Updated: Oct 15, 2021
I was born an artist. I vividly remember sitting at our family's kitchen table in our hometown of Fresno, California, at the age of four — feeling so completely frustrated, I wanted to cry. I knew that the object I was looking at with such intensity was something I should be able to duplicate on paper. If indeed a four-year old can even comprehend the word "duplicate"... but in all fairness, I most likely did. Our Dad was a school teacher — one of the finest. He never bothered with the "Dick and Jane" books, or even the popular Dr. Seuss series. No, we were read "National Geographic" at bedtime (and most likely a few auto-mechanics manuals). He felt it was extremely important to expand the vocabularies of his five children, beginning at the earliest age. Language comprehension was critical. And our mother? Well, she is a gifted creative writer of poetry, plays for church, and "short stories on a theme" for her church daily devotionals publication. She was a secretary by profession -- who typed about 110 words per minute — no joke! She knew words. We didn't stand a chance of NOT learning a profusion of WORDS. So yep ... I understood "duplicate."
So back to my artistic efforts at four … I failed. Time and again, my little hands would try to sketch — draw — render — something — ANYTHING — recognizable! I could see in my head, that I had the capability of seeing and "copying" … but I also knew it would take years of practice to make that happen. And I mean practicing every single day! So despite my tears, frustration, and impatience, that’s exactly what I did.
My 1st-grade teacher Mrs. Cobb took my parents aside when they walked into my classroom for the first PTA Parent-Teacher Night of the 1966 school year at Vinland Elementary. "Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, I'd like you to look at the children's artwork on the walls, and tell me which one is Ruth's drawing." My baffled parents were easily able to find my drawing, though they had not witnessed me creating it. It’s what you do when you're a parent. You become acquainted with your child's "doodles" and other expressions on paper. But Mrs. Cobb was not done with her questioning. She proceeded to let them know exactly why they were easily able to find my artwork ... because it was not "typical first-grade artwork." "Ruth has artistic ability," she continued. "You should really investigate getting her into some lessons with someone. Now."
So they did! For my birthday that year, my parents gave me the prettiest little easel. I was in love with it. It made me feel like a genuine artist! A large 16"x20" pad of tan-colored "newsprint-type" paper (sometimes larger) would be attached to the top of the easel with a small screw and wing-nut, and boy, did I go through the paper! My creativity seemed to know no bounds. I was particularly fond of drawing whatever scene or object I had been dreaming about the night before. (I had truly vivid dreams — always in living color.) I still own those pads of paper ... somewhere in a box ... out in our shed. I was also given many art supplies to experiment with: oil pastels, charcoal pencils, conté crayons, varying-densities of lead-pencils from the feather-light H-series to the 8B (rich, bold blacks). Watercolor pans, India ink, acrylics and brushes. You name it ; they bought it for me. (And no, my parents were FAR from wealthy. They were dedicated.)
At some point I began experimenting with "India-ink drawings" as often as I could, creating portraits of my 4 siblings, and my little cousin Lori. The ink-drawings were a bit like "silhouettes" which fascinated me ... but what I found myself really attracted to was that beautiful contrast: black ink on the stark white paper. These were my first attempts at “Chiaroscuro” — though I didn't learn that word or its meaning until high school. I just knew and loved the concept!
It was a fantastic beginning for an artistic child!
(To Be Continued ...)