An Afternoon With an Avocado

I love to eat tortilla chips and guacamole. And I love to sketch. On Saturday, the two pleasures collided unexpectedly, making for a gratifying creative experience.

It started while preparing an afternoon snack.

12:14pm: Two halves of a perfectly ripened avocado lie open on the studio table. Without warning, my sketching eye becomes captivated. (This can be a common occurrence in a drawing studio.)  My eye is drawn to the light-green flesh defining the solid, dark edges of the seed. The distinct contrasts of light and dark surfaces trigger synapses that stimulate my drawing hand. “It sure would be nice to do some sketching today.”

But I have a week’s stack of administrative tasks to take care of, and my rational thinking holds sway over the situation: “Just eat the avocado already and get on with your work.” My pragmatic side guides the knife as I slice out a section for the mixing bowl.

My vision zeroes in on the dark valley of abrupt slice marks in the avocado, just to the right of the curved impression left by the seed. I briefly think about neuroscience. The creative, right hemisphere of the brain is wired for excitement whenever our eyes encounter jagged contrasts of shadow and light. The right hemisphere of my brain is lighting up like a Christmas tree, “So many cool shadows and textures to draw!”

However, the stubborn, analytical left hemisphere of my brain won’t give up without a fight. It quickly retaliates, “Hey, you can’t draw right now! You need to take this time to satisfy your mounting biological hunger.” It then recites the healthy benefits of avocados such as omega-3, vitamin E, and antioxidants. This left-brain logic resets my focus on the tasks of eating and completing today’s to-do list. But it’s not quite enough to settle the excited right hemisphere.

With another glance at the slice marks, my ever-emotional right hemisphere rebounds triumphantly with rapid-fire neurotransmitters that traverse my entire nervous system. My heart rate increases as I take in the mixtures of colors, textures, light, and shadows.

1:10pm: 45 minutes later after completing my first study, I slide another sheet of blank paper onto the table. For now, my hunger for fresh guacamole and crispy tortilla chips has been usurped by the spontaneous pleasure of drawing an avocado. A rotated view reveals the dramatic, yellowish precipice overlooking the dark green excavated section of the fruit. Even though the luminous, green hues have started to brown, I continue sketching without pause.

Initial construction lines give me an accurate framework for modeling form. A well-worn 9B pencil sweeps the paper with intention; thick and thin lines fall into place by carefully angling my wrist and the graphite point.

The accuracy of proportions seems to be fairly spot-on for this sketch, a gratification that transcends my earlier biological hunger.

1:50pm: My right brain is now fully in the driver’s seat as I move to a third study,  a close zoom-in of the yellowish cliff overlooking the dark-green canyon. Layering of gray tones and contour edges is a matter of applying pressure on the graphite point for darker values and letting up for lighter values.  The rhythm of pencil strokes and patterns is increasingly abstract, becoming less about depicting the fruit, and more of an entranced study of cross-hatched lines.

2:45pm: I decide to mash up the avocado to study the textures of guacamole. Before taking my first bite, I pose a couple of tortilla chips for an artistically pleasing composition. But 10 minutes into this sketch, fatigue and hunger finally overwhelm me.

My left-brain comes back online with a vengeance, “You are going to eat—now!” It sends the point home by making it hard to focus my eyes and cramping the muscles in my fingers.  As pencil strokes become erratic, the exhausting, non-stop series of study sketches finally draws to a close.

For a moment, my mind wanders back many years, when I stood in front of a bathroom mirror for 3 hours to draw a self portrait. Or the time when I spent a number of days drawing a flower as it wilted. My left brain quips, “Who else but a drawing artist would devote hours upon hours to such a peculiar activity?”

Finally, my teeth crunch into a triangular chip covered with dip. And with immense pleasure, both sides of my brain quietly succumb to the rich taste of the fruits of my labor.  Not only is it healthy to eat an avocado, but drawing one is healthy too.

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Rob Court

Founder and drawing coach at the Scribbles Institute, Rob helps adults and kids learn basic drawing skills for work, school, and enjoyment. He is the author of a number of how-to-draw books.