In a previous post, I mentioned that I used to draw. Most of my earlier artwork was done during high school from 2006 – 2008. I usually drew animals. I preferred colored pencils. I reluctantly tried different styles and different drawing materials (pencil, acrylic paint, watercolor, charcoal, ink etching) for art class assignments.
High school art class deadlines forced me to keep drawing frequently for three years, but after graduation I only finished a handful of pictures. Eventually, I completely stopped drawing. Art was simply too frustrating and too painful for me to continue. I was too perfectionistic for the process to ever be enjoyable. I would get so angry while drawing that my family often had to physically restrain me from tearing my work to shreds. Before I ever started a picture, I spent hours drawing a 1cm by 1cm grid on the reference photo and enlarging the grid proportionally on the blank white paper so that I could copy each detail meticulously. After the grid was complete, the drawing process felt like a never-ending series of mistakes that required constant erasing and smudging and adjustment. So I hated drawing. But I felt compelled to do it because I received so many compliments on the end results.
My last attempt at drawing was during second year vet school in 2011. It was a picture of a cow and her calf, shown above, intended as a gift for one of my professors. I became so enraged halfway through the drawing that I tore up the reference photo and threw my box of colored pencils across the room. After cleaning up the scattered paper fragments and shattered rainbow lead, I stuffed the half-finished picture back in a folder and promised myself I would never draw again. That drawing will remain forever incomplete. And I was artless for the next five and half years.
In all my previous artwork, I had never drawn people. Partly because I assumed I would never have the skill to draw a person perfectly. But mostly because I was so uncomfortable with my own appearance – discomfort arising from gender dysphoria and resulting in anorexia – that I refused to consider any attempt at drawing a human face or body. But I harbored a secret desire to be able to draw portraits with enough skill to capture a person’s resemblance and facial expression.
During my time on the psychiatric unit over the past few months, I finally decided to try drawing again. But I knew I had to do something differently to avoid returning to the same frustrating perfectionistic habits. And following the radical improvements in body image, I wondered if I could now try drawing people. So I broke all my old rules.
No pencil. No eraser. No grid. No animals.
Human faces. Drawn freehand. With pen.
This process has been far more enjoyable than I ever imagined. I now find myself looking forward to drawing with more excitement that I ever believed would be possible for me. I think my portrait efforts are a reflection of my progress in creating a more positive perception of my current appearance. And, in some ways, these portraits have been very helpful in contributing to acceptance and appreciation for human faces, including my own.
My drawings have become an incredibly important aspect of how I cope with body dysphoria, so I will start posting them here on Genderland. This ongoing active acceptance of my appearance is a process that will remain forever incomplete.
“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”
– Basil Hallward (The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde, 1890)