The Alligator and the Pickled Worm

Every year in Elementary school we were tasked with the creative endeavor of writing and illustrating a book. It was in those early years that I learned something pretty life-changing.

I was a 1st grader at Cass Elementary, and I had just written a fantastic adventure starring Alli the Alligator. This feisty little crocodile was full of spunk and fun, and her tale was pretty much perfect (in my 7-year old mind). Yep, I had just created my Magnus Opus.

With the words written, the tale weaved, it was time to illustrate each page before our para-pro took the collection to the binding machine, publishing the works of 22 eager-eyed 6- and 7-year olds.

As I sat with a green colored pencil in my left hand, I started to sketch the cute little crocodile who donned a scarf throughout her muddy mishaps.

Three strokes later, I sat staring at my creation.

It was then I learned that the gift of illustration was very, very far out of reach for me.

I mean, FAR.

My drawing resembled the likes of a lumpy green pickle, nothing like a crocodile at all. What’s worse is that my desk partners had no idea what I was trying to draw. Not only was I unable to translate what was in my head, but I was confusing my classmates.

“That’s not a crocodile at all.” “That’s a green lump!” “That’s weird.”

Crocodile tears filled my eyes as I contemplated what this meant for Alli, my book series and my eventual future as a Disney animator.

As the tears started to roll and the pencil in my hand somehow crunched to pieces, my teacher interceded.

She knew instantly what was wrong. She was no fool. My story was not about a lumpy pickle.

“I…Just…Can’t…DRAW!” I whined.

“I know it can be frustrating to not be able to draw what’s in your head, can’t it?”

“This looks NOTHING like an alligator! It’s a stupid lumpy pickle!”

“Well, sweetheart, maybe you should change your character to something you can draw. After all, you have 15 pages to illustrate.”

A few deep breaths and a kleenex or two later, Slimy the Worm was born. Not nearly as cute as his dazzling predecessor, Slimy was a lovely, lumpy mixture of brown and burnt orange crayon. His parents looked awfully similar to he and his slightly thinner, doe-eyed sister.

No, Slimy was not Alli the Alligator, but he was mine. He was born out of my little left hand.

He also taught me that while I may be able to play beginning Sonatinas on the piano, tap, sing, tumble and recite the lines from my favorite play at 7 years old, I was not finished. While I could read books in mere hours and concoct grandiose stories full of drama and whimsy, there were stones left unturned. And these stones didn’t necessarily need to be unturned by me.

I could not draw.

And I still can’t.

Being an artistic person, who has been relatively adept at picking up most creative skills, the gift of visual art has somehow escaped me.

That’s not a very easy lesson to learn, especially for one who likes to dabble frequently in different mediums. You’ll often find me in dance class even now, or reading up on photography, visiting museums, writing in Starbucks…I love art, I am a creative soul. It feeds me.

…Even if the best sketch to leave my hand is a lumpy pickle or a slimy worm.

As an artist, it can be frustrating to not be able to fully loose the creative demons and angels lurking in the annals of your mind. But through the frustration, through the acceptance of weakness, new passions and disciplines are born.

I have accepted that I am not a sketch artist (unless you count the Disney characters I’ve drawn in the Animation Academy at California Adventure). I adore animation, illustration and visual art. However, I have yet to figure out exactly how to express myself through that medium.

The 7-year old in me tugs my sleeve to remind me of just how painfully frustrating it was to only be able to create a lumpy pickle worm, but the life student in me is convinced there’s an animation class out there that will teach me. And if not, I can at least continue to appreciate those that can create great illustrations and drawings.

…and maybe begin penning another adventure of Slimy the Worm…or hire a friend to illustrate.

(Inspiration for this post came from flipping through an acquaintances wonderfully-crafted children’s book, I Want My Hat Back By Jon Klassen…and dreaming of working at Disney Animation Studios…)