The pencil and the microscope.

To try to get my daughter away from her Samsung Galaxy and and WhatsUp and cold shining colorful screens of never to be fulfilled promise I suggested that we sit outside together on the balcony and draw some plants. And, oddly enough, she agreed.

John Ruskin, a long dead art critic, snob and self confessed wanker, taught the "lower classes" to draw in schools for workers. And he said that the idea was not to make great artists out of them, but to make them appreciate what beauty was around them. He was definitely an odd bloke, but that idea struck a chord with me. If you try to draw something, with pencil and paper, you really really need to look at it. And you really really need to understand, wait for it, 3D.

So, dear Reader, get some paper, 3 pencils (hard medium and soft, H HB and B), an eraser and try to draw a flower, plant, leaf or shell from life. If you do this with sincerity you'll have no choice but to really look at the object, this is the intense but passive part of the activity.

And there is an active part. You have to decide how to represent the curves in 3D space in front of you. Which is why you should NOT copy a drawing (or photograph) someone else has done. The biggest part of drawing is the decisions YOU make about how to represent line and form and shadows and depth. If you copy a drawing, all those decisions have been taken away from you.

And if you copy a photograph you're forgetting that you have two eyes, and you see in 3D, the photograph does not.

And if the idea is to draw to learn (not learn to draw) then you do not need to show the drawings to anyone. No one will judge your "art" or "skill". It becomes a private meditation on form and representation. Yours. That's why I've posted these tiny images.... that you can be encouraged and cannot know my lack of skill. You can do better than I can.

I suggest you set a time limit, say 30 minutes. Not to rush it, but to give yourself an objective "I'll try as hard as I can for 30 minutes, then I can stop."

If the last time you've drawn was at school many years ago you're going to be disappointed by your first attempt. But do it anyway, just for 30 minutes. The next time you try, the following day maybe, you'll have more of an understanding of the the problems and choices. And slowly you'll get to enjoy the challenge.

But what about the USB microscope? Well, you can gaze online at images made by others, but when you find objects, and you put them under the microscope, you end up learning more than passive looking would ever teach you. You twiddle with the little buggers (sometimes disgusting, always delicate) under the lens. Your hands shake and your fingers bring the things into focus. It is a different experience.


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