Sunday, August 10, 2014

Performing Arts: Drawing in Public

What a wonderful time at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner's table doing demos during the 2014 Tanana Valley State Fair: we sold some posters to benefit the local Newspaper In Education program, lots of folks entered in the drawing for my drawing and just stopped by to say hello. It's always a real pleasure to see friends & fans alike and to take advantage of any opportunity to inspire another generation of creators.

Events like this remind of how not too long ago I was so ingrown that the idea of performing out in the public arena would make me break out in a sweat. In fact, for years at any classroom situation I only showed slides, originals and photocopies of my comics and other artworks. Then the day happened that I grabbed a marker and hit the dry-erase board at the front of the classroom so as to better get a point across, and I'll never forget how the sense of energy and focus of the room underwent an immediate and palatable change as the dynamics of the presentation shifted into gear. That was a lightbulb moment for sure, and looking back it seems so obvious but I guess there are a goodly number of artists and even teachers who don't do the dance in front of an audience.

It's a subset or perhaps extension of what for a lot of folks is the fear of trying to draw - having people watch you in the act is another layer of awkwardness that can undermine self-confidence. A technical term for the anxiety is scopophobia, and I'd have to attribute the years of waiting tables as a way to confront the inhibition or at least anesthetize the apprehensions by just jumping in the deep end. The flip-side of not being worried about how something looks is the letting in on the fact that everyone makes mistakes, it's a process, there's no secret. Sure you run the risk of "making it look easy" and intimidating aspring talents even further, but fortunately for me I still somehow manage to screw things up enough to keep it real. Add to that the fact that in my experience the cartoons are a very casual delivery vehicle by which to introduce the core set of criteria behind any basic drawing (line, composition, vale etc.). One of the kids asked me in a small, tentative voice "Is it fun making these?" to which I was honest and said "Sometimes - there are days and there are drawings when it is hard to not give up but when it works it's worth all the practice."

Speaking of younger folks, the woman manning the table next-door had a couple of her kids stop by for a visit: she said they had made a connection with my drawing demos as she told me that they "haven't stopped drawing since they saw me last year" at the fair. See, that's the thing about all the show & tells I've done over the years in all sorts of scenes - kids remember. It's also not unlike sitting down at a blank sheet of paper to do another drawing: even though you might think it's just doing the same thing the same way it's still a new one every time, and it doesn't get jaded no matter how many you've drawn before. And the same goes for people: every one, or everyone in this case, is also an original, nomatter how big the crowd or classroom. Even if you've been manning a table at a signing or gift bazaar or in a classroom for hours and it's the end of the day that next person who stops by to take a look or ask a question is as important as the first one.

And so even though at the worst of moods I might think watching someone draw is about as fun as literally watching paint (in this case, ink) dry, it's humbling to think about - and actually see - what a spell it can cast over an observer. Having a ring of enraptured expressions a few feet away and hanging on every line for sometimes an hour or more is an intense, spotlight experience that makes you focus a lot sharper than normal, even amidst the ebb + flow of foot traffic that for the most part ignores the work. Still one has to wonder at the cultural loss when someone drawing something is a relative oddity or to some a curiosity never seen before - it ought to be as commonplace as watching someone make something to eat in the kitchen. Would that creating art be as readily available to all, especially in public education, and perhaps it wouldn't be such a mystery, nor deemed the province of a special minority endowed with a rare "gift" or skill.

And on a final note, nevermind the state of a studio reflecting the mental state of an artist (cluttered in my case), what with piles of projects stacked up on desktop, tabletop, sketchbooks and cork-boards everywhere. In this instance the creative catalyst is, well, a sammich. Not just any sammich, but an incredible grilled Reuben from a new foodtruck that a student had previously raved about in class. Let's just say while it was short of a religious experience it definitely still ranked as a "come to cheeses" moment.

"The cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast"

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