My mom told me I learned my color wheel before I learned my ABCs. It surprises me now how I struggle to use color in my work now. In a high school art class, we had to draw a scene and then paint it. I loved my pencil drawing. It was of my best friend and I sitting on a bench outside the school cafeteria, and a boy I liked standing nearby. I think he held a box of M&Ms, which we were forever selling for some fundraiser or another.
I didn’t want to paint over the pencil. The art teacher insisted. That was the lesson. I’d get a failing grade if I didn’t finish the assignment.
So, I did my best. And I hated the results. The teacher came by to see my work. She looked over my shoulder, and I complained about the first and only face I’d painted at that point. She picked up a brush and said, “You do this.” Like magic, a lovely face appeared under her brush. Then she walked away and I had no idea what she’d done. I stared at the painting both in awe and frustrated.
My faces were badly done and the colors were heavy and dull. That’s when I decided, at 17, I couldn’t draw faces and I couldn’t paint. And since I never took another art class, nothing happened to change my mind.
This high school class was an AP art class, so we had to photograph our art and send slides (Yes, slides! It was the 80s.) to ETS in Princeton. As it was explained to me, a score of 5 was rare and exceptional. A score of 1 was only for people who didn’t turn in their images or otherwise screwed up their portfolio. The teacher told us to expect scores between 2 and 4. Four was great. Three was okay. Two was, well, at least you tried.
Two girls in the class received 5s.
I received a 2.
I know I’ve written about this before. And I still don’t draw realistic faces. I still don’t paint. I’ll use digital color, but that feels like ink, not paint, and light effects can be added.
I don’t believe my teenage art was great and the adults just didn’t “get it.” I lacked certain skills and I still lack certain skills. For me, the point isn’t they should’ve given me a higher score.
The point has more to do with not letting scores or judgement stop you. Maybe you haven’t mastered a particular skill. You can learn. You can improve.
I’d seen how my mom could draw when she was 17. Oh my heart. She had skills. And I saw how clumsy my efforts were at 17 and decided, well, I should do other things.
But I love writing and telling stories too. (And I never submitted a story to ETS at Princeton, which probably helped.)
In any event, if you want to make art or tell stories, then do! Keep learning. Keep creating. Someone is going to give you that 5.
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Thanks for reading.