Drawing Dinosaurs

In the first weeks of kindergarten I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

Everyday I got to go out on my own to a place full of other kids and play and read and learn stuff. ALL MORNING.

All the best things in life were crammed into that room. We had a proper playhouse, book den, sofa and even a stove(!).

On this stove we would learn to make homemade applesauce later that fall, taking turns to stand on the step-stool next to the teacher, our painting smocks doubling as aprons. We had picked the apples ourselves on our very first field trip, placing them carefully in a big wooden bushel basket. I can taste the warm mushy flavor still.


One day we were studying dinosaurs. My favorite subject. I had a plethora at home and knew all their names (I had most of this amazing British Museum set, now sadly extinct).

My assignment was to draw one. Not, theoretically, a difficult thing for a five-year-old.

I knew they were scaly like lizards (this was a very long time ago in the realm of paleontology, remember), and while I contemplated the markers with which to color my triSARAtops a light bulb went off.

When a goldfish swims by they flash all sorts of colors. Like there is a rainbow inside of the scales. That must be what dinosaurs were like. Not flat brown or green but shiny and changeful, like real animals.

I did not know the word for iridescent and certainly couldn’t have explained the optics at play, but I could see in my mind the striated array of light scattered by scales. I dumped out every marker in the box and began to color with frowny determination.

I remember feeling so clever, like I’d solved a puzzle for the ages. Imagining my proud teacher, my awesome drawing.

I dashed reds and purples and greens across its flank. A whole world of color bouncing on its skin.

When I finished I sat back  — I even remember which chair, not my usual seat — and looked at the final product. My heart sank. A guddle of garish splotches stared back at me. Not all what I’d had in mind.

I looked at the brown and green dinosaurs in front of my classmates. At least you could tell what they were.

It is the first time I remember feeling embarrassed. Inadequate.

And in that moment I decided quite matter-of-factly that I could not draw.

If I couldn’t get what was in my head out on paper, I was doing this wrong. It simply wasn’t possible. The End.


I think of this moment now and wish I could discuss this failure with Little Me.

To explain the difference between vision and skill. To understand the ambition behind the mess. To encourage the eyes which saw something special and the hand unable to articulate it.

I recognize her desire to show the world something amazing.

Her yearning to produce something of value despite her insufficient tool box.

I still can’t draw a dinosaur to save my life. But something tells me it’s time to try again.

To do my best, even if it’s imperfectly rendered.


[Thumbnail image of the Invicta dinosaur figures from rubberdinosaurs.org]


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