Back to Basics – Stranger Things in Ball Point Pen
When I accepted my first job as an Art Director, I remember my mom, and most people I knew outside the ad world, making a quick assumption that my job was to draw things. I had a degree in Art. Design, mind you. But, from the Art department. And my title had the word “Art” in it. So, I must spend my days drawing. Much to my mom’s surprise, the greater portion of my day was spent performing the “Director” part. Sure, I sketched and thumbnailed ideas. Sometimes I drew storyboards. But most of my time was spent coming up with ideas, manipulating imagery and type on the computer, and going to meetings… Too many meetings.
I knew how to draw, but some of the old guys really knew how to draw. It was a necessity as they came up in the business. As I moved upward through titles and pay levels, drawing became a hindrance. I quickly learned to “Never let anyone know you can draw”. Otherwise, you end up drawing other peoples’ boards. I made that mistake. And I learned.
Nowadays, there are there are plenty of people on the “art” side that can’t draw. Some didn’t come from art or design. They went from a marketing discipline into portfolio school and chose Art Direction. Others could probably draw at one time, but have fallen away from analog as digital took over, and rely heavily on the computer to visualize their ideas. I use to draw. A lot. I use to paint. Every night. But, as life’s priorities have shifted, and digital communication has dominated my life, my handskills have waned. I’ve always built things with my hands, roughed out plans, and concepted with thumbnails. But, it’s been years since I kept a living sketch book. And even longer since I’ve dedicated time to “making art”.
Journaling is another analog activity I’ve de-prioritized over the last 10 to 15 years. It made less and less sense to write things in a format that couldn’t easily be shared at a moment’s notice. But, as I embarked on a summer trip with my family, I wanted to keep track of our travels without dragging along a computer. We were set to be gone for six weeks, so I committed to documenting each day, and found that putting my thoughts on paper had a wealth of benefits. One of the most surprising, was that journaling pried open a rusty door into the dusty drawing room.
As summer wrapped up, and so did our travels, I had a bike accident and fractured my femur. The injury and subsequent surgery completely laid me up for a two weeks and has kept me close to home for a few more. I needed to look for work, so allocated part of each day to emailing agencies and asking for freelance projects. With my physical setback, I did it half-heartedly. I knew that commuting and working with a broken leg, on crutches, and on painkillers would surely be less than ideal. As I weened myself off the painkillers, and was able to sit in a chair for more than a few minutes at a time, I needed something to take my mind off my abnormally sedentary lifestyle. Something relaxing. Something not work.
In the early 90’s, I’d done life drawings with ballpoint pen while commuting on the train to Chicago. I loved the spontaneity and satisfaction they brought me. No erasing resulted in a style that was real. Candid. And unforgiving. With each sketch, I got better. And with each sketch, i was able to bring out more personality in the subject, even if I was drawing the back of someone’s head. When we moved to San Francisco, and I stopped taking the train, I stopped drawing. I also gave up my painting studio and stopped painting. I’ve always meant to get back to making art and this injury became the opportunity.
Drawing quickly gave me a sense of accomplishment, and progress. Posting my drawings on Instagram gave me some positive reinforcement to keep going, and gathered needed feedback if I was mulling options or a key decision. A mentor of mine even suggested that “These drawings make me think that getting laid up was a good thing.” I’m not sure I’d go that far… But, when life hits you with this sort of thing, you find positive outlets and distractions. Then you come out on the other end with things of value, not just lost time.
I prefer to draw from life, but in my less-than-mobile state I’m drawing from online photos. Classically trained artists are retching as they read this. But, I’m back to basic art stage and learning my handskills with one of life’s most basic instruments: A ballpoint pen. And I’m having a blast. This exercise will bring back the skills I need to make the art I want in the near future. And I’m not quitting this time!
Ultimately there will be eleven drawings, in honor of Eleven from Stranger Things. It’s a cool show. You should binge watch it if you haven’t already. Especially if you are a child of the 80’s and a Spielberg fan. I hate to date myself, but I’m definitely both.
Dustin Henderson (Of Course), Nancy Wheeler, Steve Harrington, and Dr. Brenner.