It’s How You Use It

I took a class a few years back at a really well known art college in the area, the sort filled with faculty who were showing in Boston and New York and Paris and all over the world.

I just wanted to take a moderately priced Continuing Education class in Figure Drawing.

I didn’t care about the professor credentials, hell, I didn’t even look them up.

Apparently he was something of a BIG DEAL.

I just wanted to draw naked people on all kinds of different kinds of paper and different sizes.

He was kind of stiff, really serious and totally had bromance for Jim Dine, which I totally get. He also did the en plein air classes in Paris for the school. 2 weeks in paris with this guy? NO THANKS.

However he let me look through his sketchbook and told me about his process. Which was totally fascinating. He worked in these small watercolor sketchbooks he picked up somewhere fascinating and his palette was a 2 part fly fishing fly box with all the foam ripped out, one side held his tubes of gouache and the other held the paint. He squeezed colors out into great gobs in the palette. Mixed in corners were various shades of greens, reds, blues and shades of white. In his sketchbook were lovely colored sketches of Paris in winter, spring and summer. There were quick studies of Boston at all times of the year. The paper was cockled and warped but this fastidious stiff old dude didn’t care.

It was all about the art.

When I took his class I was just starting out with bookbinding and I’d take a week’s worth of drawings stack them, pierce holes through them and then use a rivet to hold them all together. He was fascinated by this and how much easier it was to carry a stack of my loose drawings rolled up when secured in such a manner. He asked me a ton of questions about where I’d learned it and he seemed surprised when I said I’d just done it. We talked for a brief moment about my college sculpture professor who was into bookbinding and how I felt rivets were faster plus, I didn’t have any cord to bind the sheets.


All that stuff.

This guy who thought nothing of buying $30 tubes of gouache painted with something I thought was a riot, those 50 to 99 cent Loew-Cornell brushes you used to be able to buy singly and now come in blister packs and multi packs for $10, you still get 15 to 20 of them but you can’t do what this guy used to do and buy 20 of the same size at a time.

I watched that professor paint the model once. He attacked the page- scrubbed the paint onto the pages of his small sketchbook, aggressively mixing colors, squinting his eyes at the model, capturing darks in deep purple tones and lights in swaths of golden yellow.

He did with that cheap brush everything I’d been taught NOT to do with a brush since kindergarten. He hardly ever rinsed colors from it; he simply dipped the dirty brush into whatever the next color he was interested in using. Then he applied it.

Watching him paint was mesmerizing and a study in focus and attention. What got me most was he was using those ultra cheap Chinese bristle brushes that no one would have dared to bring into one of my college painting classes. This guy created great stuff with them, all painted with 2 sizes; a #2 round and a #3 flat.

It was the second time I’d met a working artist that used what I’d been taught was a garbage tool, and used it well.

Hmm. Has to make you wonder if the pricey expensive tools are quite as wonderful as the companies making them would have you believe.