Pony tale

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The Daughter has a long fringe at the moment (think Christina Aguilera or Lady Gaga). It suits her. She was home last weekend and recounted the story of travelling back to her flat alone on a bus after a night out with friends. Three young men, somewhat inebriated, were sitting nearby and tried to engage her in conversation with their witty banter. When she didn’t respond with rapt attention, one commented “You look like a Shetland pony with that hair, love.” At this point in the tale, I laughed so hard that The Daughter questioned my loyalty.

The problem was that I have a very vivid picture of Shetland ponies as a result of cartoonist, Norman Thelwell’s work. Take a look at http://www.thelwell.org.uk/  I remember seeing his lovely drawings in my father’s Punch magazine as a pony-mad girl aged 9 or 10. At that time, I used to draw all the time, and some kind relative bought me a book by Thelwell on how to draw horses in his distinctive style. He simplified the animals into shapes – a series of circles and kidney beans as I recall – and broke the process down into manageable steps. As a result, I could draw them too and for months, hundreds of fat Shetland ponies galloped across the pages of my sketchbooks (or more commonly, in true Thelwellian manner, stubbornly refused to budge).

I still love to draw, and like Picasso’s idea that “Painting is just another way of keeping a diary” – a way of recording something about how you perceive the world. My drawings are no Picassos, but they are as much a part of my daily journal as the writing is. The Husband maintains that he ‘cannot draw a straight line with a ruler’, but one of these days I will prove him wrong. I came across a book by Betty Edwards called ‘Drawing on the right side of the brain’, and there is an exercise in there which demonstrates the point. The idea is that you cover up a drawing in the book except for the top couple of inches, and simply copy the lines onto a clean sheet of paper. That’s all. Just copy the lines exactly. Gradually you work down the page, uncovering a little more to copy, until you’ve done the whole thing. Then you turn your copy upside down. You discover that you’ve been copying a pencil drawing by Picasso, but because you didn’t know what it was meant to be, you just got on with it instead of being frightened off by the subject and claiming you can’t draw. Clever trick.

With drawing, as with most creative stuff, the trick is to switch off the critical, logical, thinking part of the brain and just create. John Berger writes about ‘a different way of seeing’ which involves looking with fresh eyes at the things around you and really observing and recording faithfully, rather than taking the short cuts we usually take in everyday life, merely labelling things ‘that’s a tree, that’s a bird, that’s a horse’. To draw or paint or write we have to look as if we have never opened our eyes before until that moment.

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