In December of 1917, Grace Shipley opened her art book of 10×12” drawing paper and sharpened her pencil with a pocket knife. She took out a special gum eraser she kept in the pencil box because when she corrected mistakes she didn’t want smudges.
Grace had learned of a Cream of Wheat contest for art entries that would inspire frugal good eating during WWI. According to her sister Myrtle, all their brown paper sacks become practice scraps as Grace sketched one idea after another, smiling and humming as she put pencil to paper before breakfast, in between chores, and until she went to bed at night.
She titled her picture “Preparedness,” and it was one of the winners. The prize was a year’s supply of Cream of Wheat, though no one remembers now exactly how many boxes that was. Grace was featured in the local newspaper, followed by congratulation notes from friends and strangers, and she was a guest at a women’s art luncheon. As the story goes, she used the back of her program to doodle a drawing of the speaker’s fancy hat.
What is it about putting pencil to paper, crayons to coloring books, or chalk to sidewalks that helps us hum, smile, and live outside ourselves? I never knew my grandmother, Grace Shipley Shepherd, who died of meningitis when my father was very young, but I know from others—and I’ve often felt it myself—that putting pencil to paper, to draw or to write, is a gift for and from the heart.
Canadian artist Robert Genn wrote that “A drawing a day keeps the cobwebs away.” Just for fun, and to clarify your thinking and sharpen hand-eye coordination, try this exercise in “blind contour drawing.”
Place the point of your pencil on a blank paper. Look intently at some simple object beyond the paper, and without once lifting your pencil or looking down at your work, re-create the image. This will help you stay focused on the present moment, and while you discipline yourself to ignore your progress, you will also learn to release expectations . Mindfulness groups refer to this as “Zen drawing.”
Enjoy this activity. Shake your head and loosen the cobwebs. Use a crayon or a marker if it will make you feel more like a playful child. And it’s okay if you smile and hum as you draw.