Marks and Remarks
Marks on pages.
When was I first told I “could draw”? When did I first want to? When did I decide I could? When did I fear I couldn’t?
Writing about how it feels to put marks on paper quickly starts to feel heavy and limiting. I begin to feel the labor of drawing and the lurking sensation that it will never be good, could never be good, never good enough. The joy I feel in the early moments of sketching and in the slapdash mode (one that perhaps illustrates the mode of my life) eludes explication. Putting the sense into words never quite achieves description, just as the completed drawing seldom achieves the satisfaction of its potential. I have always drawn, but I have always put myself in the category of doodler. Not serious drawing. Just doodles. Either I too fully believe Wilde, life is too important to be taken seriously, or I fear what succeeds fledgling fancy.
I want people to like my drawings. But often, I draw just to feel the world differently. When I draw, I draw from a form I feel, even if I am simply imagining a shape. I draw from life imagining my strokes brushing the surface of a form. Or I conjure edges simply to put marks on paper that feel right. I grope towards the description of forms. I do remember learning certain things about how to draw at various points in my life. How to distribute features on a face in a way that makes sense. How tops of ears line up with tops of eyes— think about how glasses work. How vanishing points establish distance. How negative space informs what we see.
Key components and practices, countless past repetitions, inform each mark I make. Once I spent a summer, or maybe an afternoon, drawing nothing but cartooned eyes nose mouth. At one point, paper dolls were a chief impetus to draw. I wanted to make clothes, to dress up, but I was too impatient to learn to sew. My early paper dolls resembled American folk art — hoop skirts descended from impossibly petite torsos, feet were two triangles peeking out the hem. Errol Le Cain’s Cinderella may be responsible for the way I drew bodies, and my obsession with fabric.
Ruskin recommends plates to study — mine were less geographical, more intimate illustrations. Thumbelina with pictures by Susan Jeffers struck me as the most beautiful. Eventually Arthur Rackham and Kay Nielsen assumed artistic authority. Pen and ink precision and delicate decoration. The beauty of silhouette.
First grade field trip or maybe birthday party to the Danforth Art Museum in Framingham, Massachusetts. We learned to draw trees as fractals. We learned the word fractal, long before the ridiculous lyric in Frozen.
Mrs. Mecagni’s house, art lessons once a week tagging along with my best friend Chrissy, my sister tagging along with us, too. Mostly we drew the lips of mugs and other cylinders and made tapestries on looms made of drying racks. Once we walked to the dam and drew outside. We also would sneak in to the record player and play A Chorus Line “Tits and Ass” much to the distress of poor Mrs. Mecagni (later Carol when she and her husband moved next door to my parents and gave our dog treats).
About this time, I also drew for my fifth grade classmates, Dave Sohn and the tall loutish kid…Scott, maybe? Rob? I would draw them girls in bikinis as they directed my efforts. My drawings couldn’t have been that good, and there is still something a little uncomfortable and strange in the politics of this sexual attention which my prudishness resisted, but my artistic vanity indulged.
Mr. Nahme taught 7th grade drawing. Then we had art club. I attended art club so that I could have extra time to draw paper dolls on the light table. I never cut out these dolls, I just drew elaborate clothes. We also once sampled packing peanuts that resembled cheese puffs to see if they actually tasted like cheese puffs. Perhaps terrifyingly, they did.
Technical drawing in the high school alternated with “Life Skills,” the outgrowth of “Home Ec.” Did Mr. K teach it? I will have to ask my sister. I loved technical drawing. Precise letters, dimensions to scale, straight edges, paper taped down and good pencils and erasers.
Intro to Art, senior year of high school was my first art elective. I had had it with band which fell apart at the hands of students trying to have (and schedule) it all. I drew the RENT album cover in pen and ink and painted a Manet still life with carp.
Drawing I with Paul Stopforth shook my sense of what my drawing could say. His critique, or at least what I absorbed — my drawings were “too precious.” I remember little else. We did get to draw live nude models. And it was the first time I experimented with odd drawing surfaces — paint on sandpaper, charcoal and crayon on plywood. Large strange drawings. My assigned journal of drawing ideas felt so forced and insufficient, I decided I was not cut out for serious drawing.
Paul Stopforth, Wounded Man, 1989
How can you draw like that? the kids I babysit always ask. Drawing to impress children and the occasional friend is my wheelhouse.
Practice, I say.
I just doodle, I tell them.
When I draw from life, I almost feel the shape of the form. I don’t so much attempt to replicate what I see, but to feel and draw as that shape, that body. Edges curve along a felt presence. It is visual and somatic. The nostalgia I feel looking disintegrates when I draw, or at least fades to the background. Dissolves in the watercolors.