Speak Softly

Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy was based upon his thought that good diplomacy came about when one spoke softly…and carried a big stick. For those who don’t know, another of my many interests in life is presidential history, but have no fear, followers! This is still an art blog, and this post really has nothing to do with Teddy.

It’s just that I heard those words of his ringing through my head as I sat on the porch one morning drawing this old stick.


Old Stick

This was another of those “I know I can’t draw this” moments in which I ended up surprising myself. I looked at the old stick and shook my head, but an inner voice quickly encouraged me to “Go ahead. Give it a try,” and I did.

I wish I could get better photographs of drawings in my sketch book. I hope you can at least get an idea of the amount of detail I included as I worked on this old stick I found on the porch.

As so often happens now when I’m drawing, I slipped into that blissful, meditative state as my pencil moved over the page. Here a mark, there a mark, a bit of shadow, and, golly, gee! The old stick I drew actually looks like an old stick.

Drawing directly from nature has given me many surprise moments. Recently I spent a little time at a nearby park attempting to sketch a cluster of dead, dried leaves. “Oh, why am I even trying to do this!” I lamented as I stared at the intricate patterns. I nearly gave up on that one, but fortunately it was a day when my kind-hearted art teacher voice was tagging along.

“It doesn’t have to be good,” she whispered to me. “It just has to be done.” Well, fine. I knew the results wouldn’t be great, but I resolved to make a sketch of some kind. It’s not great, yet, all in all, it’s really not bad. I did get the idea down on the page.

Cluster of Leaves

The same thing happened one morning last week when I sat out on our back porch and gazed at a patch of iris leaves. The blooms have long since gone, but I loved the shapes of the leaves — until I sat down to sketch them. “Oh, I can’t do this,” I told myself. “It’s too overwhelming.” The voice inside my head said, “Do it anyway. Just do the best you can.”

Iris Leaves

Again, it’s not great, but it’s not awful. Once more I was able to get down the basic idea in a quick sketch.

As you can probably guess, I didn’t get into that lovely Zen-like mind-set while drawing the leaves. Sometimes I drift off into that peaceful place while drawing; other times, my mind stays quite active. Maybe I can discover ways to make it happen more often. Maybe I need to take a few deep breaths, relax, and let go a little more.

Still, zen or not, these three drawings share one thing in common. Each one began with a discouraging thought in my head. “I can’t do this.” And each time that thought was answered by a quiet voice, encouraging me to just give it a try, to do it anyway, and to remember that what I draw doesn’t have to be perfect.

So, maybe ol’ Theodore was right when he said “Speak softly…” I don’t know if it always works in diplomacy, but that strategy has sure helped me with my art.



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