Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Lollipop Trees

"At the age of four, a child I knew drew extraordinarily vibrant, imaginative trees. Crayon, chalk, colored pens, and silly putty were all useful. These trees were remarkable in how clearly they showed the bulbous lobes and branchy veins of individual leaves in a kind of cubist, all-the-way-around view that would have delighted Picasso. Meticulous observation of real trees, and a certain daring that is characteristic of four-year-olds, combined to produce these striking artworks. 
By the age of six, this child had gone through a year of first grade and had begun drawing lollipop trees just like the other kids. Lollipop trees consist of a single blob of green, representing the general mass of leaves with details obliterated, stuck up on top of a brown stick, representing the tree trunk. Not the sort of place real frogs would live. " —Stephen Nachmanovitch

I worked hours drawing a tree, in many-colored pencil, on an oaktag scrap I had hoarded from a class election, and presented my final drawing to an older boy who lived up the street from me.  Steve looked at it with derision, and dubbed it a lollipop tree.

"Trees don't look like that."

"My tree doesn't have lollipops on it. It has leaves."

"Show me a tree that has leaves like that, " and with that, he won the argument.

I did not attempt another tree for nearly thirty years when, as a student of landscape design, it became unavoidable.  And what I learned to draw were adult versions of lollipop trees.  Oh sure, they were anatomically accurate, properly leafed out, and shaded to look three-dimensional.  But our trees all looked similar!

So, in a fit of exasperation, I went outside with a sketch book and a pile of pencils and drew lollipop trees  sticks (textured to look like a tree trunk) and blobs of green (with approximately the "right" color leaves.)  I drew like this for about an hour, making myself silly with laughter.

And gradually, I noticed my drawings had changed. My hands had been looking at the trees.  The tree branching structures and leaf patterns and bark textures were finding their way into my pencils, which were furiously scribbling odd little lines and layers of color.

I switched to my camera, and started photographing them.  I digitized my sketches, and overlaid my hand-drawn images onto the photographs and melded them. I worked this way for another few hours, until I finally had my own tree vocabulary, and a new set of techniques for rendering plant materials that were all my own.

In this way, I freed myself from iconic, schematic representations  by enthusiastically and consciously giving in to them.  I also silenced my inner critic with laughter.

You can, too.  Find that inner nag, and say, "yes, you are right. I'll show you." Do precisely what the little demon says you "always" do.  Lean into it.  Write a flabby sentence. Draw lollipop trees.  Sing off-key.  Do it until you laugh.  That sound is your own voice asserting itself.

Follow that one.

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