Sketching around people can either be completely infuriating or a strangely rewarding experience. For a shy 8-year old it can be terrifying. In recent months one of my children has taken a keen interest in sketching and developing her talent at showing the world she sees in a sketchbook. This past weekend she was able to attend our monthly Las Vegas Urban Sketchers meeting with me. Our group made the journey out to Hoover Dam to see what we could see and to sketch there. It was a great opportunity to visit a site that would be all but inaccessible on a scorching summer day in the Mojave Desert. Temperatures in the mid-70’s made this a fantastic time at the Dam.
My daughter was a trooper sitting quietly in the back seat of my car as we drove the 50 miles out to Black Canyon and the dam site. She held her sketchbook and her silver tin of pencils neatly in her lap while she stared at the passing landscape. I tried to engage her in conversation about the things we would see and what we could draw, but she was reticent to talk much. I assumed it was the nerves of not knowing what to expect from this new adventure.
When we arrived we made our way from the parking garage down to the High Scaler cafe where we were meeting the rest of our Las Vegas group. After a few quick hellos and anecdotes we began our search for a spot to sketch. I asked what she wanted to draw, she replied that she didn’t know. I asked her if there was anything she saw that really interested her, she shrugged. We settled on a concrete bench along the shoulder of the dam and sat in the warm spring sunlight. I pointed out a few fun things that we could see from there that she might like to draw, and she settled on the turbine buildings in the lake.
She quietly opened her tin of pencils and asked “which one is the lightest one, again, Dad?” To which I replied “it’s the 4H, honey.” She pulled out her neatly sharpened 4H pencil and started to draw. My attention drifted in and out of the world that surrounded me as I worked through my own sketch. I noticed that the passing masses would stop from time to time and watch the “artists on the bench” and enjoy the creation of a sketch. I saw a number of people stop and engage my daughter in conversation. It was often other “moms” and “grandmas,” or I suppose “aunts” or “sisters” too, that would stop by with a child in tow and say something to the effect of “oooh! look! she is making a drawing! Isn’t it pretty!” To which the child would nod and, depending on the age, linger a few moments gazing at the graphite marks on the paper before running off to another part of the dam.
Rather than watching the moms and kids who spoke to my daughter, I watched my daughter and looked for signs of distress or fear. The greatest result of all those interactions was the progression I saw in my daughter. In the early parts of the day she would tuck her chin into her shoulder and drop her gaze when somebody complimented her – her shyness obviously getting the better of her. As the day progressed she became more confident in showing her work, she began to hold her drawings up for the other children to see. She muttered things under her breath like “I’m trying to draw the shadows” or “those are the mountains that I drew.” She was proud of the work she was doing and her confidence was growing as perfect strangers stopped by just to check it out.
As we wrapped up our last drawings of the day she asked me “how long did this drawing take, Daddy?” (we make a point of noting how much time has elapsed for each sketch)
I chuckled “just 20 minutes this time!”
“Is that good Dad?”
“It’s better than good, it’s fantastic!”
She looked back at her drawing and then back at me and smiled that smile that only parents know. The smile that comes from the inside out because the inside isn’t large enough to contain it. The smile that often bubbles over into giggles and the uncontrollable desire to hug somebody. The smile that adults often forget to slow down and experience.
She handed me her pencils and sketchbook to carry, slipped her tiny hand into mine, and smiled from ear to ear the whole way back to the car.
I share her most-excellent drawing here so that you can know what a simple thing it was that brought her such joy. Sketching has a way of doing that, it has a way of calming minds, lifting spirits and creating room inside for those big smiles.