Drawing What You See


“Draw what you see. Not what you think you see.”

Pencil. Stopped. Brain. Jammed. Aw, hell.

I’m drawing “an apple.” I know what an apple is. I’ve been hanging out with apples for decades. But this thing on my paper looks nothing like the shape in front of me. What I want to draw is this apple, but my brain! My brain is full of “what apples should be” and “what apples have been.”

When my friend, the art teacher, came over to share some wisdom with me to support my drawing hobby, another exercise in watching my mind arrived. The laziness of familiarity was making it impossible to simply draw what was in front of me. What I’d been drawing was not intended to be impressionistic or suggestive of shape or form. I was trying to draw things and have them show up on my paper in a way that would leave no doubt in any viewer’s mind about the object.

But I wasn’t seeing the object. I didn’t need that “model” in front of me at all. I could have been in a windowless, fruitless room for all the attention I was paying to the apple in front of me.

As a parent, I continually remind myself that my job is at least as much about discovering who my son is as it is about shaping him. He’s already a person. He’s this person. The one in front of me. Stop. Wait. Who is this person?

“Remember,” I tell myself. He’s not “10 year-old boys” or “the son of an athlete” or “just like his Uncle Chip.” The labels and shapes I unconsciously apply to him make my view not only smaller, but also just plain wrong.

Arguing with reality is delusion. Plain and simple. Any modicum of “success” at my job as a parent, as a boss, as a partner is predicated on my ability to notice how dissatisfied I am with the discord between my stories and the reality about which I say I’m telling them and then to see what’s real.

“That’s not how apples look, dammit!”

Back to the drawing board then.

Applying the new instruction, I crumple the copyrighted “apple” sketch and start again. This. Apple. This one right here.

After some brief wailing and gnashing, it turns out it’s easier to draw what’s in front of me. What I see. I let the thing tell me its shape. It showed me right where the light was hitting it. I didn’t have to guess where the shadow fell beneath it. There was no math involved. No dissatisfaction or disconnect between my story and this apple just being an apple. See and follow.