I lay in bed beside the window. Through the window I saw my cousins and neighbors playing. I was sick. I couldn't go out. It had been longer than a week. The only activity I was allowed was to sit propped against a pillow, looking out. My only physical activity was bearing down on crayons in a coloring book.
Mumps. Man did they hurt. The side of my face felt like I had a watermelon beneath the skin with no way out. The swelling was warm to the touch if only I could have touched without triggering pain. My eyes watered with each stab of that pain. So I tried not to worry it, focusing on the outline on the page.
It was a coloring book of cartoon animals. Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and the like. My concentration wasn't the keenest and my crayon point often went outside the lines.
"Now, Rickey, you don't want to color outside the lines." These were the words echoing in my brain each time my hand would slip.
I fell asleep over those pages to be awakened by laughter beyond the window. Pine cones rained down from the garage onto garbage can lids used as shields. I watched through groggy eyes wishing I were with them. My crayons and coloring book had fallen onto the floor. I leaned over to pick them up when I thought, 'Bet I could draw pictures to color.'
My box of Crayolas had a black one. It was still sharp since I had only used the bright ones on the pictures. Black was the color to draw outlines. Each of the pictures in the book were borders to be filled with color without crossing the line. I took the black stick in hand, turned to the inner cover at the front and bore down. Around and over with a loop and corner, then two eyes and voila! I had a rounded outline of a person. No stick figures for me. I had a border and an area meant for color. Choosing carefully a flesh color along with brown, I had produced a person topped off with brown hair.
I looked at it closely. No feet. No hands. No clothes. Obviously I had missed something. My only concern had been the outline to contain color. Hmmmm. Guess it was harder than I thought.
I began again. Round here for a head. A neck to hold the head to the body. Ooops. The body needed arms and legs. There. Uh oh. Fingers. The crayon was too big to give fingers to color. Black fingers it was, then. Shoes cover toes. Hmmm... clothes. People didn't walk around without clothes unless in the tub. So another color for clothes. Blue. That would be it. A blue suit. And there I had it, a man. In a blue suit. With black fingers. Gloves. That would explain it. More black there. A suit and gloves with black shoes. Something needed... Of course! Eyes, nose and mouth. Once I had added them they just didn't look right. They looked like black lines attached. Time to start over again.
My efforts were stumbles with little learning. I wasn't aware of circles, squares and triangles as a foundation. Then came Jon Gnagy. He introduced the concept of basic forms hidden within drawings. He said it. I saw it. I continued to struggle without utilizing the concept. I did so by drawing my own super heroes, Power Mouse and Power Rabbit. They were all modeled on Mighty Mouse. My figures became rounder easing away from the thick stick figures.
With time I became aware of another missing aspect. An environment. If Drawings were to come to life, I thought, they must have something to relate to. Then the background came into being.
No thin line of blue above with an accompanying strip of green below. No yellow ball below the blue strip with radiating yellow lines over a green ball atop a brown stick for a tree. No sir. I made an horizon. I made clouds. I made a plump vertical grey stick reaching into a blue cloud-bedecked sky that branched out into patches of green for leaves. The sun was yellow but it was no ball it was half a ball hiding behind a white cloud. And in that blue, white, green and yellow portion of the page flew a plump mouse with a cape rattling behind in the wind that is never seen. Yes. I was drawing now!
Those days of sitting in the window looking out finally came to an end. No more Moon face. No more sharp pains. I could eat pickles again without crying. And I could draw! Well, I believed I could. Much to my enjoyment so did my friends. Drawing was becoming a part of my life. Cartoons jumped from my pencils in class when I should have been paying attention. I drew cartoon panels of four squares containing rabbits and mice and dogs who spoke into flat balloons above the heads of the animals I called Our Gang. I drew them. I pinned them to the bulletin board. My teacher removed them. I learned to hate critics and censorship. And, yet, I continued. Slowly, ever so slowly, I progressed.
A friend of the family gave me books full of drawing lessons.
"I'll give you $20 if you can draw this," he said holding the page open to a lovely rendition of a young girl. It was a wood cut and far beyond my abilities. I tried several times but never achieved the $20 dollar bill reward for those efforts. Instead of inspiring me it hindered me. I couldn't draw that picture created by a professional, therefore I was no good. Or so my tiny mind logic convinced me.
I went back to cartoons and decided one day I'd draw for the comics. I wrote to the creator of SUGAR AND SPIKE a comic book about babies who speak there own language. Months later I received a letter from Sheldon Mayer with much needed advice. He liked my cartoon characters, he said. (I had sent examples of my work.) He told me to continue with my school work and into college if my parents could afford it. He also told me to draw from life as well as comic books. And to continue to draw and to study. It was manna from heaven. One of the artists I admired had sent me encouragement. I always appreciated the kindness he showed me simply by answering my childish letter. Unfortunately, that letter was lost after years amongst my most prized possessions.
it was a humble beginning. I haven't picked up a pencil in earnest in some time. Perhaps I need to be bedridden again. Perhaps my drawing days are over. I don't know. I do know I think of the times behind the pencil or the easel and miss the sense of bliss that comes when things are going well. I reckon time will tell.