When I was a kid we played with die-cast metal toys, traded Garbage Pail Kid cards, walked and rode our bikes to the other side of town (and sometime beyond) completely unattended, and knocked the wind out of ourselves doing penny drops on the jungle gym. Also, I was an artist.
I grew up in southern New Hampshire. From second through fifth grade I had the same art teacher. He was the first person to teach me to really look at things and attempt to replicate them on paper. Having grown up on a steady diet of Walter Foster step-by-step, how-to-draw books this was a revelation. My second-grader brain just couldn’t handle the idea that things could be drawn without first drawing two circles and connecting them with a rectangle.
In art class we made paper and clay sculpture. My art teacher’s truisms on these subjects still ring in my ears. On glue: “a little dab’l do ya.” On attaching legs to any clay critter: score the end of the limb, wet it, then smush it onto the body of the creature until it is embarrassingly squat, misshapen, and … ahem, sturdy. Nothing like the lithe, graceful legs I had imagined on my unicorn figurine, but it would stay upright to survive the kiln.
Picture-making lessons generally consisted of a) looking out the window and drawing or painting a realistic picture of the house next door or b) drawing or painting a realistic picture of a plastic animal. There were several to choose from, but the alligator was one of my personal favorites. By doing this type of art for four years, my brain eventually made the leap from drawing ingrained shapes to observing and recording. I had no idea it was the best art training I would ever receive, and I’m still trying to draw like my second grade self.