The final class assignment of the year was simple: draw a poster size portrait of a prominent historical figure whom you admire. I deliberated for all but a millisecond before choosing Michael Jordan as my subject. MJ would serve as my go-to case study throughout my middle school years.
I had never been more excited about a class assignment in my entire ten years of existence. I felt like Ralphie from A Christmas Story when he received his “what do you want for Christmas” homework assignment.
Ralphie couldn’t wait to start writing his paper about his Christmas plea for an official Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock.
I couldn’t wait to show the world my drawing of MJ gliding through the air from the free-throw line depicting the famous winning slam dunk against The Human Highlight Film, Dominque Wilkins, during the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest.
For two days I was in, what the distinguished Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to as, the creative “Flow”—a mental state classified as a creative zone of absorption when you are fully immersed in an activity with a feeling of full involvement and energy. My flow was so intense that my mother had to force PB&Js down my throat because I wouldn’t drop the pencil and take time away to eat.
I was convinced my final masterpiece would win over the entire school and be framed and displayed in the hallway outside of my art classroom so that generations of children after me would be wonderstruck each time they walked through the doorway.
Delusions of grandeur
A D+ grade was slammed down on me like a judge’s gavel after the handing out of a life sentence in prison. To make matters worse, all posters were taped to the chalkboard at the front of the classroom for all to see.
First there was a black and white sketch of Abe Lincoln that wasn’t too shabby earning a B+ grade. Next in line was a drawing of Spider-Man that was so good it could have been used in the comic book itself.
Then there was my mess—a drawing of what looked like Frankenstein clad in a number 23 Bulls jersey and Air Jordans. Take away the number 23 jersey and my classmates would have been left clueless as to what the heck I was trying to create. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my drawing was indeed the worst one up on that chalkboard and my classmates made it known with their chuckles.
Bye bye pencils and crayons
One lousy grade brought my artistic expression and drawing aspirations to a grinding halt.
The pencils and crayons were tossed in the trash. There would be no more sketching Adidas and Run DMC logos on the cover of my Trapper Keeper.
The writing stopped.
The doodling stopped.
I realized I was never going to be an artist and it was debilitating to the soul. I was hit hard that day only to slowly regain my creative aspirations as I became older.
Years later I attempted fields of study in drafting, design, and architecture but just couldn’t maneuver a pencil for the life of me and ended up dropping the classes.
The drawing itch resurfaced. I often generate new ideas and organize my thoughts by brainstorming, doodling, sketching and mind mapping on paper. I find this process to be more effective if I can incorporate simple objects and vector designs on the page to clearly get my point across. This only works if you can actually draw the objects and make them legible.
I started researching and buying a plethora of art books. Rather than be saturated in art theory, I was looking for a book to allow me the opportunity to dive right in with pencils blazing.
Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book: Make a World gave me the confidence and skills to draw again in a matter of minutes.
Never mind that Make a World looks like a coloring book for two-year olds found in the children’s section at your local bookstore; the book does exactly what it promises to do, which is allow you to easily draw your own world full of cars, trains, planes, and people. As long as you can draw a few basic shapes, you can complete every exercise and create hundreds of different objects in a matter of minutes.
We can always revert back to the childhood classics for inspiration. Just like Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! will teach you everything there is to know about life in 56 colorful illustrated pages, Make a World can teach you how to draw some pretty cool stuff in just 32 pages chock-full of fun drawing exercises.
The featured image was done by yours truly in an attempt to recreate the original childhood “Frankenjordan.” I followed drawing instructions from another one of Ed’s books: Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Weirdos.
I’m confident you can do much better.
Now pick up a colored pencil and start creating your own world.