On Sunday, I took the first drawing class I’ve had since I was eleven. It was at the Open Center, a sort of granola-y place in Soho which offers many new Age classes on creativity, meditation, and other sorts of grooviness.
My particular class was called “Drawing as a way of being” but I’d not been lured so much by the title as by the teacher’s teacher, Dr. Frederick Franck. I learned a lot about drawing from Franck’s books, The Zen of Seeing; The Awakened Eye; A Passion for Seeing, etc and, now that he is ninety six, blind, and deaf, he has passed his workshop duties onto Joanne Finkel, a fiftyish woman with bright eyes, pigtails and well-furred calves.
Most of the other students identified themelves as undrawers, anxious about their inability, and armed with Venti Starbucks and Pearl Paint bagfuls of art supplies. My supplies were new too; I decided to abide by the class materials list and had a mechanical pencil loaded with .5 HB lead and a kneadable eraser. Under my arm, I clutched a huge virginal drawing pad.
We did a pleasant meditation exercise and then the teacher handed out leaves. I clicked my pencil a few times and got going on the blind contour exercise. It ws a little dicey at first as I just never draw with a pencil, but by the second pass, I was in the groove.
When we were given permission to look at the leaf as we drew, I got heavily into the details, mainlining the veins that branched off the stem, sinking deeper and deeper into the plant’s very cells. The teacher came by to say, “Wow, you’re really into those veins, huh?” As that was what the leaf seemed to be to all about, I was a tad puzzled. On her next pass, she suggested that I squint and only draw the major landmarks of the leaf. This seemed regressive but in the spirit of being a good student, I complied and felt like a half-walked dog. On the next circuit, she suggested I vary the intensity of my grip on the lead, making lines that exressed where the leaf seemed very clear and where it was ‘less crispy’. It all looked pretty clear to me but dutifullyI rode my pencil up and down with fluctuating line weights, something I rarely do with my ink pen. Before long I recognized Frederick Franck’s style expressed on my page. My drawings looked just like his, not much like mine.
It’s interesting that what our teacher saw as a pure response to the subject, I perceived as an exercise in style. I was seeing the way she and Franck saw, but not really as I do. I tend to bore deep into things, and to treat every line and detail with similar emphasis. There is something more sensual but tentative (dare I say ‘feminine”) about the varying lines of this new style.
As we broke at lunch for an hour, the teacher dangled the opportunity to draw fruis and vegetables after we returned. I decided to forgo the salad and played hooky. Instead, I went out and bought myself a 1980 Honda motorcycle. In Dr Franck’s honor, I spent the rest of the afternoon drawing the road with my tires, shifting from first to second to third gear, depending on how crispy the potholes looked.