Coming Back to Sketching after an Accident (But It’s True for Any Break Too)

July 19, 2010

The sky sort of fell in on me.

Above: my first "determined" sketch after the accident. A puffin with dip pen. Click on the image to view and enlargement.

July 1 I was conked on the head by a falling 1—1/2 pound globe of glass. During my recovery I've written several versions of the incident. Some are screamingly hilarious, some obscene and fierce, others matter-of-fact. None of them seemed right to share, in fact for awhile I actually thought I wouldn't even mention it. Now it seems I have to, because the accident has had impact on more than my head.

First I have to tell you we (Dick and I) did everything we were supposed to after the accident (which happened at home). He is an engineer who deals with brain devices after all! But all of that is really rather boring, at least it is to me right now. Except for two things. First friends (and I) found it exceedingly funny that while the impact did cause a large cut, it was an impact cut, not a cut from broken glass. The globe didn't break until after it bounced (yes bounced) off my head and hit the counter. (I think this puts to rest forever the assertion by some that I am hard-headed!) Second my vision immediately improved, improved to pre-car accident, 1996, levels. (OK, I don't know about immediately because immediately I wasn't trying to read or write anything—so the next morning.)

I looked on the eyesight improvement as the silver lining, but viewed it as temporary. As it was I couldn't take advantage of it because I was unable to read or draw because of a phenomenal headache. I began to wonder when my eyesight would return to "normal."

Here's the point I want to make today because I believe it is worth sharing—how and why do you come back to art after an accident?

I didn't draw for 3 days after the accident. And when I did, I realized immediately that there was something horribly wrong. I couldn't draw the same way any more. The internal dialog which is "just there" wasn't. And there was no hand-eye-brain coordination. I spend a lot of time with my brain, and it freaked me out that I couldn't access it for normal (to me) activities.

I did what I always do when faced with a new phenomenon—I observed it. It meant I had to work with my brain despite the pain and nausea. (I was also pretty much motion sick for the first few days.)

So, unhappy with a car sketch I'd done on the 3rd, that looked like it had been drawn by an 80-year-old with Parkinson's, and some laborious (painfully so, and painfully slow) sketches I did at one of the doctor's offices (on the 8th), and a bird study (also on the 8th), with notes that went every which way (despite my intent to not have them do so) I decided to get systematic.

I pulled out the dip pen the next day. To me the dip pen makes a deliberate mark, almost a cutting into or a carving. It's also one of my earliest drawing tools, so I was going back to something familiar and comfortable, but deliberate. (If that makes sense—another problem I've had since the accident is articulating exactly what I mean, which given that I'm so verbal you can understand has been very frustrating to me.)

I wrote about the experience on my journal page. Some of it may be visible, but here's the bit I think will help you understand what I was experiencing:

So I asked myself, what if it doesn't come back—the hand-eye coordination? and as if to negate the essential possibility of it I immediately made a zoo date on Monday with a friend. But in the meantime I'm left looking at the uneven crab trail scrawl my handwriting has become. Maybe no one else notices, but when I make a line now I can tell it isn't going where I want it to go—just before it actually goes somewhere else. And then the nausea begins—which I think is just an internal manifestation of the frustration.

So I have a choice—to mope…or to suck it up, throbbing head and all, and place one line slowly after the other, with more deliberation than I ever use…until the result is stylized, stripped down…but controled [sic]. I wanted controlled. I got it. An alien drawing from an alien hand that doesn't know its brain. But it looks familiar—just an earlier version of self.

When you spend your life noticing nuances, every little thing can seem glaring. Like the inability to make even-edged columns when you normally would do this without thinking, or the smooth fluidity of a line you might achieve without looking—now no longer possible. The end result might not look different to everyone else, but you know the difference, it's as plain as day. Just as the feeling and experience of execution is as foreign as, well, speaking in a foreign language with only a third grade vocabulary. All the hard-earned adult vocabulary is gone. You can't even reach for it. It's just gone.

A little bit of self examination can result in some unheard of clarity. I know now that the one sense I would least be able to manage the loss of is sight. (I used to think I'd adapt, but I need that visual stimulation coming in; it's how I experience joy and for me joy and wonder are the cornerstones of life as I live it.) And for the person who grew up believing she was all so sensible…well…

There would be no more observing because I am totally wrapped up with my eyes…look, see, note, watch…and then catalog the nuance that you find. It is all I've ever wanted. I'm like the beauty queen who has pinned all her hopes on features that will fail. My youthful arrogance is hilarious now—all features fail…it's the order of breakage that determines what our life will be.

