was an integral part of myself. I had to get it back.
I lost all the digits from my right hand to meningitis three years
ago, I feared I might have lost some other things as well, things
I considered integral parts of myself.
I found there were
two pursuits by which I define myself. How well I do them is immaterial.
One activity requires two hands, the other, my dominant right hand.
Doing these things at allmuch less doing them wellwas
beginning to look pretty grim.
After three months
of inactivity and the loss of 20 pounds, my first order of business
was to return to the gym to see if I could recover the body I had
worked so hard to create. Through hereditary stubbornness and the
help of a talented prosthetist, I gained back the weight I'd lost
plus an additional 10 pounds of muscle for good luck.
Pursuit of the second activity
was going to be harder. Since Kaiser, my health plan, would never
approve the outrageous luxury of two different and specialized prosthetic
devices, I had to choose which of my two consuming passions was
going to be helped along with assistive technology. I decided that
recovering physically and using my physique to distract people from
my handicap was my greatest concern. I had spent too many years
fighting my own self-consciousness to retreat now.
it seemed there was no hope for it: it was the weight machines that
were going to meet my new prosthetic hand; I would simply have to
learn to draw with my left hand.
Even after years of painting and
drawing, there is nothing I find more terrible than a blank sheet
of paper. Think about it: the subject matter is endless, techniques
range from the precise to the impressionistic to the abstract, and
the mediums at my disposal go from something as thin as a pen point
to brushes broader than a fist. But what scared me most was the
pressure to turn out something appealing. You can look at it two
ways: Each blank sheet of paper is an unrealized image waiting to
be torn to shreds or it's your masterpiece. I approach every piece
of paper as something that needs to submit to my will. It will be
goodor what's the point of the exercise?
to my terror by choosing a medium that strikes fear into the most
accomplished artists: watercolor. No mark can be eradicated. You
cannot scrape, erase, or distract the viewer. Like a diary, it records
your every ill-conceived, half-baked idea.
In art school we would be asked
to draw without letting our eyes leave the subject, or in the dark,
or using our non-dominant hand,. These were attempts to get us to
let go of preconceived notions of how an egg, say, should look.
They were supposed to encourage us to let go of tested and approved
methods. They were supposed to free our creativity. They werelaughable.
Or so I thought.
Now, twenty years later, I was
entertaining the idea that my formerly untalented left hand might
produce a decent drawing rather than a disposable doodle. The evidence
arrayed against this idea was formidable. To this day, I cannot
adjust to writing with my left hand. If I could barely fashion a
readable word, what hope was there that I could wield a paintbrush
any more skillfully?
My first attempts were weak artistically
and crippling emotionally. By now I have gained some distance, but
then I was drowning in self pity, which only made drawing more difficult.
Through obstinacy, I persisted. Now, years later, I've tallied the
results and found some interesting truths.
attend a Tuesday
evening sketch group. The longest poses last under thirty minutes,
so there isn't time to turn out a finished drawing. Even so, I have
begun to adopt a very casual posture to the process of drawing.
I no longer expect masterpieces.
I have embraced the idea that sometimes-the-magic-works-sometimes-it-doesn't.
This makes me more experimental, and more importantly, undisturbed
when I produce a poor image. Maybe loosing valuable body parts helps
you to adopt a cavalier attitude toward something as frivolous as
What I have also discovered is
I draw just as well with my left hand as I ever did with my right.
I have the same color sense, I have retained my passion for textured
surfaces, and I still have trouble rendering hands and feet. But
what I also realize is that when I paint, it is the only time I
completely forget about what I've lost. My attention is centered
entirely on what I am doing and, incredibly, it is no more difficult
than it was before.
I completely loose my sense of
self when I am drawing. In a way, it's not surprising. I have always
parted freely with my sketches, mostly, I think, because unlike
other artists, my ego is not very involved. I also praise my own
work without narcissism. I simply don't think of myself as being
a part of the process. It's as if someone who looks remarkably like
me were really the artist. I accept the criticism and approval on
behalf of someone else, someone who has come to terms with his strengths
tell me how brave I am for pursuing these things, given my handicap.
They insist that if they had to work with the same disadvantages,
they would just sit at home and do nothing. That's an attitude I
don't understand. For me, art was an integral part of myself. I
had to get it back.
: PAINTINGS & TEXT© Steven Sickles 1999
attends his sketch group.