I remember when my kids were much younger. They’d bring me a picture book and ask me to read it, and I would say, “Not this one again! Don’t you want me to read you something new?” They’d shake their heads and I’d sigh and begin the book for the 100th time, or so it seemed. Yes, sometimes children want to stay with the same book for a very long time.
The same thing happens with drawing. Gemma-Rose has sketchbooks full of mermaid pictures, pages and pages of them. She had a princess period too. “Why don’t you try drawing something different?” I ask. Something different? My youngest daughter doesn’t understand my question. What’s wrong with drawing the same thing over and over again?
And then there are obsessions with certain subjects. Dinosaurs is a famous one. What about games? The same computer game, day after day. Or I can remember the girls playing endless games of Little House on the Prairie. Every day they’d hitch up the horses and climb aboard their wagon, before setting off on yet another adventure out west.
I wondered why kids seem to get stuck, immersed in one particular learning experience. And then one day I got stuck myself. I caught a glimpse of what it’s like to be ‘obsessed’.
Some months ago, I had an urge to draw. I needed a bit of persuasion to get started: “I’m just no good at drawing,” I said, shaking my head. “But Mum, you won’t get any better unless you actually do some drawing.” So I decided to be brave and put pencil to paper, instead of just thinking about it.
For some reason, I wanted to draw a cat. It didn’t have to be a realistic cat. A stylised version would do. Maybe this was because we have three cats of our own. Anyway, Poppy, Sammy and Jenny, our long haired felines, were convenient models. I started looking carefully at how they are put together. How are their legs attached to their bodies? What folds up when they sit down? I think many people are rather unobservant. We see things every day and never look properly. So I began looking.
I got really excited when my sketches of cats actually started looking like cats. “Hey! Do you know what this is a picture of?” I asked my children. “Of course!” they replied. “It’s a cat.” Oh that made me feel all warm inside. Not that my cats were very good. They weren’t. But they were still recognisable cats.
I drew cat after cat and cat. I filled my sketchbook with standing cats and sitting cats and lying down cats. There were fat cats and thin cats, mean cats and happy cats. Some cats had spots and some had stripes. There were long-whiskered cats and zig-zaggy whiskered ones.
At one point I tried my hand at drawing dogs. But I soon returned to cats. I thought about drawing giraffes and birds too. Yes, birds tempted me very much. But it was cats I wanted to draw. I hadn’t finished with them. I still had so much more to learn before I was satisfied and could move on.
I haven’t really moved on even now (though I must admit I haven’t done much drawing recently). But when I do feel like drawing something else, I am sure I will take a lot of skills with me when I next attempt a dog or even an elephant. I will have a head start when I try to conquer those animals.
So I’m guessing children go through the same process. While they still have things to learn, they will be content to stay with a book or a drawing or a game. They are still processing it. But when they do decide to move on, I bet they make light work of the next learning experience.
Of course, it can be frustrating for a parent having to read the same book over and over again. I often thought I’d be reading particular books forever. Of course, that wasn’t true. I’m not still reading the same books I was reading years ago. (Perhaps I hid them!) My children moved on when they were ready.
There’s another thing I’ve noticed about children. They are more willing than adults to give things a go. We tend to get all embarrassed, and the thought of failure keeps us from starting: It won’t look good… I can’t draw… People will laugh… You know the kind of things we imagine others are going to say. Well, all these thoughts are going through my head right now, as I’m sitting here considering whether I should share my cat drawings with you. Yes, it’s true: They aren’t very good. I am a writer, not an artist. But you know what? I had fun drawing them. And they might illustrate this story rather well. So yes, I am going to be brave and share.
By the way, I cheated. See those cats at the top and bottom of this post (the good ones)? I stole them. They’re not mine. They were drawn by my eldest daughter Felicity. She really can draw, unlike me.
Now I’ve reacquainted myself with my sketchbook I actually feel like drawing again. A few minutes ago I thought I might like to return to cats. (I know I still can’t draw cats properly.) But I’ve changed my mind. Sometimes we make unexpected and sudden decisions. Birds… I think I might be ready to move onto birds. Have you ever noticed how diverse birds are? There’s big ones and small ones. They come in all colours. Some have beaks: hooked ones, sharp ones, long ones… And some have bills. Some swim, some fly and some hover. Oh yes, I think birds are so complex they are going to keep me busy for a very long time.
So I’m going to be drawing nothing but birds for days, weeks, even months. And that’s quite okay. Don’t you think?