I have always loved to look closer, to not miss out and see the real beauty that I pass by either in the city or the country. It gives me pleasure to notice, as I did in my trip north this past week, the bobbing heads of two draft horses passing by on a country road overpass. Closer inspection revealed the bright orange mounds of pumpkins in the wagon and the rounded yellow peak of the Amish straw hated driver on his way to market.
Although it seemed hardwired into me from the start, are we ever really taught how to observe? As a child in grade school I was never taught how to draw. Children were usually handed supplies and instructed to create a Christmas card or cut out and glue shapes to create toilet paper roll pilgrims. Drawing on the right side of the Brain by Betty Edwards was one of the books that convinced me that anyone, children included could be taught to be better observers.
Several years ago I taught gifted and talented 3rd, 4th and 5th graders how to draw what they saw and not what they knew. I have a couple of excellent books on how to do just that with children. Most children draw emblems that resemble what they would know as a house, not what a house actually looks like with all of it’s dimensions. In the class I would ask them to draw their hand, not out flat like the ones taped to your kitchen fridge decorated to look like turkeys, but curled into a ball, fingers side up. They would grumble every week as I asked them to complete this exercise first.
Each week I would give them more tools to work with, shape, shading and perspective, all the time explaining how to make a flat piece of paper look like it had dimension. By the end of the 7 weeks of one day classes they took a look at their drawings and saw the difference.
The state agency that I had worked for, asked me to develop a drawing class for their ecology camp that had 5th and 6th graders in it. It would be a single class and I was left wondering what I could get across to the kids, most of which were forced to attend. I decided to see if I could condense my observation style class into something that wasn’t as much for drawing ability but more to allow them to see what they were missing. I instructed them to do 2 separate tasks. The first task was to pick a plant and draw it from 6 feet away. After they had completed that drawing they were to get as close to the plant as they could and draw it again. The second task was to draw 3 different shaped trees.
They got it and fast. They realized when they took the time to really get up close and look that what they had drawn before was very possibly way off. I could hear them pointing things out to each other, different plants, flowers and the shape of bark on the trees. These were the same kids that I had to prod off of the pathway and into the brush to start the first drawing.
Genealogy is a lot like that path. At first there is the gathering all of the family members, dates and information from a census form or obituary. Then the fun really begins when you get off the path and crawl in closer to examine the shape of the life, veins and all, correcting any initial miss judgments.