Stories from the Field: Drawing Lessons

Yvonne is learning to play. To bring out her inner child and artist, she is endeavoring shut the inner critic in the closet and be in the moment.To this end, Yvonne is taking drawing lessons. It isn’t on her bucket list, but it is on her list of Artist DThe Artist's Wayates (see The Artist’s Way). The class is Classical Drawing Techniques and runs once a week 630pm to 930pm.
Last week was the first class. Yvonne had the flu. Therefore, this week was Yvonne’s first class.Sketch book and rolled paper threatened to tumble out of her grasp as she trekked through the winter wind chill to the school from the distant free parking. In the elevator, Yvonne pressed 5. It didn’t accept. Yvonne pressed 5 again. Again, the elevator ignored her. The woman behind her in the elevator fumbled, then the 5 lit up. Yvonne turned around. The woman was putting away her student card. “Oh, that’s why you need your student card. Good to know!” Yvonne spied a card swipe on the elevator panel behind her. The card swipe was conspicuously absent on the panel Yvonne was manning.”Yes, they lock up the building, including the elevators, after-hours. Don’t leave your classroom without your card.” Registration and security didn’t mention that little nugget of information which is especially valuable during a Canadian winter.Yvonne finally managed to find her classroom amidst a couple of rooms labeled 516 (yes, a couple of different rooms).  The room was square, cement-floored, with bare walls. It was crowded with ‘desks’ consisting of a piece of plywood atop an adjustable scaffolding. The desks and floor were spattered with the remains of art gone wild – pencil, paint, charcoal. Here lies great expectation, Yvonne thought as she unraveled and unpacked herself.At the front of the room, a large nose sculpture was perched on a shelf with a light blazing over top. On a lower shelf, a sphere sat. Drawings were lined up next to the sculptures: nose, lips, an eye, and, at last, what appeared to be the face of the Venus de Milo. Great expectations, indeed.

It became apparent very quickly that the pre-requisite of “previous drawing experience” didn’t adequately encompass the baseline experience needed or that of the other students. Yvonne looked around the room and saw noses on people’s sketch pads. Not only were they recognizably noses, but they were good. Yvonne’s previous drawing experience included such things as drawing the stones in a mound of stones to make a map of a small stone feature (in other words, smaller circles arranged in a big circle).

The instructor begged them to crowd around a ‘desk’ to which he’d tacked a blank sheet of paper. In a thick Chinese accent he began to ‘explain’ drawing the nose at the front of the classroom, “Structure. I pay lots of money to learn one word: structure.” He crouched, pencil poised between thumb and forefinger then snuck up on the paper. A line appeared. He crouched and snuck up again. Another line appeared then another. A box appeared, then a centre-line. “Strychnine, strychnine.” Yvonne’s brow furrowed. “You hold pencil and structure ….THAT…..THAT.” The methodology of ‘THAT’ as well as the presence of strychnine poison in a drawing of a nose confounded Yvonne. While her translation app finally kicked in (strychnine = straight line), the methodology of ‘THAT’ was still a mystery. “Soft bone,” the instructor continued, “soft bone, here.” A sketch in the corner of the paper slowly manifested into a skull and he pointed to the nasal aperture, “Structure.”

“Previous drawing experience” wasn’t going to cut it; for this, Yvonne would need to use her osteological training. Hooray for bones! The relief was short-lived, however. Bone “structure” was implied through the flesh and muscle. Yvonne wasn’t used to implying; she was used to seeing bone.
Back at her ‘desk’, Yvonne began with a circle (last week’s task). Then the instructor came around, “Structure. THAT. THAT.” Lines were drawn on Yvonne’s paper. Shading appeared. A lighted sphere appeared. Apparently Yvonne just needed to act stupid and then the instructor would come and do the assignment for her. Despite this in-person ‘instruction’, ‘THAT’ remained a mystery.
Then the instructor said, “You do nose.” From sphere to nose in one simple step. Yvonne naively thought Classical Drawing Techniques was learning perspective, using architecture, straight lines. Nope. It was, instead, using the ‘classical’ Greco and Roman style of the human form. Michelangelo in three easy steps. Yvonne tacked it up to yet another translation error and applied herself to drawing the nose.
Thirty minutes later, Yvonne tilted her head. Then the other way. She looked at the nose at the front of the class again, then back to her paper. Yup. That shading was there, that shape was there (not to be confused with the elusive ‘THAT’)….all the shapes and shading were there but with none of the scale. It was an impressive Picasso impersonation.
The instructor came around. “Scale wrong,” and he erased Yvonne’s drawing. Between the sphere and now this, Yvonne’s confidence was completely dashed. So much for shutting up the critic and learning to play.For the next thirty minutes, while the instructor was busy giving personal instruction to others, Yvonne hunched over her paper and attempted another rendition of the nose. She squinted, she attempted to scale the nose against her pencil, then scale the sketch against pencil. She hid her attempts from prying eyes, squinted some more, erased some, hunched some, shaded some, sketched some. By 9pm, Yvonne was nearly blind and hobbled. The instructor came around, “Maybe you learn to draw somewhere else.” Yvonne understood this as diplomatic Chinese talk for, “You can’t draw.” However, to Yvonne, she’d made an improvement. She’d abandoned the instructor’s instruction, she’d given up on figuring out what ‘THAT’ was, and held her pencil her own way. When she just focused on drawing the damn nose (and playing), she almost ended up with a nose:
Picasso nose_cropped_11Feb2014

Then the instructor handed out next week’s assignment: lips.

Shit.

Next week Yvonne may bring graph paper and ruler. Will Yvonne continue with the drawing lessons? Will she learn the meaning of the mysterious ‘THAT’? Will Yvonne find a cunning way to market her art as “The 21st Century Picasso”?
Stay tuned!
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