One of the most memorable moments in my childhood was that wonderful day I was able to ride a bike all by myself. Before that glorious moment, I had to have training wheels which felt more like riding a large tricycle and not like being the grown boy I imagined myself to be. I dreamt of going on wild adventures and traveling far away once I was able to take a bike out by myself. Of course, I simply dreamed about being able to travel the two blocks to my friend’s place, but it still felt like an amazing thing to be able to do. The training wheels were embarrassing, and so I didn’t go very far on them back then. Looking back, I’m not sure why, as many kids my age had them, but I wanted to bike like the “big kids” and was impatient to get to that point. I wanted to try riding a bike without them any time my parents would let me, just to see if maybe this was the day I could do it. I’d wake each morning wondering when that day was going to come…
Looking back, I think I didn’t quite give those training wheels the respect they deserved. They at least allowed me to ride a bike, even if it wasn’t in the way that I dreamed. And riding a bike was pretty amazing. It makes me think about all the times in my life when I’ve struggled to be like those I admired. Whether it was an incredibly gifted and witty writer or a painter who could convey a world of emotion in just a few brush strokes. When I was in college, I took a drawing class where you were supposed to copy the work of “master.” This exercise was like a form of training wheels for drawing and meant to help you learn techniques and see things more clearly before venturing off on your own. My first attempt made me want to cry as it looked like my “master” had succumbed to a stroke in the middle of the drawing and died shortly after. It was that bad. But I refused to give up and kept redrawing the thing until it at least closely approximated the “master” during his first attempt at drawing anything at all. That was progress.
Today, I’ve built a community where I’ve surrounded myself with artists far more talented than I am. Amazing people who’ve mastered various techniques and can produce work that leaves me staring in awe. But I never get discouraged as I now realize they all have something to teach me. Each brush stroke, each line, is another clue in my art journey and I need only sit back and let it all wash over me to learn what to do next. Just like when I was a kid, I do long to be like them. To paint something so incredibly profound and beautiful that it leaves everyone gasping. But I’ve got plenty of time. Unlike when I was a kid, I now understand the power of practice. I still don’t have an ounce of patience, but I know that each day is just a practice for the next. I continue to study my new “masters” and learn bits of what they know. While sometimes chuckling to myself that it took me so many years to truly appreciate training wheels.
About the Doodlewash
Sennelier L’Aquarelle: Perylene Maroon, Ultramarine Deep and Payne’s Grey. Lamy Safari Al Star pen with Platinum Carbon with black ink in a little red cloth hardbound l’aquarelle journal I found in a Paris shop.