one million pencils


A Personal History of Art

I’m of the camp of people who believes that, in the vast majority of cases, no skill is inherent. Maybe part of the reason that I believe this is because I’ve been drawing for sixteen years now and never felt that natural ability had anything to do with where I’ve ended up. 

I don’t think I was naturally compelled to draw when I was little. Church just felt very long, and it was every week, and my parents didn’t object to me quietly drawing during services. It was unstructured, but it was regular practice, and having no conception of skill meant that I could just enjoy myself. I used to draw something in the evening and wake up the next day to race downstairs and see if it was still there. I couldn’t believe that I had created something myself.

Lots of multimedia projects when I was little. Click for full image.

I liked drawing small furry things (and unicorns), and I had a third grade teacher who would regularly set aside time for us to write and illustrate our own stories. I was big into Harry Potter at the time, and my saga about FireFur, a “chosen” hamster who teamed up with magical white tigers to defeat Were-Hamster definitely took influence. I think that those stories would still hold up today, albeit in a different way than my third grade self would have anticipated, and they were special because that’s when I first discovered that there’s a unique connection between an artist’s words and their art. 

Sketches from the FireFur world.

The FireFur universe never really took off in the way that I hoped it would, so by sixth grade I’d come up with a new cast of characters, who lived in an online art community. Middle School and early High School are embarrassing times to recall in general, but for some reason my memories of staying up late drawing have escaped the angst that accompanies the rest of my recollections of those years. It was exciting--I’d never before or since experienced such growth in such a short (seeming) amount of time. I followed artists who I adored, and would emulate their styles and characters. It was the closest that I had to an art teacher, and the only way I wanted to spend my free time. 

Sometimes I would draw an idea in both Photoshop and on paper, and that was when I realized that the media I worked in affected the outcome of the image.

Then came late high school, and maybe it was AP classes, but I stopped drawing  like I used to. I was too busy, and too tired, and it was strange that I was no longer motivated to spend time on something that used to be such a large part of my identity. I enrolled in AP Art two years in a row and found myself subject to the College Board’s unreasonable demands (25 pictures in a portfolio, which amounted to a full painting every two weeks). Art wasn’t fun in the way that it  used to be, and as I challenged myself to broaden my horizons (left to my own devices, I mostly drew deer and foxes), for a long time I lost much of the sense of wonder I’d had when I was younger. 

One of the few pictures I drew for fun my junior year of high school of one of my original characters, Eden, and one of the last digital pictures I ever made. AP Art meant that I had to mostly draw traditionally.

Meanwhile, I began writing more, keeping an extensive journal and seeking out opportunities to share my work. I was admitted to Berkeley and developed an interest in English and entrepreneurship, and found that the creativity I’d channeled through my earlier artwork had a place there, too. And as I began to recognize the freedom that I had, inspired by the poems that I created and discovered through my studies, I began drawing again. This time I was not pressured by a base of followers or deadlines set by teachers. And so I drew what I wanted, and found that I wanted to continue challenging myself. Half of what I draw now are simple design projects, birds and logos and studies in style. The other half are applications of those studies, pieces that take weeks and that I know my AP art teacher would be proud of--landscapes and more abstract ideas fully rendered in India Ink. 

I often create birds like this to give away to friends and mentors. Again, click for full image—there are six paintings here!

And despite how busy my life is now, and how many interests and how much curiosity I have to balance with a demanding college schedule, I’m rediscovering some of that simple excitement that originally kept me up at night when I was in eighth grade, spending hours on a picture that I might show to everyone or to no one. Whether I paint 4 things this year or 40, I get to keep growing.

Meg Shriber