The emphasis added in the above excerpt from my journal is added by me now as I type. That's the clarity, it is this that is all I ever wanted, not one of the 10,000 other things I could list as attractive goals. Just this, my eyes observing, never much, but always with me, always fulfilling. I was quick in youth to disparage the poor choices (in my mind) of others, without seeing the equally flawed choice I was making. (OK, I still think my choice was better than the beauty queen's, the glass globe didn't knock all the arrogance out of me.)

But this breakage of features, that's something I see all around me now—in injured friends with bad teeth and replaced joints, in Dick's parents slipping into old age, in my own increasingly slower metabolism. I express gratitude every day for all my faculties, for the use I get to put them to. But this incident has also made me realize that the gratitude has to go deeper and has to savor even more than before.

And if I really only ever wanted one thing, then I have to fight for it every day, even if my head is splitting, even if it never returns to "normal" (because let's face it, after a certain age the body argues with increased frequency with us about the nature of what "normal" is!).

Moping isn't an option, for me, or for anyone facing a return to art after an accident or some other incident which causes a break. First of all, moping is boring. Both to the Mopee and to those who observe the Mopee.

Trying gets us somewhere, even if that somewhere comes with a headache and motion sickness. Even if our tries can only be sustained for brief periods. But it helps to remember that a string of short intervals will still push your mind or body towards change. (That's why I always tell my journal students—15 minutes a day rather than wait for a weekend "session" which never materializes.)

Getting in and doing is your only choice. That, and gratitude for the clarity (which can help you build muscles for future feature failures—because they are coming).

Trying repays those who are just building skills too, not just those who have lost them. The act of doing actually repays everyone in an equal opportunity manner. Remember that the next time you think your nose is runny and you want to skip drawing, or you have a headache and think you won't work on your script pages, or your muscles are sore and you're going to give gardening a pass.

You may think that the person with skills gets more from the act of doing than you do, because you don't think your drawings look like anything. But "skills" is a continuum down which you can push yourself. (Remember I'd like to paint like Gerôme and I know I won't get there in my lifetime, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to paint.)

If you don't make an effort to come back to art after an accident or a long break (caused for some other reason, you fill in the blank) there is one sure result—you never will push yourself down that skills continuum.

Me, I'd rather have the headache that comes from doing. I know in your heart you would too.

Note: Over the next few weeks I'll post more about my progress reconnecting my hand and eye and brain because I think it might be helpful to people to see what happens. Actually I don't really have any choice do I? Posts would pretty much trail off if I didn't make new sketches. It did seem important to me, in the interest of disclosure, to share what had happened to me. With luck and a bit of time it might be no more than a glitch in my continuum. With luck and a bit of time it might also mean my life goes in a new direction. For the first couple of weeks, however, post-accident posts will be mixed with pre-accident posts (and sketches) as I really did hope on the morning of July 1 that I was finally going to get that summer hiatus! I had posts in the queue.

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  1. Reply

    OMG Roz, what an event in your life. I have my fingers crossed that all of this is totally temporary, which it probably is. But even if some disconnect has happened, my money is on you to re-connect. Keep us posted.

    • Nita
    • July 19, 2010

    I’m filled with dozens of questions, but will spare you that flood of reaction. Just to say, then, how shocking this turn in the road is (but aren’t they all) and how sorry I am to hear of it.

    I send you strength and encouragement to use this event as a fascinating, if unwanted, route of investigation and experimentation in creativity.

  2. Reply

    Wonderful post. I was so sorry to hear about your head injury, and I’m so impressed by your “can-do” attitude. And love the part about moping….

    As a physician, I will read your followup posts with great interest. You are so much more reflective than most patients and can express the changes so precisely.

    • elizabeth
    • July 19, 2010


    I am so sorry to hear about your accident. I am a physician and from what you describe (regarding the mechanism of injury and your subsequent symptoms) nothing that you are telling me seems out of the ordinary. Based on your mentioning drawing something on the 8th in the doctor’s, I can only assume that you have sought medical care. Otherwise, please feel free to drop me a line and I will be more than happy to answer any questions that you may have.

    Cheers to you and your speedy recovery!

    • Roz
    • July 19, 2010

    Donna, Vicki, Nita, thank you for your kind thoughts and encouragement. I appreciate the confidence you all send. Some parts of the day get a bit difficult—but I have a good sense of humor about all this—mostly I’m pissed off right now that I couldn’t go see Despicable Me because the 3D would have given me a worse headache!

