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Never Failing Once

Learning from Others


“I never failed once. It just happened to be a 2000-step process.” - Thomas Edison

We’re not suppose to take notes in our drawing class. As a religious note taker I find this frustrating. It would be less frustrating if my drawing teacher didn’t spend basically the two hours saying really interesting things and connecting really interesting ideas none of which have stuck in the surface parts of my brain for easy access. I’m assuming they are sinking deeper in me and well, that’s probably his point of the no note taking rule.

If I stopped taking the class today, I would have gotten my money’s worth. Each day is a slow realization of how screwed up our relationship to drawing is. How screwed up my own relationship to drawing is. Most people (and teachers) approach drawing in an incredibly impatient way. We expect to go from zero to a perfect rendition of an object with minimal effort. We expect that without any muscle memory built or any thinking memory built. Nothing.

It’s as if I went to a dance class and expected that I could be lead ballet dancer in a dance company by the end of my first session. It’s absurd. I’ve had no training. And it’s absurd that that’s how we’re taught to expect the drawing progress to go.  Because worse yet, it’s damaging and strips out what would makes each of our drawings unique. It takes what could be the most important aspect of the drawing out of it.

Today in class we held a mirror and inspected different parts of our face. Then we stared. We stared at the corners and folds and flaps. How stared at how this connects to that. The speckles here and the weird other shapes there. And while we stared, we moved our graphite to mark make. If we noticed something in the upper part of our lip, we made marks that symbolized that thing. Notice we didn’t draw that thing, we drew what that thing evoked. So sometimes the thing that was evoked looked a lot like the actual shape of the upper lip or left nostril but that wasn’t the point. And if we started to get too literal, Phil, our instructor, encouraged us to go crazy for a moment to release us from that pressure. “I’d rather you make second rate drawings in a relaxed manner than first rate drawings in an unrelaxed manner.”

At the end, we tore all of our features up and glued them together. What was great about seeing mine next to my classmates’ is that I could really sense different peoples’ marks. The woman who stands to my right does these amazing left right left right jagged shading that shows up no where in mine. Another student does layers and layers of scribbles and it slowly builds these wonderful features. It felt truly marvelous staring at each of these unique pieces and feeling a sense of the artists’ hands in each of them. So much more interesting than a bland rendering of how the face SHOULD look.

The goal is to eventually get closer to what real eyes, nose and lips look like but we’re approaching it in a way where we can keep what makes us each unique. If we can foster that, it means our work will be that much more interesting for each other and for ourselves.

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