If you haven’t drawn something for a two-year-old recently, I highly recommend it. The reaction is immediate and delirious, although it could be down to my particularly good skills as an artist. My Iggle Piggle is renowned, my self-portrait very nearly a photograph. And as for my sharks? Please. It’s a very real prospect that if Damien Hirst ever saw one of my great whites, he’d pour his formaldehyde down the sink in despair. My dinosaurs are the pride of Stoke Newington, since I can draw all two dinosaur types – standing T-Rex and lumbering diplodocus – with the canny brio of a master draughtsman. I don’t include feathers because I’m not ready for that yet. I’m just about at peace with phonetic spelling and Pluto not being a planet, so feathered dinosaurs will have to wait.
Even so, the effect is uncanny. It’s said that when George Stubbs’s famous painting of Whistlejacket was displayed by Lord Rockingham, the horse in question found it so lifelike he tried ‘to get at it, to fight and to kick it’. We can never know for certain how a dinosaur would respond to the witchcraft that is my recreation of their form, but it’s safe to say we’re lucky they had a full and frank conversation with that meteor 66m years ago, or they’d probably be tearing my house to pieces.
I can, however, safely report my son’s reaction. He jumps on the spot, laughs and roars like one of the giant reptiles that feature in his many favourite dinosaur-themed cartoons – dinosaurs who take trains; dinosaurs who attend summer camps; dinosaurs who are, for reasons best left unexplored, also trucks. It’s unlikely I’ve ever done anything that he’s enjoyed so much, he follows every line and cheers as it begins to cohere into a fuzzy approximation of one of the five things I can draw.
He sees me draw a whale or an Iggle Piggle and immediately does the same. It’s expression in its purest form, free of inhibition or doubt. I envy him this, most of all. Even in front of him, I’m self-conscious enough that I take two goes at doing a shark, unhappy with how the first one looks. He has no such qualms, spiralling crayon all over the page in a broken window web of manic splatter. ‘Shark!’ he says, naming it for posterity so future archivists can see that it is correctly filed.
I draw with my son to stimulate his synapses, since the connection between art and brain development is long-established. It’s remarkable to see his motor skills and creativity explode in front of my eyes. It’s also good to pass the time between meals and tantrums, and in that sense is therapeutic for us both.
My wife is encouraging. She compliments the squiggled lines and splashes of colour, holds each drawing up to the light and says ‘wow’, almost always able to make out exactly what’s on the page. And as for my son’s drawings, she loves them too.