Tuesday, November 27, 2018

A New Old Thing

A pencil.

I learned to draw with Jon Gnagy. I’d wake up Sunday mornings, turn on the television, and draw along with Jon Gnagy. He’d pull out his chalks and charcoal sticks and pencils, and I’d pull out my pencil. He had a kneaded eraser, but I just had the eraser on the tip of the pencil.

But I drew.

Jon Gnagy taught me perspective. He taught me shading. He taught me shapes. All in blacks and grays (but I only had black because I only had a pencil).

I was maybe six or seven, and I CRAVED a Jon Gnagy Learn to Draw set. Just before Hanukkah one year, my parents took me out to the local art store to buy one. They were all out. I was devastated.

But when the first night of Hanukkah came, I opened up my very own Jon Gnagy Learn to Draw set! Finally, I had the gray chalks, the special pencils, the blending stick, the sandpaper sharpener, and the kneaded eraser. I was delirious! The moment is frozen in my mind as the best Hanukkah ever.

Eventually, I discovered color and moved on to pastels, to watercolor, to oil paints. I moved on to clay and wood and fabric. I had other teachers. And for the last few weeks, I’ve had another class with Amanda Saxton (who taught me watercolor a few years ago). She called this class “Drawing with a Twist,” and the twist was: it was only with pencil.

Mostly, I use pencil to outline whatever I’m going to color in. Pencil is a means to an end, not an end in itself. But what an eye-opener this was! Our pencils became the way to show light and dark and texture. And not just our pencils, but the graphite they’re made of. (If you can believe this, I actually used my original Jon Gnagy sandpaper sharpener to get graphite shavings. A de-cluttering failure turned success!)

I’m a follower of the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain school: the real talent in drawing is learning to see. And when you’re working in just pencil and black and white, and if you’re really looking, you really see a lot more. Like the white rim of reflection on the dark side of the globe.

There are things you can do with the edge of your pencil.

And then Amanda gave us white chalk and told us to draw a leaf on gray paper. So this time, we were drawing the light, not the dark.

There’s a reason why my art in this blog is more like doodling. I made a promise to myself early on that I wouldn’t sweat and fuss and re-do, so I don’t achieve mastery. But occasionally, I see on the paper what I saw in my mind, and that satisfies. And when I learn something new, see something new, light bulbs go off.

I wonder if Jon Gnagy worked with only blacks and grays because that’s all television could show? I think of him fondly; he put art in my life. Now, almost sixty years later, that endures, but I had to relearn that there’s so much color in black and gray and so much magic in a pencil.


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