’70s flashback: art class dork

In my childhood, art class was a source of extreme anxiety. I was clumsy with markers and tools, my poor eyesight was uncorrected, and my color blindness wasn’t discovered until I was eleven years old. Somehow no one at Dixon Elementary thought it odd that a kid who the school wanted to skip from first to fourth grade (my mother wouldn’t allow it) was unable to learn the proper names of colors. Seeing me reading the crayon wrappers, one art teacher ordered me to tear them off and use the colors bare, so I could finally grasp what seemed to be impossibly subtle differences between reds and greens, between pinks and purples and blues. I memorized the colors as I removed the wrappers and arranged the crayons alphabetically in a sixteen-slot tray. Sadly I was prone to dropping the tray.

So it was a vivid flashback when I settled into Room 375 at MIAD for my first Foundations of Drawing class and promptly spilled my new pencils and charcoal all over the floor. Using them on paper was not much more successful. The other students in class have drawing talent and appear to be warming up for actual art school. I appear to be channeling my inner second-grader. I haven’t explained to anyone except the instructor why I’m there, nor does it seem like there will be such an opportunity. I’m in for more Wednesday evenings of young people looking at my drawing board with faces that say “what the hell?

Yet I would call my first evening of formal art instruction a success. I now know that your elbow makes a good pivot for drawing a straight line, that you grip farther from the tip for broad gestures and closer for more detail, that a pencil held at arm’s length makes a handy measure for proportion, and a number of other techniques and tricks for rendering 3-D shapes and forms onto 2-D media. Because I won’t be drawing except for my own eye in producing the art I have in mind, no one needs to know that when I draw a bottle it looks like a cat. With practice in the studio I hope for the bottles to become less cat-like, and for drawing to become more helpful in visualization and planning. And the class has already helped solve a proportionality problem that was stumping me as I muse on how to capture Hal’s colors and brushstrokes and release them into new works.

The help and encouragement of other artists is inching me toward this dream too. Yesterday my next-door gallery neighbor/artist and I cranked some soaring vintage rock – T. Rex! Ringo! “Rock Show” by Wings! – and did some playing around with raw canvas and charcoal and acrylic and an amazing white goop called Extra Heavy Gel that makes a forgiving but ultimately fast-holding fixative for mosaic work. Extra Heavy Gel! Man. It sounds like a ’70s rock band. Canvas-on-canvas mosaic might be the ticket. Torn and textural. To the tune of “20th Century Boy.” We could feel Hal’s spirit jamming and laughing along.

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