    And so it goes.

    • Roz
    • July 19, 2010

    Shirley and Elizabeth, thanks for your encouragement and professional best wishes. My main issue right now is the frustration over the time all this takes. I try to remind myself that other issues took a long time to right themselves, and it was a series of plateaus (plateaux?—I’ve totally lost my ability to spell). I remember tearing all the ligaments in one of my ankles and realizing 5 years later that yes it was finally all back. I actually remember the exact day, and where I was (walking in a field, tracking with Dottie, stepping in fox holes!).

    Of course it’s more disturbing when it impacts my communication skills.

    And Shirley, yep, no moping in this house! It isn’t on the menu. Though I am working on a “plan B” and C and D…

  3. Reply

    Goodness, Roz this post has come as such a shock because you are Unstoppable. What a terrible experience but thank goodness you are here talking to us still and continuing to set an inspiring example to us all.

    I’m also glad to see a couple of Doctors here too, keeping an eye on you 🙂 I think Shirley’s comment is spot on – that you are so much more reflective than most patients. It’s actually why we all come to sit at your feet – because you are such a wonderfully reflective human being.

    Full recovering will follow and meantime we will follow you.

    Warmest regards.

  4. Reply

    I am so sorry to hear about your accident, Roz! Wishing you a complete and speedy recovery! Glad to see that your spirits are high, that’s often half the battle already won. Interesting thoughts on picking yourself up from a negative territory, appreciate you sharing them.

  5. Reply

    Roz, thank you for letting us know and giving us the opportunity to offer support and witness your recovery. As someone who suffers from frequent migraines, I know the feeling of severe headache combined with nausea and how debilitating it is. I hope your recovery is speedy and complete! And someday you’ll have to tell us (or illustrate) how this crazy accident happened–I tried to imagine and couldn’t).

    • Linda
    • July 19, 2010

    Roz,So sorry about acident and will say prayers for your speedy recovery.About the hand and eye coordination and going slow Im with you on this one I have to do this on every drawing I do and I did’nt even get hit on my knoggin 🙂 take care and go slow and take your time!

  6. Reply

    Oh Roz, I am so sorry to hear about your accident! And I have to just say WOW to your plucky determination to approach your recovery as only you can, with observations, drawings and a unique perspective. Heal fast and I look forward to more drawings and posts. 🙂

  7. Reply

    Robyn, it’s a shock to me too. I’m not really happy with the strength of the skull let me tell you! I want an upgrade! But thank you for your kind wishes!

  8. Reply

    Alex I think you’re right about the keeping spirits high. Happily I have a healthy sense of humor. I’m betting on it. Thanks for your kind words.

  9. Reply

    Jana, thank you for your good wishes —and the idea to illustrate what happened—now that would be an interesting diagram! This isn’t where I want to be going right now, but I appreciate the support of you and others. It does make a difference.

  10. Reply

    Linda, thank you for your kind thoughts and wishes. going slow is something I have trouble with, but I think I will gain some practice! I can tell you that since you haven’t been hit on the head that if you keep going with the sketching it will get faster, so you keep it up too!

  11. Reply

    Jennifer, thanks for your concern and good wishes. I’ll try to keep up with the plucky! I like that word. Maybe I’ll have to come up with a new style!

    • Carolyn
    • July 19, 2010


    I like the style of this drawing. If you had shared it without an explanation, I would take it as an exploration of technique. I’m sorry you got conked on the head and are affected on such essential levels. I hope you have a quick and easy recovery (or quicker or easier than it’s been), and a rewarding journey of discovery along the way. I am impressed with your spirit and dogged determination. Please keep us updated.

  12. Reply

    Hi Roz,

    I echo everyone’s shock and concern and send you best wishes for a speedy recovery. I also look forward to seeing the sketch Jana suggested!

    I do hope you are back to your normal self soon (and that your improved eyesight is maintained!)

    You have a great attitude! Plucky indeed!

    Best Wishes EVA

  13. Reply

    Oh, Roz! I’m so sorry to hear about your accident. It’s wonderful that you’re able to view the whole thing with humor, but I imagine it’s got to be pretty scary too. You hang in there and keep on keeping on in whatever way works best. I’ll be sending LOTS of good thoughts for health and for patience (so important but so hard to embrace!).

