled at your surprise and relaxation when you saw I’d set up a selection of paints, crayons, pastels and markers in every color imaginable. You handed me a color. We knew then that we could draw the world.
“I didn’t need these things. I didn’t need them.”