Diary of a struggling young artist

1950's Banana Poster

By the mid-seventies, the Wallace grocery store was no more. It was an antique shop. One day when my grandmother and I went in to look around, I saw the old poster still hanging on the wall, albeit almost torn in half. I bought it from the proprietor for $3.00 and had it framed. It has been with me ever since.

 

I loved to draw from as early as someone showed me how to draw stick figures But I always struggled for the tools to make my drawings more realistic. I loved to look at this banana poster that hung over the produce section in Bill and Jewel Grimes little grocery store in Wallace, Indiana whenever my grandparents would take me shopping there. One day, at age seven, whilst gazing at the poster I suddenly saw how to draw long hair to make it look more real. When we got back home, I retrieved my pencil and paper and started drawing my stick figures like the one on the right instead of the one on the left.

 

 

stick figures

 

link to junior high artwork

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My next breakthrough in figure-drawing took place in fifth grade in Yonkers, New York. We had a drawing teacher for a day, who taught us how to draw the human figure proportionately by using the subjectís head as a measure. You measure one head length from the chin to the chest, another head length from midchest to the waist, another head length between shoulder and elbow, etc. By the 8th grade I was back in Wallace, and my figures looked like the ones in this drawing. I was very excited when it won a blue ribbon in an art contest. The drawing however was more a product of wishful thinking on my part than 'art'. I was the only Italian kid in this rural section of Indiana. Unlike the little girl in the picture and most of my classmates, I had short, curly hair, a roman nose and was already 5' 10" tall!

But wishful thinking or not, perhaps having an uncle in New York who was an abstract painter and a great-aunt in Indiana who was a scenery painter encouraged me to stick to my drawing, because two years later, I took art classes at our brand new consolidated county high school Fountain Central.

It was the first time art classes were offered.

 

 

link to high school artwork

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Mrs. Fisher was a wonderful art teacher. She taught us about one-point, two-point, and three-point perspective and gave us experience in a variety of mediums such as silk-screening, copper-tooling, water-color, oil and tempera painting. But what I really wanted to do was to draw and paint people.

My high school started using my drawing skills in various ways Ė I sketched the front of a southern mansion that was built to scale against a gym wall for our Junior-Senior Prom 'Southern Splendor,' but the final outcome had far more to do with the shop peopleís talents than with mine! My senior year was quite busy as I took on the responsibility of being co-editor for the Fountain Central Yearbook. Our sponsor, Miss Lucille Thomas, was very ambitious and wanted our yearbook to place in state competition. So she sent my classmate Trena Ward and me to Ball State Yearbook Training Workshop the summer before. But even with yearbook editing duties, I†drew cartoons for the Pony Express student newspaper. I even drew the senior float for the Homecoming game - the Turkey Run Warriors against the Fountain Central Mustangs.

 

link to college artwork

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On my trip down to Bob Jones University to start my freshman year, my family took me through Gatlinburg in the Smokies. I was fascinated by the sidewalk artists who drew portraits of people with charcoal and chalk. Even though I did not intend to major in art, I decided to take a portrait class at Bob Jones. The art faculty had a different opinion on the matter. They informed me that I would first have to take two semesters of drawing and a semester of design before I could take their portrait class, which was for art majors anyway!

So I grudgingly signed up for drawing. It was a three hour class that first semester. The very first day professor Darryl Koontz stuck us in a little room and set a plain wooden chair down in front of us.

"Draw it," he instructed. "Don't draw the concept of a chair that you have in your mind. I want you to look at this chair and draw what you see."

Then he left us. For three hours. It took three hours to draw the chair. In fact I didn't finish! As the semester progressed we gradually moved from line drawings to shading and textures - metal, wood, glass, and cloth. And for some reason I always had trouble getting my pictures done, as you can see. Struggling to do my very best work, I often had trouble distinguishing the forest from the trees.

link to college artwork

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The second semester drawing class was more fun. We drew people. Professor Blair taught us a technique called contour drawing. Basically you donít look down at your paper as you draw - except when you need to lift your pencil off the page to relocate it. It's sort of like not looking at the keyboard when you type. You let your hand follow your eye movement as you look at your subject Ė and your hand naturally records what your eye actually sees. When you finally get relaxed and coordinated, that is. Here's a comparison of my figure drawing before and after I took Mr. Blair's class.

comparison between high school and college drawing styles

 

 

link to postcollege artwork

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Okay, by now you realize a great artist Iím not! But you can also see that a passable artist many of us can be with the right opportunity and training. I finished the second semester of drawing and never got around to taking the portrait class, because by then I was taking an 18/20 hour course load including voice lessons and piano, and struggling to pass my sophomore speech platform so that I could be admitted into BJUís Speech Program.

I went on to use my drawing skills a little after college, especially right afterwards when I worked at Teen Haven, Christian Youth Ministries in Philadelphia, PA. Teen Haven staff developed their own instructional materials for weekly Bible Studies, tutorials, and five-day clubs in the summertime.

Here is a poster that features a live-in teenager whom I dearly loved at our center at 20th and Poplar. He was so beautiful and he was facing down so many odds - alcoholism and drug dealing in his family and an absent father. I just wanted to give him hope and this was the only way I knew how.

In case you arrived here through the back door ...