Leda Schubert * Writer of Picture Books

An Occasional Post

An apple a day

May 2, 2013

Tags: flow, practice, 10, 000 hours, watercolor

(Prologue: to see all apples inserted in the text visit the VCFA wordpress blog. Two examples on the left.)

Doctorís orders, right? An apple a day. Evidence supports the health benefits.

We have all heard about the 10,000 hour thingie. Want to get good at something? Do it. Do it over and over and over. Yet deep inside, many of us continue to believe in the idea of pure talent. Raise your hand if youíre one of the many.

I am here today to bare my soul and show you the fruit, as it were, of doing something over and over. Of practice. Of a whole bunch of hours. Not quite 10,000 yet, but Iím just getting started.

I have for years wanted to take a watercolor or drawing class, but for almost four decades I had extremely full-time work. Last fall, at last, I tootled off to our wonderful art store, the Drawing Board, and plunked down a lot of assorted bills. (I will spare you the gory details.) In exchange, I went home with cool paper, some brushes, and an intriguing selection of watercolor tubes, all of which remained a total mystery to me. What does a person do with such tubes? There was method to my madness: I had signed up for a class.

My supportive husband, who does most of our grocery shopping (even though he could live on cereal), began to bring home vegetables and fruits for me to paint. (Note: checkout clerks often commented on his colorful assortment. They probably thought he was eating them. By the time he/we did, they werenít quite as colorful any more.)

I became obsessed with apples. Apples, for me, were impossible. Mine didnít look round. The colors were all wrong. Sometimes they looked like pomegranates, which in turn looked like very unfortunate Christmas ornaments. Nobody else in class was having any trouble. Obvious Leda-like conclusion: I had no talent. Temptation: give up.

Surprising myself, I didnít stop. I kept painting apples and seeing more. Stems, colors, shape, values, highlights, light. An apple actually tells a storyĖhow it grew, whether it rained, where the sun hit it, etc.Ėand mine began to look a wee bit like apples.

Because you will probably demand proof, and because I live to serve and am brave, Iíve included samples. I am learning, and I am starting to love my apples.

Painting/drawing isnít the same as writing. One example: what I want to paint is right in front of me. But both require commitment, and thereís no waiting around for inspiration in either discipline. While I donít expect to reach apple nirvana, I do expect to keep painting and drawing.

I love doing this work. I enter a flow state where hours can pass before I know it.

Unlike publishing, nobody else gets to make decisions about my attempts at art (though I did have, temporarily, a gentle advisor. Thanks due to Susan Bull Riley, brilliant artist and teacher, and to the congenial women in our class.). And I do not yet know how this will inform my writing. You have probably already made all the obvious connections, you smarty-pants folks. But you may have missed a wonderful essay by John McPhee (hero) in the April 29 New Yorker, which is not entirely relevant but can be squeezed to fit.

If you lack confidence in setting one word after another and sense that you are stuck in a place from which you will never be set free, if you feel sure that you will never make it and were not cut out to do this, if your prose seems stillborn and you completely lack confidence, you must be a writer. If you say you see things differently and describe your efforts positively, if you tell people that you Ďjust love to write,í you may be delusional.

There you go. Back to my apples.

PS: the colors are better and the images sharper in real life, if I do say so myself.

PPS: I have also used many now-digested Brussels sprouts as subjects. Fun to draw. Highly recommended as both subjects and victims.

Now Available or Coming Soon (Click on each title for complete information.)

Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press, June, 2017
Click for a pdf discussion and activities guide. (Look on left of page after clicking.)
A nonfiction picture book illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker. Roaring Brook Press, 2006
Holiday House, Fall 2011. Illustrated by Amanda Haley
Illustrated by Bonnie Christensen and published by Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press.
Illustrated by Andrea U'Ren and published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. March, 2010.
Illustrated by Mary Azarian, published by Houghton Mifflin 2005
Illustrated by William Benedict. Candlewick, 2000.