It was a gorgeous summer afternoon when I walked onto the Anchorage Museum’s thick green lawn surrounded by multi-colored flower beds, interspersed with pathways, for a drawing lesson by Rebecca Pottebaum (Public Programs and Audience Development Manager). With Covid-19 spiking, the Museum’s summer food truck luncheons-on-the-lawn, a favorite for members and their out-of-town guests, had been virus-cancelled, making the park seem extra quiet and slightly lonely. Parents and kids desperate for activities gathered around Pottebaum’s art-horse and big bag of materials, as did some adults all tired of hunkering at home alone. While I’ve had years of drawing, it’s easy to get out of shape; I was happy for this refresher course, which at five bucks for two hours was an uber-bargain.
Pottebaum began passing around white paper on sanitized clipboards and two pencils: hard and soft lead, which participants could take home. Brightly colored stools were easily moved, so social-distancing could be practiced. She began by saying there was no right/wrong way to draw. Pottebaum suggested finding a dropped twig or leaf to use as subject matter. I paraphrase her instruction — observe, think about texture and dimensionality of a found object. Are you drawing reality or something from your imagination? Break your item into lines and curves. Drawing an object multiple times will make you see different aspects of the shape and of course improve your skills. Light, medium or dark shading will create depth. Pottebaum divided a drawn circle into three sections to illustrate how three shades of black provide contrast. Remember to look at the thing, not the paper, as you push/pull a continuous line.
Museum classes are meant to entice participants to become self-creative and afterwards perhaps seek more in-depth art classes in school, college or at a non-credit atelier. Drawing is a cheap way to pass the time, relieve anxiety, and is the foundation for other art genres: Painting, Sculpture, Photography and Electronic Drawing on tablets and computers. What I find intriguing--you can never achieve perfection, so you keep returning to try and try again.
It is not easy to teach a class of multiple-aged students and Pottebaum executed her tasks with aplomb. With Coronavirus presenting an apprehensive upcoming school year, parents and children are naturally stressed. This fall the Museum is painstakingly finding ways to amuse children aesthetically, both on their campus (advance ticketing) or at home. Staying connected by purchasing an Anchorage Museum membership is an aesthetic way to get through the rest of Virus-2020.
While there are many how-to drawing books, here are two that offer advice and entertainment. It’s important that informational books use clear language and offer easy-to-reference illustrations. They should not be gimmicky but endure the test-of-time. ‘How to Draw What You See’ by Rudy de Reyna uses pencil sketches to show how to make a wine bottle or a tea kettle look 3-D. Once you get comfortable on how to draw, you can break rules and perfect a personal style. De Reyna also teaches basic perspective by presenting simple shapes: boxes, spheres and cones, which appear to change size by advancing or retreating on a flat plane. Charcoal rendered apples shaded from light (appearing big) to dark (appearing small) are another way to describe spatial dimensionality. After mastering how to draw a found object, creating a still life by arranging two or three household items could be a next step. Don’t be afraid to be kooky. In grad school I once drew a disposable plastic razor on a coffee table and another time I situated a sofa by an old stained sink. When the weather cooperates, heading outside to draw a worn doorway, rusty automobile, or tree bark might become another challenge.
De Reyna also offers basics on how to draw the human figure by describing different body parts as cylindrical, which can later be refined into more subtle forms. Anyone truly interested in figure drawing may want to attend a class, but this book is a great beginning. Final chapters are devoted to explaining how to use various wet media: watercolor, inks, acrylics. A downside to this book is that it’s entirely printed in black and white, and may frustrate readers who are ready to explore color values. Also de Reyna only depicts only the female figure, which mildly irritated this art critic.
For those who want to see how other artists have approached drawing, ‘Line Let Loose’ by David Maclagan is a great read especially before perusing a museum print collection, and a good book to gift too. Maclagan presents drawings, scribbles, sketches, and doodles, by Joan Miró, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Paul Klee, and more master artists. He explains drawing as “the primary art of creativity,” further suggesting, “Its most comprehensive description might be something like a set of marks made by human hand that seem to have been deliberately inscribed on a surface of some kind. The range of drawings is seemingly endless: they can be huge or tiny, representational or abstract, exquisite or rough; they may be a means to some other end (a sketch, a study or even an exercise), or else they can be an end in themselves. Drawings are records, observations, discoveries and inventions, sometimes all at once. Some drawings are consciously directed at an audience, while others seem to be more private; we may draw what we know or what we see outside us, or we may draw ‘from within’ (17).” So while you are frustrated with the seemingly never ending Pandemic--take out a pencil!
Mini Sleuth: Thank you Rebecca Pottebaum. The Anchorage Museum offers a few more weeks of drawing in the park—more art adventures this fall. ‘How to Draw What You See’ by Rudy de Reyna, and ‘Line Let Loose’ by David Maclagan are on Amazon.
Jean Bundy is the Climate Change Envoy for AICA-INT.