Or Reflections by a Vicarious Southpaw
After a half a century of diligent draughtsmanship one would think that much if not all of the process can be taken for granted. (Estimation based on the point where I most distinctly recall encountering my first major difficulties in drawing what I wished – a recalcitrant cow* – sure sign that it would never be possible to be fully satisfied with a drawing, meaning of course that the only choice left was to spend a lifetime or so working on it.)
Until of course, you cannot use your drawing hand. Drawing hand, it must be said, which has survived all manner of inconveniences: an uprooted fingernail on the index, a thumb sliced open (6 stitches) with an imprudent utility knife, a middle finger crushed under an uncooperative and weighty rock (8 stitches, you could see the tendons), half the fingers paralyzed for nearly a year due to a pinched nerve (my handwriting, difficultly decipherable at best, degenerated into hieroglyphic inscrutability) and other minor mishaps, sprains and such.
This time, it was rather more seriouser, as the physiotherapist gleefully remarked, explaining with decidedly far too much relish that a screw could be put through my collarbone into the scapula in order to regain some modicum of mobility in the munted shoulder and going on enthusiastically about the irreparable aspects of detached ligaments. (“Munted” is a wonderfully antipodean and perhaps even kiwi-grown word, meaning damaged, dented and otherwise buggered up.) I felt like swatting him for his unseemly if professional enthusiasm, except I couldn’t bear to move the shoulder. A happily regular runner with some promise of improvement and modest physical fitness, thanks to an encroaching tree root which I swear did it on purpose, in cahoots with the one that reared up to clobber my shoulder, I wasn’t near so dapper as I’d been the day before.
And, of course, it’s NEVER the left arm. That WOULD be too easy.
So, there I was, with my right arm in a sling, but work to do, indeed, a film to design. Reluctant to let my erstwhile colleague, who still possessed two valid appendages, shoulder the load alone, I resolved to draw with whatever was left. Which didn’t leave a lot of choice.
When Peter asked “Are you ambidextrous?” I replied “Not yet, but I hope to be by the end of the week.”
I confess it was like watching a child draw, except I couldn’t take the pencil from his hand and show him how to make corrections. It was also rather slower, and no clever crosshatching, deft outlining or free-and-easy blocking in, it was all as tongue-out-of-corner-of-mouth and firm-grip-on-pencil as when I was drawing cows (or trying) flat on the kitchen floor at age 4. Except, as I glumly reflected, I really wasn’t in Kansas any more.
Drawing is as much in the hand as it is in the brain, although the knowledge of how it’s done is ultimately stored upstairs, much of the expertise has been delegated to the hand and arm, which have acquired a certain amount of freedom and confidence in the fulfillment of their duties. They report back, but they do know their job. Suddenly though, it’s as if they have been replaced by an apprentice fresh out of far too many theoretical classes, with clean overalls and a tool box he’s never actually opened.
And who’s got it all backwards.
Every line had to be conscientiously traced and laboriously followed. An elbow, totally lacking in confidence, had to be rested on something. The easy left-to-right flow of shading changed to a scratchy right-left simulacrum of the former. Heel of hand, which normally never touches the paper, was firmly anchored on the best Daler-Rowney can offer.
Drawing is an incredibly oriented process, we have a great tendency to place light and shading on preferred sides, to have character studies posed looking in a favorite direction. Shading is as much related to ergonomics as to representation of volume in space. It parallels, and often reproduces, the way we see the world. To have all of those things suddenly reversed is a troubling sensation. That, and using a hand that can’t draw.
But, it is still possible, because your mind and eye know what’s “right”. Slow. Very sketchy and ragged, but it is still achievable, though the effort is demanding – by the end of the day, I was REALLY VERY ready to head home (heading home which involved much hoping I would not get caught driving with one arm in a sling).
And in the end, an experience I’m not ungrateful to have had (or rather to have had forced on me: I certainly did not trip up on purpose), and for the obligation to keep it up for the better part of a week. The only problem is that the director loved the new style, so now I have to try and draw like that with my right hand. That’s not true. I just made that up, but I did put the dates on the southpaw sketches so I’ll recognize them later on: enforced tribute to awkward ambidexterity by a temporary leftie.
Strangely, “right”, “left” and “ambidextrous” all have different origins and ages. “Right” of course has all manner of connotations of rectitude, and left of weakness and other wrongs – strange how we should, as essentially symmetrical beings, transfer our duality and dichotomy to our own anatomy, as well as condemning generations of left-handed people to “remedial education”… More prosaically, it may just be that right-handed people outnumber left-handed at least seven (if not more) to one, and minorities always end up getting the short shrift. As to why exactly we are either-handed, theories abound, although it appears to begin already in the womb.
Historically, there are enlightened exceptions. The Incas considered left-handed people to possess positive qualities not given to the right-handed. There are others, but they are discouragingly few; negative connotations are unfortunately the norm. (The association with “sinister” in its modern form is erroneous. We are often retroactively condemned to misinterpretation by our language.)
Most interestingly, a recent study by the University of Birmingham shows that right-handed people use the right side of the brain to observe an entire scene, but the opposing side to focus on a detail within that scene. Left-handed people do the same, only everything is inverted. Which study, in all fairness, is only revealing something that those who draw have known since Lascaux, and is the reason most adults don’t draw near as well as when they were 4, drawing cows on the kitchen floor.
With either hand. It’s the tribute paid by a literate society to logic and linear thinking and to the confusion between drawing and writing instruments.
Speaking of hands, “ambidextrous” is only recorded from the 17th century, which begs the question of what were they called before. (I suspect “Witch!” and promptly burned at the stake.)
I did however, learn a new word: “cross-dominance”, which denotes people who favour right for some things and left for others. Perhaps all those years of batting and fencing left-handed (pitchers and adversaries hate it) were good for something after all.
The shoulder? It got better, thanks.
*Polly thus played, in her ruminative way, a major role in my life; had milk come from animals with less complicated anatomy, I might not have so early met that fatal combination of grand interest and as-yet insufficient skills to deal with it. (The passage from preoccupation to profession is a short one.) I never did learn to milk properly, though.
I also recall a distinctly similar episode with our son when he was small, except it was a hippo he couldn’t draw.
INSIDE YOUR ART
Just recently been added to a very classy Chinese web site called INSIDE YOUR ART. Not only is it a well-designed site, they were incredibly tolerant with me, as I took ages to reply to their enquiry, supply images, approve texts and just generally tried their patience. Thank you Sergey and Yulia, and thanks top Lizzy of Fantasy Art Magazine for precious help.
…is back! And most comfortably ensconced on his brand new anthracite polystone base. For more information: Smaug the Golden.
YET MORE WORDS
Also landed a paid writing job, so have been moonlighting of late, but the text is done and delivered now, so it’s back to sleeping nights, and not waking up at all odd hours to jot down notes on whatever is at hand. Now of course comes the long wait until publication, some time towards the end of the year.
Speaking of texts, am also proud to have one in the catalogue of the current exhibition at the Laténium in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Here is a resumé of the exhibition L’âge du Faux. The catalogue is bilingual French/German, except for my text, which proved untranslatable, and is in English. (It’s about mermaids, a most serious subject.) It will be published in mid-June.