Nana always had a bowl of fruit on her kitchen table. that day it was full of big shiny red apples.
A large smooth wooden bowl that had the appearance of being woven because of the checkerboard pattern created by the wooden squares set with the grain at right angles to each other. I was very excited. I mean I was five years old and easily amused (that part hasn’t changed) but this was different. I loved to watch Nana paint and draw. I had asked her if she would teach me how to paint. She had agreed but said, “to learn to paint, first you need to learn to draw.” We sat down at the kitchen table by the bay window. It was a midsummer morning, the sunlight coming in the window was sublime. I wasn’t aware then but in my adult life I would dream about a space with such beautiful natural light. Dramatic in the morning, more diffuse yet still bright throughout the day.
I digress. She gave me a piece of drawing paper. Then removed an apple from the bowl and set it on the table in front of us. The sunlight hitting it at a downward angle creating a highlight on the upper left side and casting a shadow down to the right.
Nana asked, “What do you see?”
I just looked at her blankly, because all I could think is “an apple” but I didn’t want to be a smart-ass. (At five I may have already been kind of a smartass, but this was important and I didn`t want to mess it up.) I think she guessed what I was thinking because she laughed a little.
She pointed to the middle of the apple with her pencil and asked me, “what color is right here in this spot?”
“Red,” I anwered.
She pointed to the bottom of the apple where it touches the table, “how about Here?”
“Black?” I answered in the tone of a question. I remember this made me feel uncomfortable because I knew if in school I had said black was the color of an apple I would have been laughed at, or at least told I was wrong. Apples came in green, red maybe yellow, but who ever heard of an apple being black? Where she pointed though, it looked black so that is what I said.
She moved the pencil to where the sun filtering in the window touched a spot on the apple, lighting it up.
“That looks Pink, almost white,” I said enthusiastically and probably much louder than I needed to.
After that she sat down where I was and had me watch her draw the apple with the same pencil she was using as a pointer. As she drew she would stop to explain that an object of any color could be drawn in black and white because of “values”. Values were different levels of darkness and light. Drawing using many values to show the form of a shape was called shading. The full color (in this case the redest red) would be the neutral value of grey, from there shadows are a darker value and highlights a lighter value. While she explained I concentrated on her drawing, watching her pencil dance across the paper. As it moved I saw the apple emerge on the page. I had watched her draw and paint many times, fascinated by the appearance of forms on the paper or canvas as if conjured by magic. This time it was different, it was still just as amazing and magical but it also made sense.
Then it was my turn. Her drawing was at the top left of the paper so she had me start below it. She said, “breath, look hard, then draw what you see.” So I sat and fixated wide eyed on the apple in the sun. Then I tried to draw it. Each time I drew it and then brought it to her and she would critique it and tell me how I could do better:
“Lightly sketch the shape first until you feel it matches the outline of the apple, then fill it in with your shadings.”
“Move your pencil to match the shape of the apple.” This one confused me so she cut lines into the skin of another apple so I could see how even though the life blade was straight the lines looked curved. She informed me “straight lines are only for flat objects.”
“The darkest value should be on the bottom where the object meets it’s shadow, other shadows can be close but that should be the darkest one.”
I drew that Apple over and over again until the sun went down. Each time it looked a little bit more like what I saw on the table. The summer between kindergarten and first grade I was maybe a month from my sixth birthday this was my first memory of having my mind blown. After we were done I couldn’t wait to go show my parents. After hugging Nana goodbye I remeber skip-running back to my house. Nana cracked my little brain open that day. She made me think if I drew as much as possible maybe someday, I might do magic too.