    Thank you for sharing this experience with us. It’s very generous of you and hopefully will be repaid with an abundance of moral, and perhaps even practical, support. I can’t think at the moment what your readers might be able to do to help, but if you think of anything, do let us know. I’m sure there would be plenty of volunteers. 🙂

  14. Reply

    Sorry to learn of your accident. Best wishes for the prompt return of your eye-hand coordination and get well soon.

  15. Reply

    Oh Roz!!!! I am so sorry about your accident but as usual your post is so inspiring for your determination. I do SOOO hope that everything comes back!!! All the best – I will be thinking of you!

  16. Reply

    Roz, so sorry to hear about your accident. It has certainly turned life upside down for you and I hope things start to go along a smoother path soon. Thanks for sharing you thoughts with us all. Your enthusiasm for life and art shines through. Wishing you well

    • Marina
    • July 20, 2010

    What a dreadful thing to have happened to you, but I am glad you decided to share about it on your blog. You are an inspiration both artistically and in the way you are facing this difficulty. Sending good wishes for your recovery.

  17. Such a great post Roz…I feel so bad for you, yet you seem to be ahead of me by light years as far as attitude. I know what it is like to deal with pain, and the sadness that results. I’m hoping that this is a blip on your life’s radar, and you’re back at it soon. Best wishes for a speedy!

    • E-J
    • July 20, 2010

    And there was me, just prior to reading this, moping because I’d been out sketching with “the wrong pencil” … I am chastened and shocked by this news, Roz, and hugely admiring of your fighting spirit.

    This isn’t comparable to your situation, I know, but about a decade ago I broke a very slow-healing bone in my dominant hand. During the 4-5 months that it was in a cast and I couldn’t even move my thumb, I got used to working my computer mouse back to front, and learnt to write legibly with my other hand – but I never dared to try drawing with it. I would have felt discouraged by the childishness of my efforts. Now that I sketch much more frequently, I know that in a similar situation there is NO WAY I would let all those months slide by without getting my non-drawing hand in on the action. I’d like to think I am a little less of a mopee these days. (This is a great word, by the way. “Moper” reflects the do-er of the thing but it doesn’t convey, as “mopee” manages to, the victim status inflicted by said moping.)

    Sending you wishes for speedy healing.

  18. Reply

    I want to thank everyone who has written in since I last responded to comments to this post: Marina, Onandoff, Alissa, Liz, Alberto, Melinda, EVA, and Carolyn.

    I apologize for not sending a personal reply to each of you, but typing is rather difficult for me. I make many more typos than before, I’m slower (I have always been a really speedy typist) and am often catching myself playing free-word association these days. Not useful when trying to compose a message.

    I do appreciate all your kind thoughts and best wishes. They mean a lot to me. I’m definitely trying to figure out what all this is going to mean in my life and these comments, in a way you might not expect, are helping me keep an even keel (sp?) about it all.

    I appreciate that because I work in a number of different styles the changes I’m experiencing can’t readily be seen by everyone. A video of my day might more clearly capture it. Roz in slo-mo!

    Also the internal workings can’t be seen. If my work changed in someway and I could still talk to my brain I think I would be less bothered—no I would still be bothered, who am I kidding.

    I wish I could make a video of the inside of my brain, before and after, so people could experience it, not that it’s fun, but because it is interesting how the brain works and then doesn’t.

    I’m counting on the brain’s “redundancy” at this point. Or maybe I’m just in denial that the last time I drew as Roz was July 1. At any rate, I’m looking forward.

    We’ll see. But thank you for your kind thoughts. I’m hoping at this point to keep the blog going.

  19. Reply

    E-J, I just wrote a comment response to a bunch of comments and then yours popped up and I had to say it really made me laugh—you moping about the pencil choice. I love it. I’m glad you like the word “mopee.” I also think it captures the victim aspect and I have spent my teaching life trying to bust people out of victim so I’m determined not to go there. I’m still trying to find out where the other “theres” are to go.

    Thanks for the hand story. I appreciate that background. I had a bad ankle injury that took over 5 years to right itself and I focus on the fact that some things take time. But I keep pushing because I know for some healing the window of opportunity is early.

    I have thought of drawing with my non-dominant hand, funny you should discuss this. I have at various times done this, but never a sustained effort. We’ll see.

  20. Reply

    Dog gone it . . . ouch! Wish I had some knowledge or experience to help, but I don’t. The normal brain is a vast wilderness to science. Then when it’s an artist’s brain, then an injured artist’s brain, you’re in an exclusive class that mankind can’t decipher. Hope you mend well and your observations and questionings make for a growing experience. We all need you.

