Simple Gifts

Dear Lara,

Your father told me that you have an interest in art, particularly in cartooning.  When I was young, I had a knack for illustration, and I loved drawing cartoons. I dug out an old project I did with cartooned animals that were part of a children’s book project that I never finished.   I want to share them with you because the drawings demonstrate something about cartooning and drawing in general; that drawing depends as much on feeling as it does on sight.

The narrative of my book-to-be, was based on “The Peaceable Kingdom,” a place described in Isaiah (11:1-9) where “the wolf shall lie down with the lamb and the leopard with the kid,” in a messianic paradise.

Edward Hicks, a 19th century painter and Quaker minister, created over 60 paintings of this subject.   The Quakers promoted non-violence, and a Peaceable Kingdom was an ideal of theirs.   But it was another radical Protestant sect, The Shakers, who put this idea to music.  Their hymn, “Simple Gifts,” is one of my favorite songs, and in my project, I combined the Quaker idea of a peaceable kingdom with the Shaker hymn.

Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom, 1834

Simple Gifts

Tis a gift to be simple,

Tis a gift to be free,

Tis a gift to come round where you want to be.

And when you have found the place that is right,

You will be in the garden of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,

To bow and to bend we will not be ashamed,

And in turning, turning, twill be our delight,

And in turning, turning, we’ll come round right.

It was only when I dug my drawings out recently, that I realized something of why I had made the project in the first place.  The animals in my drawings are completely un-self-conscious, living in the moment, free of self-doubt and stress, a state of mind I rarely achieve for myself except in brief flashes.

It made me happy to design these images because I had to find and interpret feelings of bliss within myself.  The expressions and the gestures, all had to come from my own inner experience in order for me to draw them.  The general tenor of my personality is colored by self-doubt, stress, and feelings of inadequacy, so it cheered me up to put myself in a space of un-self-conscious joy.

That is the thing about drawing.  Although the skills needed for observational drawing helps an artist to translate the three-dimensional world into two dimensions, the more important intelligence is intuitive and kinetic.  The knowledge in making a drawing is within one’s body, within their inner experience as much as it is in the way they see.

For my book, I thought of advisarial animals that do not generally get along and like Hicks, I illustrated them in harmonious environments.  Though I never polished the final images, the video below shows the project as far as I got it twenty-five years ago.