Young boys idolize their Fathers, and I am no an exception to this rule. As a matter of fact, I may very well be the epitome of it.
My father is an artist, and by that I mean, he can draw. He can draw really well actually. I’m not sure if that explains, or is the reason for, my love of comic books, cartoons and all things fantasy and fiction. I just know, as a kid, having a dad that could draw all the characters that I loved felt like having a dad with a super power. His talent fed my imagination.
I mean this guy was a real artist, he had a drafting table and everything. You know what a drafting table is right? It’s like a desk that sits at an angle. I think it’s designed so you are not drawing on a completely horizontal surface. Maybe it’s suppose to be easier on your back or something. I don’t know the details. I just know, to this day, you don’t see a guy with a drafting table unless he knows what he’s doing.
I remember I use to watch him draw. What comes to mind at this particular moment, is a very specific memory of him drawing a picture of Spider-Man. Now what was distinctive about watching my father work was where and how he began the picture. He would never start where you would expect, at least not where I would expect. When I would try to draw, I would always start with something simple and predictable, like the head. I would build everything around that, often times, lopsided circle. Not him though. My dad would start with the brow. I mean seriously, he’s drawing a picture of Spider-Man and he starts with the brow. Not eyes mind you, and not even the eye brows, the brow. The section of your facial structure that’s kind of, but then not kind of, part of your skull. The part of your face, that even though you don’t realize it, portrays a very large portion of your face’s emotional expressions. It’s an integral part of your non-verbal communication cues. An inarguably vital key to your body language. But you would never make that connection… unless you were an artist.
My dad made connections like that. He’d start a Spider-Man picture at the brow and then work his way out from there. He’d start at some place random and off-center and work his way out, into a larger image, into a bigger picture. I would watch him draw, peer over his shoulder and judge his work.
“That doesn’t look like Spider-Man.” I’d say at the tightly curved lines of an in-discernible brow.
“Be patient, be patient…” He’d respond, bobbing his head while still moving his pencil gracefully across the paper. His eyes never leaving the task at hand. A man of focus. “It’ll all come together soon enough.” he would assure me.
But I didn’t see it. It didn’t look like any Spider-Man I had ever seen, didn’t look like the image of Spider-Man that I had in my head. What I didn’t realize at the time however, is that my father also had an image in his head. He had his own image of Spider-Man. He had a vision of his end goal. A starting point from which to begin and a road map to get himself to his intended destination. And it all started with a brow. I, on the other hand, had only an inkling of an idea of what should be, and in my youthful impatience, I jumped to a conclusion. I judged. I doubted.
My dad is a good man, a great father and, as I have stressed, an excellent artist. So of course he was undeterred by my momentary lapse in faith. He just smiled and kept drawing. His hand never stopped moving. His eyes never left the page. His talent, instincts and experience told him he was on the right track. And as a result, he was easily able to proceed with confidence, even though I was getting worried. As he continued his work and I continued to watch, more and more of the image would take form. Lines and shapes that seemed obscure at first, would come into focus. Parts of the picture that were previously unclear would gradually become recognizable. Slowly I begin to see the bigger picture. And as if watching a magician wave his hand and shout “Voilà!”… like magic, Spider-Man appeared.
I used to want to draw, I still do actually, and for a while I did. Never got as good as my old man though. Which is fine with me, to be honest, I don’t think I ever really expected to become better than him at drawing. Still, my father taught me something by simply letting me watch him draw. And oddly, the things he taught me, are lessons that apply directly to my writing. He taught me to stay diligent, to focus on my vision and to see it through. He taught me that the picture is not always clear for the bystander or the onlooker, but as long as I can see the image in my head, then with patience it’ll come into focus for everyone else soon enough.
He taught me that most people will not understand your art in the midst of its creation but when you get closer and closer to your end goal, what you were drafting all along will become clear, and when they see it, their jaws will drop, their eyes will widen and they will be in awe of the magic you made with your talent and your skill.
He taught me that the process is not for everyone else to understand, but as long as I understand, and as long as I keep working, keep my eyes on the page and my hand on the paper, that every thing will come together as it should. My father has taught me a ton of things in this life but one lesson that I will always treasure is the time he taught me to be an artist.
*Note to self: I gotta get me a drafting table…