After stepping into our first day of drawing in this class, I was mortified. I was late, struggling to keep a hold of my board and my drawing pad and my supplies, and everyone else was already huddled over their boards, scribbling away. I looked sheepishly at the professor, who told me to go ahead and sit down and just start drawing. As I looked for a seat, I dared to peek at what one of the other students had done so far. Bad idea; they actually knew how to draw, and as I made my way to an empty seat I could feel my face flushing. Wasn’t this an introductory drawing class? Didn’t I ask that before I signed up? Am I in the right place? Good Lord, what have I done? All of these thoughts were flew through my head at lightning speed as I fumbled with my board, trying to figure out how to orient it correctly without making a bigger fool out of myself. Once I got it upright, with the paper and the pencils out and in a good position to start, I just sat there for a good while, alternatively staring at either the mishmash of stools and mannequin parts in the middle of the room (that we were supposed to be drawing) or at the blank paper in front of me. I’m a computer science major, the last time I took an art class was in elementary school, and I’m just supposed to sit down and start drawing? Like everyone else had somehow managed to do? After sixteen years of schooling, that was the most unprepared I have ever felt in an academic environment.
Obviously, looking back on that day now, it was nowhere near as terrifying as it was in my head, and I’m 99% sure no one else noticed my extreme embarrassment. After about fifteen minutes of just sitting there, I did end up sketching something resembling the arrangement of items in the middle of the room. I was even proud of myself for a week or two there, as we worked on our line-drawings. The idea of different line weights unsettled me a bit, but I was still following the lessons and feeling confident. When we started shading, however, I was thrown off entirely; while putting together my portfolio, I noticed my “shading” drawing from that lesson, and I cringed. I legitimately did not understand how to make the shading on the items translate into something I could represent on paper with just graphite or charcoal. I really liked the negative space drawing because there was no shading, and even though we only had a week with that, I enjoyed that lesson very much. Even though I still had no idea how to shade, negative space drawing reminded me that I wasn’t bad at drawing, per se, but still just learning.
Things started to make sense again with the idea of subtractive drawing, and I started to get the hang of using an eraser to take away value (rather than trying to add it all on with the right weight at one time). I could only figure out how to do this with charcoal, so that became my medium of choice. One of my favorite pieces I did this semester was our first perspective piece, which I did in charcoal with an ungodly amount of erasing. By the time I had completed that drawing, my fingers were blistered from erasing so much and my putty eraser had turned from light gray to black. That was the first time I was legitimately proud of what I had done; the drawing took me a good week and a half to complete, but it actually felt like a completed drawing, and I could literally see the improvement from my first couple of drawings. The next assignment, the photo-insertion piece, was my first foray back into graphite after working almost exclusively with charcoal for a month or so, and I struggled to get the same range of values. I surprised myself, and I was again quite proud of my piece.
Our final drawing (which I’m still tweaking as I write this) was our fictional narrative piece; I chose to do an imagination of Doctor Who, a popular British science fiction show, as the subject, but because I was so emotionally invested in the content, I was quite unhappy with most of the ideas I initially came up with. This was the first drawing where I expected it to be good, rather than just hoping, which actually led to some frustration on my part. I eventually settled on the idea of the Doctor surrounded by Weeping Angels, which in essence are statues that come to life when no one is looking; this idea made sense to me given Duke’s gothic architecture and prevalence of gargoyles and statues around campus. As I drew, I fell in love with this idea, and I think I became so focused on the narrative that I lost a little bit of focus on the rest of the drawing. Professor Fick pointed this out in class, and in another first, I was actually sad that he didn’t like it as much as I did. Somehow, over the course of a semester, I went from being terrified of picking up a pencil to instead being so emotionally invested in one of my drawings that I was offended when someone else didn’t like it. Through this class, I improved my ability to draw as well as my confidence in my drawings, and the latter is as impressive to me as the former.
I’ve enjoyed this class immensely; it’s made me incredibly proud, frustrated and panicked (at different times, for the most part), and it has also taught me patience and perseverance in a field that I thought I had no business being in. I am very thankful for this experience.
- Jenni Mercado
- Jenni Mercado