In fourth grade I got my first, and only, “N” on my elementary school report card. Back then N stood for “Needs Improvement” but it really felt like an F. My handwriting skills were seriously lacking, and I guess my teacher couldn’t bring herself to give me an “S” for Satisfactory. It hurt, but even back then I knew she had a point.
My drawing skills were no better but I guess the art teacher was more forgiving. Maybe she saw an abstract expressionist in the making. I don’t think my art or handwriting abilities have advanced much past fourth grade. For a few years I helped oversee the bulletin board designs at my daughters’ elementary school. More than once, I wrote words that someone mistakenly thought were done by a student. I just went with it.
I offer this as a somewhat long-winded way to introduce my elephant. This is the go-to doodle that I have relied on for as long as I can remember.
I was always particularly proud of the three drops of water that come out of his trunk, a playful detail that brings the sketch to another level. Maybe fifth grade. I have signed many a birthday card with this little guy, and he often shows up to keep me company as I’m taking notes during long meetings.
My mother, of course, creates a much better doodle. For as long as I can remember, she’s been making “The Girl,” as I call her. I just learned that my mother learned how to make “The Girl” from her mother. And her four sisters also drew their versions of “The Girl,” and somewhere in her house she has a collection of some of their respective drawings. (She’s still looking for them and I will post if she finds them.)
What I also recently discovered is that The Girl was actually my Nana’s version of the Gibson Girl. In the 1890s, a man by the name of Charles Dana Gibson created the so-called Gibson Girl, known for her hourglass figure, aristocratic air and perfectly upswept hair. His pen-and-ink drawings appeared in popular magazines and came to represent the spirit of this new, independent woman at the turn of the century. I read somewhere that the Gibson Girl influenced popular opinions about femininity in the early 1900s in much the same way that Barbie did in the late 1900s.
Who knew Nana was so hip to the scene?
On a recent visit, my mother agreed to teach me how to make her version of the Gibson Girl, step by step. (I cut her off at the end as she’s adding her bow.)
I have been practicing the technique. I can’t get the lips down at all. They should be more heart-shaped. My girl also doesn’t look as sweet or as pretty as my mother’s.
In fact, I think we can all be honest: She needs improvement.