Lessons in the Fundamentals of Drawing Life

Materials: You’ll need one 2H graphite pencil
We start this lesson with the basics of form…

What’s the shape of this last year?
In medicine, learning was so often drawn with
Consistency and standardization,
Teaching to pass the test.
But real learning is messy, soft little
Crumbly bits from the eraser will
Litter the paper. I move from drawing
Circles and squares to sketching
Cylinders and cubes.
I meditate through shading, making
Gentle hatch strokes, creating
Depth, revealing form, being
Genuine with my patients, holding
Them in my heart so that they’ll
Retain some small shape of me
Even after they leave my care.

For this next lesson we will move on
to composition…

I’ll need a 4H pencil, harder than the first.
I begin in the upper right of the paper,
Moving down, then left, like the
Language of my grandmother, a language I must
Learn if I am to ask about my
Place between generations, between
My grandmother, my mother—-
Me in the center of the page at the
Same age as when my mother had me.
I arrange the elements of “mother”–
Not “prettiest” or “smartest” or “perfect,”
But the small ways of being there
Every day, the hard labor of making the nest.

Our next lesson covers space and perspective…

For this one I’ll need the hardest pencil.
Do they make a 10H?
These marks will sometimes be faint,
Tentative. Vanishing points are
Created with lines that are not parallel and
Some objects are small not because they’re
Unimportant, but because they are farther away.
I’ll be tempted to skip ahead, to
Draw complicated pictures. (Those
Used to be such audience favorites when
I was a child, tricking me into
Believing that to be an

Artist was to draw things that
Others would praise, be pleased by,
Recognize from Real Life.)
Instead I’ll apply the fundamentals,
Understanding that before I can learn to
Draw my self-portrait,
I first need to learn to
Shade a sphere.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This resident in her final year of training had been reflecting about the transition of moving from residency to independent practice and in particular, reflecting on how learning in her medical training was not always the authentic, sometimes messy learning of real life. She also reflected on what it meant to experience transitions in her personal life: what it means to be a daughter and granddaughter, and what it might mean to be a mother herself. During the pandemic she took an online drawing course. She noted how meditative and also how hard it was to draw the basic foundational shapes, and also reflected on the transition of moving from someone who always drew to the praise of others to learning to draw in a much different way.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Resident
Listener Poet: Yvette Perry

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