Drawing as Art

balloonsFor most of my adult life, I’ve been involved in some professional pursuit or trade that involves creating, reading, marking up or just understanding technical drawings.  Blueprints, schematics, one-line diagrams, flow diagrams, process layouts, signal path drawings and on and on and on.  Long before I got involved in building second generation CAD computers (based on 1980’s PDP-8 computers … with large tape drives … and washing machine sized disk pack drives that held as much as 200 MB) I learned how to draw using a tilting table, T-Square, rules and mechanical pencils.  Oh good grief, the constant challenges of maintaining consistent light weights and text clarity – man.

But through all of those early times, I also continued to draw without rules and T-Squares and the like.  Like every kid everywhere, when I was little I drew all the time.  Also like tons of little kids everywhere, as I progressed through school I became convinced that I “couldn’t draw” and that all of it was awful and that I’d be better off just sticking to making really nice, neat mechanical and electronics drawings and diagrams with the customary tools of the time and later with CAD.

At some point in my late 20’s, if I recall, while living in New Hampshire, I signed up for an evening class at the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester.  I only did two “semesters”, but they lasted through a winter and in to the spring.  The instructor based her curriculum on Betty Edwards’ book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.  I rediscovered the simple joy of making a picture again – without a T-Square.

Since that time, I’ve continued to dabble on and off.  Several years back while I was living in SE Portland, I took several rounds of classes from Phil Sylvester at The Drawing Studio on SE Division Street.  Phil’s a wonderful teacher and his classes are as much about free thinking and letting go of what “good art” is as they are about actually drawing.  I mean, after all, one exercise we participated in at the start of one class was dropping uncooked spaghetti on to a piece of paper on the floor from about waist height.  The idea being to let go of the precious idea of having to make every single mark on paper “perfect”.  I learned a ton more during those classes and expanded my skills further than before.  Like any skill set, this is one of those that requires steady, continued practice.  Steady, continued practice is not something I’ve done, however.  I continue to sketch and draw to this day.  Since moving downtown, I’ve been taking a sketch book out around the river front and I’ve been sketching bridges.  I don’t really draw for anyone but me, so I don’t worry too much about the outcome, and part of the exercise in the first place (for me) is to relax and let go and get in to a creative flow.  One thing that I learned from Phil’s classes that still sticks with me today is how to draw only what you actually see – not what your crazy, inaccurate fevered brain THINKS you’re seeing, but what’s actually there.  For some reason, that skill hangs in there with me so that when I go and sketch the Hawthorne Bridge, at least I get the basic proportions and scale essentially proper to start with.  The details and such I work on here and there as I feel like it.

But the bottom line is that for me, picking up a pencil or a stick of charcoal forces me to quit thinking about the daily grind and the standard “stuff” surrounding life and go away someplace else in my head.  When you’re focusing on putting lines and smudges on paper to represent the scene in front of you, it tends to be very hard to be stressed and upset.  I’ve had instances of true creative flow where my head and hand just seem to work on their own and time either speeds up or slows way down depending on your perspective.  I’ve worked on drawings where I start lightly sketching something silly or off-the-cuff at ten in the morning and all of a sudden it’s four in the afternoon and I have this detailed picture sitting in front of me and my hands and shirt are covered with graphite and charcoal and eraser crumbs.  I don’t practice enough, but that’s OK.  When I do pick up a pencil, I just feel better and anything that can do that in daily life is great therapy.

On the previous version of this website I had a bunch of my stuff posted.  I’ll get ’round to that again in this incarnation of MisterEd.com, but it really needs to include a lot more recent work – not the 25 year old stuff I did way back in those days in New Hampshire.

“Winter project” I guess…