Frank texted to ask if I wanted to teach a couple drawing classes at his school. A coworker tore a rotator cuff and was facing surgery, physical therapy, and significant time off. The semester was already underway and they were in a pinch.
I started typing a response, then stopped. I’ve had a couple students over the years, but have never taught a drawing class. Still, forty years of doing a thing almost every day should count for something. I asked how long it would be for and Frank said a month or so. Before I knew what I was doing, I said yes. Then the worrying began.
In 1994, I went to grad school for painting. The idea was to get a master’s so I could teach. Within a month I realized I was done with school and didn’t want to be part of school in the future. I dropped out and went back to driving a cab. Over the following twenty-seven years, many people suggested I should teach. They said I’d make a good teacher. Frank was one of those people. Why any of them thought so, I don’t know. I never felt like a good teacher after the private lessons I gave. I couldn’t tell whether what I’d told my student made any impact or difference.
I was never a good student myself. I fought almost everything every teacher tried to say. Maybe that’s why I assume anything I say to a student will fall on deaf ears.
A week or so after saying yes, I went in for a formal interview with an administrator at the school. I filled out paperwork and posed for a school ID. It all happened very quickly.
Frank sent me the syllabi for my two classes, as well as a bunch of supplementary material, including something called The Elements of Light. It was for the beginning drawing class, the one in which the poor kids have to draw a still-life made up of a cube, a ball, and a cone. But the page reads like a series of aphorisms.
All forms will have a dark tone
Can a kid who never took a drawing class handle something so heavy? Can I?
Beware——cast shadows can destroy other forms that they land on
My first class is in figure-drawing. Four students and a nude model. I tell them I’ve been coming into rooms like this since I was sixteen. That drawing the nude model changed my life, but that it never gets easier, so don’t get discouraged.
In the beginning drawing class, we talk about the cube, ball, and cone. They all want to use their rulers to draw, thinking it will make their drawings “accurate”. It doesn’t, but I don’t tell them. It’s too soon to burst bubbles.
After the second figure-drawing class, I stop to talk to a student tacking her homework up in the hallway. It’s a copy of an old-master portrait drawing. She’s not happy with it.
When I ask what she thinks will make her portrait a success, she says: When it is recognizably of a human. I tell her this is a damn good goal. Walking out to catch the shuttle to the train, I think that I’ve always had the same goal, though I’ve never put it into words.
Often gets a little lighter near the edges