    • Carolyn
    • July 20, 2010

    It might be worth experimenting with your non-dominant hand, perhaps to rest certain parts of your brain. It’s not the same as a head injury, but in a recent life drawing class I became frustrated that my arthritic right hand and wrist weren’t cooperating with my intent, so I switched hands for certain lines and angles. I’m not coordinated with my left hand, but it relieved my frustration with my right hand, and allowed me to maintain a certain flow in observing the model. Sometimes we can push through the body’s limits, and sometimes pushing leads to more injury, so experimenting and paying attention are part of the process.

    “If my work changed in someway and I could still talk to my brain I think I would be less bothered—no I would still be bothered, who am I kidding.”

    Have you tried talking out loud to your body/brain? Instructing it, or giving voice to your observations as you try to do what you used to do? (“Oh, I see, that’s the way we her hip? How about a curved line here? No? Straight lines only? Ok, how about straight, straight, curve? Hmm, interesting…”) Or, singing your thoughts? Maybe it sounds silly, but I’ve heard there is something about singing that accesses different parts of the brain.

    Other ideas: use the current limitation as a mindfulness practice, slowing down your movements and observing the nuances of your actions and the world you see; switching to earlier materials, such as crayons and large newsprint, finger painting, or clay.

    I really hope the headaches end. It sounds awful.

  21. Reply

    Ouch is right John, you should have heard me holler! I didn’t know I could scream that loudly. Thanks for your kind thoughts!

  22. Reply

    Carolyn, if only to relieve some of the frustration I think non-dominant hand might be interesting. We’ll see. Paying attention to every little thing is my modus operandi, and it’s what’s saving me right now! My problem now, in part comes from the fact that my constant companionable internal dialog is not present and speech is slower than even my slowed down thoughts right now. I think singing would be counterproductive (and so would you if you heard me sing!) but I do appreciate the suggestions!

    Many thanks.

    A puppy is coming to visit in about 10 days and I know that will help immensely!

  23. Reply

    Oh Roz – I’m sorry to hear of your accident. How frightening that would be! As so many others have said, I hope you heal quickly from now on, keep that reflective and plucky attitude, and that great sense of humor. All of those will help you through this process. You have a lot of people pulling for you.

  24. Reply

    Cheryl I really appreciate your kind note. My humor is helping a lot. And today instead of thinking about drawing I’m actually worrying about the guy in England who is cornering the Cocoa market!!!! EEEEK. They can’t take that away from!

  25. Reply

    You go girl! I just want to echo all the good wishes here and hope you get back to “normal” soon.
    I am now intrigued by the cocoa story and need to find out what it is about.Not featuring on the news here (UK) as far as I know.

  26. Reply

    Thank you Judith, I was just writing to another reader at the end of another post, about how my sight is now back to pre-accident condition when I watch TV and read, so I think this down grade of accident installed upgrades is a great sign! (The headache is also not constant.)

    Check out the Wall Street Journal yesterday, and today, for more on the Cocoa story. IT SHOULD BE IN THE NEWS IN THE UK because Anthony Ward who is causing all the fuss is a London-based commodities trader.

  27. Reply


    I’m so desperately sorry to hear about your accident. Just as your drawing and teaching inspires, so does your approach to your recovery. As I try to overcome the effects of my own illness, I must tell you that your courage is infectious!

    Thank God or Gaia for Roz!!!

    • Christina Trevino.
    • July 22, 2010

    Roz, I have nothing left to tell you, as everybody has expressed themselves to you so wonderfully.
    Just: OUCH!
    And yes, a puppy will help enormously.

  28. Reply

    Jennifer, thank you for your kind wishes. I wrote a comment just a few moments ago to Wednesday’s comments which you might want to check out.

    I wish you well in your own struggles and urge you to hang in there.

  29. Reply

    I’m catching up on your blog posts, and I’m so sorry to hear about your accident. And so glad that you are mostly recovered. Take care, and thank you for continuing to share even though you’re not feeling well. You bring so much to the art blog community.

  30. Reply

    OMG Roz! – just learning of your tribulations now! Coming out of a major ‘mope’ about losing my ‘facilities’ and not being able to write/draw/etc-(you name it) as well as I could before blah blah – your post has been a miracle of timing for me. You are, as always, an inspiration.

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