Thursday, February 25, 2010

Facing Fear with a Pencil in Hand - ADHD in the Field

A Taste of YesteryearOn September 21st, I took part in my very first Sketchcrawl. Since no one was putting a meet together here in Salt Lake City, I thought I'd try my hand at it. I set the place and set the time, then I went there even though I knew my daughters and I were likely to be the only ones attending.
You have no idea how hard it was for me to do that. I've been lurking on the Sketchcrawl site for three years and never attended a single event. I was too petrified to draw in front of people. I knew my work would be terrible.
I've never been able to draw in front of people. Figure Drawing class at MassArt was a disaster. If I was drawing en plein air, all drawing would come to a stop as soon as somebody came around the corner. Heaven help me if they actually walked over to look at what I was doing. I gave up on public drawing in 1989. I tried again nine years ago, but it was a disaster as well. I just couldn't get into the work.
Yet scenes like the one in the photograph above called to me and begged for artistic expression on paper. As usual, I spent a considerable amount of my life beating myself up over this. As I saw it, I was an artist and I should be able to blast out masterpieces like that Happy Painter Guy without a care in the world.
Sketchcrawl #1Over time, I actually became afraid of the process because my sketches always looked so dreadful. In the studio, I could draw compitently. Outside? Travesty.
When it came time to celebrate the fifth year anniversary of Sketchcrawl, I determined I was going to attend it even if I was reduced to drawing splotches and stick figures.
I watched my daughters take to drawing with fearless enthusiasm. They tackled the largest subject matter like barns and trees and beamed in the joy of simply drawing. They sat in the middle of the walkway and weren't phased by the passing of every family as I was, nor were they distracted by the wind, or the geese flying overhead, or the worker emptying the trashcans, or the passing of clouds across the sun. Where they tackled epic scale drawings, I drew a sluice.
Sketchcrawl #2Then my eleven year old slipped and fell while trying to get to the duck pond. I had to interrupt our session and bring her home. I returned quickly and set about to work again, but ran into pen problems. I had no idea that my pen didn't work outdoors in temps below 50°F. I spent ten minutes or more trying to eke out a line on my paper, licking the nib, shaking it, tapping it, all while being irritated by the photographing families that felt they could take pictures in my subject area as long as they smiled sweetly.
Notice, though, a common thread. There was always something to distract me from actually drawing, even though I thought I was motivated. All my life it has always been one thing or another. Can you imagine my stunned surprise when I realized at that moment that my AD/HD was the root culprit of my inability to draw en plein air? Visual and audio distractions kept me outside of the process. I felt as if my brain fell through the bottom of my skull and landed in my feet. Why hadn't I noticed this before?
I have known for years that I cannot draw unless I become immersed in the experience. I have known that was related to AD/HD, but never extended that knowledge to understanding why attempting to draw in front of people was so difficult. All motion and commotion served to pull my attention away from the act of drawing. No wonder my drawings suffered.
Sketchcrawl #3Ditching the pen, I sharped my pencil, plugged my headphones in, and tuned out the world. Then I drew. Knowing what was getting in my way helped me overcome it. If you compare the truck drawn in pen with the truck drawn in pencil you can see the noticeable difference. I was so emboldened by the success, I immediately sought out a challenging subject: live cows. Those smelly beasties moved about an awful lot, and that was indeed as challenging as it was distracting, but instead of loathing my work I was pleased with it. I had experienced a changing epiphany.

This Saturday is the 26th Worldwide Sketchcrawl. Assuming I am not still sick with my current virus, I will return to Wheeler Farm and DRAW. I know the name and shape of my obstacle now. I can get around it. I'll tune out the distractions. I will draw with confidence. I will enjoy myself.
I am appalled that low self-esteem told me I just couldn't do it, when I could do it if I simply concentrated differently. This one infernal byproduct of ADHD has robbed me of so much joy in my life. Makes me wonder what other failures in my life I blame myself for that can be overcome. I'm certainly going to be looking over my writing process for these stumbling blocks.
I never dreamed that so much of how I view myself was born of poor self-esteem due to years of ADHD induced failure. I never realized that overcoming all that simply takes an attitude adjustment and the knowledge that I can.