Never Saw That Coming

It all started because my parents are visiting Tbilisi. My father is a painter and I respect his artistic opinion and always want his feedback on my sketchbooks. Unfortunately, I can never spare the weight in my luggage when I go home to visit, so I could not wait to show the lot of them as soon as my parents arrived. I’ve gotten much less shy about sharing my work, and I’ve flipped through my sketchbooks so many times that I thought I’d gotten very familiar with the pages that worked and the pages that didn’t. I was surprised when my mother most loved the ones that I thought were failures and pleased when she asked to visit the places where I had drawn so she could see what I had seen.

And so this afternoon we ended up at Prospero’s Bookstore (because of this drawing):

We settled in with our tea and our carrot muffins at a table next to a gentleman who was busy working away on his laptop. Being American, we had many things to talk about and none of it quietly. I pulled out my sketchbook – it’s so hard to find time on the days that I have to work, I can’t miss an opportunity on a day of leave – and began sketching the adorable little plant on the table. Mr. Laptop kept glancing our way, I could only think peevishly since we were the only patrons talking while everyone else was being industrious. Eventually, we started to make moves toward leaving. My dad stopped to check out a book about Gustav Klimt and called my mother over. Just then Mr. Laptop got up as if he were heading to the coffee bar, but instead he stopped by my table, nodded to the sketchbook I was just closing and asked, “Is that a travelogue?”

I did a quick flip through the pages and said, “Well, no. I live in Tbilisi so I am not travelling. But this is my fourth sketchbook of the year and each one has many sketches of the places I’ve visited this year.”

He responded, “I wish I had your talent.”


Let’s parse that statement, shall we?

First of all, I was sure he was annoyed with us, but really he was just sneaking peaks at my sketchbook.

Secondly,this is what I drew:

What I see is a loss of perspective on the planter, the fact that I can NEVER remember to not draw the entire planter before drawing the plant, and a shadow that I’m having a hard time connecting to the object. What he saw was something he recognized.

“But it’s not talent,” I insisted. “A year and a half ago, I could not do this.”

“But how can you now?” he asked.

“I read this book that made the case that everyone starts off knowing how to draw, but many of us lose confidence as we get older. The author (that’s you, Danny Gregory) said we just need to keep practicing and we can all be artists again.”

He wasn’t having it. He said he couldn’t draw that picture of the gear shift of our rental car:

“But neither could I, 18 months ago!”I swore. “I just started and kept trying. And it changed everything. It makes me see everything differently. It makes me so observational – I notice the color of the leaves, the shadows on the ground, the skyline, the way someone is sitting, a pile of oranges in a basket on a counter.”

He looked intrigued by that but he also “couldn’t draw that portrait”:

“Well, that is my favorite sketch I’ve ever drawn, but it took me a while to learn how. My first sketches are embarrassing, but I got better with practice. You just need to get a piece of paper and a pen”.


“No, really. ¬†You just need to start simply – paper and pen. You’ll hate it, but then you’ll try again and you’ll get better. It’s not talent, really.”

“But I only have time when I come here.”

“Then you’d better come here more often!”

He looked like maybe he would.