Saturday, August 6, 2011

Learning How To Draw - Week One

This is the way it was supposed to go:
The kids go camping with Kerri's parents for the week.
I take a Master's Class in portrait drawing with Tony Ryder for the week.
Kerri spends the week floating around in the pool, sipping drinks with little umbrellas in them.
I come home from class each night and join Kerri briefly in the pool before we cook a delicious meal, eat leisurely on the porch as we chat of this and that, and then spend the evening doing a bit of work in the garden, going for a walk, and updating my daily blog with all my wacky, zany adventures in Tony’s class. Then we would settle down for the night with a good book and a restful night's sleep.

But then:
Small bathroom repair job from a couple weeks ago exploded into horrifying total bathroom gut job.
Muffler dropped off my car.
My car began making a non-muffler-related strange noise and, in the course of removing a tire to look at the brakes, I sheared off one of the lug bolts that hold the tires on and noticed that my brake pads were weirdly corroded necessitating a multi-day series of repairs for me to perform in the driveway.

So, this is the way it actually went:

I went to class each day and suffered at the hands of Tony Ryder, a cruel, tyrannical artist who seeks only to emotionally abuse his students and cripple their wills to create art, thus leaving him the only artist on the planet and, therefor, in complete control of all the art in the world.
Kerri spent each day in our hot, poorly ventilated bathroom huffing paint fumes and regretting the dreadful purple paint she picked out.
We staggered into each other's presence in the evenings, gagged down some form of sustenance, flopped on the couch for an hour or two, staring off into the distance, and then dragged ourselves to bed so we could each spend the night privately contemplating the horrors that awaited us upon awakening.

About the bathroom and the car, I will likely have more to say at some distant point in time, after the paint and brake cleaner fumes have cleared from my head. Possibly sometime in the next decade.

About the class I am taking, I have much to say. First, and most importantly, I was totally lying about the teacher being a tyrannical artist, etc., etc. I only said that to Kerri, so she would feel that we had suffered equally throughout the day.

We had not.

Tony Ryder is, in addition to being one of the most amazingly talented artists alive, a really, really, really nice guy.

This is how Tony's drawings start out.

When I first saw this class advertised, I squealed with joy and did a very macho Tippy-Toe Dance of Exceeding Joy about my house. Even the price of the class (roughly the equivalent of the GNP of a mid-sized European country) did little to dampen my joy.

I spent many idle moments in the months leading up to the class imagining what a class with Tony might be like. I assumed, naturally, that he would swoop into the room wearing a cape and calf-high black boots. In his gloved hands, I imagined a riding crop, used to redirect students whose line quality may be sub-standard.

Frankly, this was not a situation I was looking forward to, but there is no personal growth without some suffering. Minor suffering, of course.

On the first day of class, I wandered into the small art supply store housed on the ground floor of the building where class was to be held. I asked the mild-mannered clerk where the classrooms were. He lead me through a rear door and was even kind enough to push the elevator button for me, lest I strain my finger before class.

This is the result, 9 seconds later. Kidding. This is a 5 day demo.

I thanked him and soon found the classroom. I was milling around with the other students awaiting Tony's imminent arrival when the clerk from the art store quietly slipped into the room and introduced himself as Tony Ryder.

Tony did not, as he might have been entitled to do, wear a cape. He did not require us to refer to him as: The Great and Powerful Anthony Ryder, Lord Over All He Surveys. We were not required to genuflect or even avert our gaze from his.

He began class by announcing, “Okay. It’s 9:30 and 45 seconds. Let’s get going.”

Every minute of this class costs me just over 36 cents, so I appreciate his punctuality.  I’m still debating whether I should approach the registrar’s office for a refund for that missing 45 seconds.

Each day was structured so that Tony would do a demonstration in the morning, allowing us to witness the graceful perfection of every mark he puts on the paper, and giving each of the students the opportunity to silently reconsider alternate careers that do not, in any way, involve art.

He is soft-spoken and extremely self-deprecating, most likely so that students, upon witnessing his mad, crazy ninja drawing skills, do not hurl themselves out the nearest window in a fit of overwhelming, jealousy-driven despair.

He is quick to offer compliments and has yet to bring forth the riding crop.

I asked him if I might be able to bring in some of my work to have him cast his learned eye over it. He deigned that I may.

I was so nervous that I lost sleep the night before bringing my work in to show him.

Because I am a dork.

Then, I made a tragic mistake. About 20 minutes before he was going to check out my work, I slid up next to him and began some idle chatter about my long distant art school days. I mentioned the first drawing teacher I ever had and referred to him, if I recall correctly, as “a vicious bastard”. This teacher seemed to get his twisted jollies by eviscerating students during class critiques. Helpful comments like, “Whose piece of crap drawing is this?” and “This sucks because…” did little to help my already fragile artistic self-confidence.

I realized as soon as this amusing anecdote was out of my mouth that I had done myself in as far as an honest critique from Tony was concerned. I had just whined and moaned about a vicious art teacher from 20 years ago and now I was asking Tony to please give me his honest opinion. Tony probably thought I’d crumple up in a ball and wet myself if he said anything bad.

“”I’m much tougher now,” I promised, “Please. Give it to me straight. What do you think?”

He looked at the pieces I had brought in and contemplated them for a moment. Time stopped briefly as he opened his moth to deliver his verdict. My heart pounded. My face sweat. I think my lips even sweat. My hands shook and trembled. And then he cleared his throat and spoke.

“Your work sucks because…”

Not really, of course.

He said he thought my work was great and that he really liked the way I draw hair.

I offered to give him lessons on drawing hair for 36 cents per minute. He politely declined.

Maybe I’ll try dropping my price next week.

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