Sunday, March 24, 2013


Recently my boys discovered an old Klutz Press instructional book, Draw the Marvel Comics Super Heroes.  This manual shows incrementally how to replicate such greats as Spiderman, the Hulk, and various X-Men. It also includes translucent pages, allowing you to produce a finished portrait of these stupendous characters without going to the trouble of actually learning how to draw them.

Finding the steps involved in making original compositions difficult, my genetically lazy kids basically went through the books tracing all the drawings. Once the see-through pages were used up, they wanted a new book.  I said, "No, I'm not going to buy you a whole new book just so you can trace the same pictures again. I will, however, buy you some tracing paper."

I could have insisted they go through the book and learn the actual process of drawing the figures. Or, if I were more energetic, sat alongside them and helped them through it.  If I were a "good" homeschool mom maybe this exercise in lameness would have been curtly dismissed.  But then, there was the upside.  It kept them busy.

Last fall, being optimistic, I had put art on the schedule every day of the school year.  It being March, I was long tired of thinking up things to do for art class.  Though this was not the most productive form of learning, they loved doing it, which also meant no whining and complaining.  And sometimes, the fact that they love doing something is partly why we originally wanted to homeschool.  I don't always have to squash the enthusiasm out of them with torturous still-lifes.

While in the dreaded Wal-Mart, looking for tracing paper, the boys spotted Star Wars: The Clone Wars Super Fun Book to Color.  It had big white pages with clear contours of subjects they would never be able to tackle on their own--perfect for tracing. Though I cringed at the price, it turned out to be the best $4 I'd spent in a while. They were fast and furious at this project. They would wake me up at 6 a.m. and ask if they could do their tracing.  They kept at it for hours.

Despite the black fingerprints on the walls and white kitchen cabinets, the papers, markers, and pencils strewn all over the place, I was happy. Moms of boys at the end of winter know how precious any respite from their fighting and boredom can be.  And they were ecstatic at being able to make drawings that were really cool. The finished product looked just like their "real" heroes.  They know they can't do that by themselves, but they really want to. They don't want to do some crummy drawing that looks nothing like what they're trying to depict. 

Having a minor in fine arts, I did genuinely see some use in this exercise.  My professors had us copy the great masters' works, and it was extremely helpful--to see how they put down a line, expressed a figure.  I learned from Michelangelo how to draw a knee.  Maybe the kids would learn something, even if subliminally, from their tracing.  Writers read to get better at writing.  Artists look at other artists' work to improve their own. And you really see much more clearly when you're so focused, copying line for line.

I used to like to write poetry in college, but forgot about it for a long time.  When trying to pick it up again I was extremely rusty.  And like painting or any other form of artwork, it takes total concentration and focus.  Homeschool moms do not have this.  My brain is oatmeal at this point.  So, my later attempts at poetry writing were hopeless.

But I still enjoy good poetry when I come across it--if it's not too demanding.  And I have found the best poetry ever written, in the Psalms.  So, oftentimes I find myself copying the words of the Psalmist.  I can think his thoughts after him and my mind is lifted to a plane above what I am able to reach on my own.  Like my kids, I am tracing the masterful works of another...but much more so because these words are inspired by the Holy Spirit.  The beauty of the words themselves is undeniable.  I've never read poetry so profound.  The heroes described are real, everlasting, and true.

In copying the Psalms my heart is strengthened,  my soul is refreshed, and my mind is brought into line with where it should be. Most of the Psalms were written by David, a man after God's own heart. (Acts 13:22) That is an attribute I want to copy.

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