Better late than never

Last week, out and about driving, I caught bits of the CBC radio program “Now or Never.” The hosts were celebrating “late bloomers,” people, that is, who embark on something under the auspices of “better late than never.” I thought of my recent foray into sketching and watercolour, a late blooming kind of interest, I suppose, but which in fact I was first attracted to in 1994. That summer, 26 years ago, I sketched — in light and timid pencil — some objects around me. A pot of geraniums, a clump of bananas, my children’s ears.

At that time it seemed an antidote to writer’s block I was experiencing, as well as a wonderful mechanism for close observation. I soon concluded that in spite of my desire to do it, I wasn’t a “natural” and would need to work hard to learn. And, shortly I was unblocked and writing.

But, about a year-and-a-half ago, the impulse rose again, from its dormancy, and I bought a sketchbook to try to set down on blank paper what I saw. The first entry was a tiny oak in our Toronto children’s front yard, which I’m just remembering that I wrote about here.

Last week, I looked through my (now 3) sketchbooks, recalling the occasion of each drawing or watercolour (which I also began to try, because there were some paints and brushes at the local thrift store). I rubbed my finger on the surfaces and noticed how the colour comes away. It was cheap paint. I could let myself feel ashamed of those amateur attempts, but I don’t, because of the enormous pleasure of the wet colour sliding into place, even if badly. A year from now I’ll view my current progress and see its failings too (though the paint has been upgraded). The point is, I’m happy when I have time to try. I’ve taken a couple of classes and there’s a plethora of online tutorials. Rarely does my picture turn out like the teacher’s, but this is the glorious thing about “better late than never”: who cares? I’m learning stuff I never had a clue about, in terms of colour and paint properties, learning enough to know that I’ve only begun and that the journey forward is bound to be absorbing. The outcome doesn’t really matter.

Neither do I have a particular focus or personal preference in style yet (what we writers call in writing our voice). One day it’s loose, as in the poppies below, the next it’s nostalgia as in the Green House I grew up in (yes, I know the kids playing croquet — my four brothers and I — should be higher into the picture; I worked from two separate photos). Another day, some hours doing a tulips-in-jar tutorial, or trying on my own to capture the simple beauty of pears.


DCD5116B-9F88-4975-B4FD-A1987206054EAnother day (last Sunday to be precise), I went to my first-ever Urban Sketchers meet-up in Vancouver and tried my hand at a look down Burrard Street from the Waterfront Plaza, though it was cold and said hand was soon too chilled to grab any more detail.

It’s hard to articulate the what and why of it all. Enough time and latent curiosity, perhaps, converging. And no idea if the doing of it will be sustained. I’ve been wondering too whether I’m trying to express my environment or control it. For now it’s some version of see and show and tell, and better late than never.

18 thoughts on “Better late than never

  1. If you love doing it, you should! I always loved art as a subject when I was in school, and did most of my drawing then. Now I do it when we’re at the cottage with the grandkids. We have a “cottage book”. I wish I was relaxed enough in my every day life that I could just sit and write and sketch, but I’m so “duty driven” that I can’t! How do I get over that??!

    • I think you’ve posted a drawing or two of yours, and I agree, you love it too. And when you discover the answer to your last question, please put it in a post so we all have it! 🙂

  2. Well Dora, deep inside I have wanted to sketch too! Thanks for talking about this. Your watercolours are beautiful and make me feel happy!!! Way to go encouraging us in following up on our longings! Maybe I will look into this further.

    • Thanks Melinda. I’m glad they make you feel happy, because they do the same for me. — I find it very interesting that you say this is deep inside you too. I’ve heard this from others. I wonder if it’s something “buried” from our childhoods when we drew so freely and responded to our environment with pictures.

      • Who knows!! Maybe we as women just look after others so much we forget what is hidden inside of us. 🙂

  3. Oh, my friend, I love this post! I re-read your post about sketching an oak tree with your granddaughters. You describe your sketch as having tentative lines. The 7-year old was quick, loose and colorful with hers, and the 4 year old, wondering what was taking you so long, offered to help by showing you hers. “I want to see with their generosity, their emotion.” And now you are doing just that! What a wonderful way to enjoy and express life around you, and yes, “better late than never!”

    • You’ve touched me with your words, Eunice. Thank you. And I’ve watched you follow your “late” passion for photography, your keen eye on the world around you. It’s almost daunting, I confess. But no, inspiring!

  4. I love your sketches! Especially the green house one and the jar of tulips! It doesn’t inspire or call out anything in me to do likewise but I love viewing your creations!! Keep it up!

  5. These are great Dora. I too have been trying my hand at sketching and watercolours and I am not nearly as talented as you are. I keep at it because I have a grandson who loves to draw and paint and although I don’t see him often he is always excited about looking at my art and showing me his when we are together. It has been a wonderful point of connection for us. Right now I am working through Lynda Barry’s Making Comics and loving the experience. Tom Powers did a great interview on q with her not long ago where she talks about the value of adults throwing caution to the wind and exploring the world of drawing.

    • Thanks, Mary Lou, because reading about your comics on your blog inspired me to try doing some of my journal in visual form this year — little comic strips, as it were. I have some granddaughters who love art and are good at it and I agree, it’s a great point of connection. — And the interview, I must listen to it; thanks for mentioning it. Let’s both keep at it — when I got over the inhibiting idea of being “good” at it, I could enjoy the process.

      • Here’s the link to the interview MaryLou mentioned: “Cartoonist Lynda Barry teaches us how to silence our inner critic and draw like a child.”

  6. Thank you, Dora. Never too late, so true. The other day, in your home filled with beautiful books and projects (and delicious food!), my eyes kept turning toward your painting of tulips. This morning, an 81-year-old friend, a lifelong professional artist writes to me with this: “Setting up paints to paint loose flowers. Wish me luck, all my work has been tight. But with shaky hand, Essential Tremor. Might as well let it flow.” xo Dorothy

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