Drawing, DoN Brewer

Drawing, DoN Brewercolored pencil on Canson Mi-Teintes Pastel Assorted Pad 12 in. x 16 in.

Whenever I draw with pencil or charcoal I feel the influence of my art teachers and favorite artists, the stories all melding together to guide my hand. One of my favorite stories about drawing is actually from a painting class at PCA, the Philadelphia College of  Art, when it was in the Atlantic Building on Broad Street way back in the 1970s. I was taking evening painting classes with Francis Tucker. Riding the High Speed Line from Collingswood with my paint box and canvasses into Philadelphia was so exciting and urbane, Tucker’s class was very laid back, he understood his students were working folks. We did still life and figure study paintings, drank cheap wine and smoked cigarettes on the breaks.

One evening the project was to paint a live nude model. On gessoed canvas paper I drew out my composition carefully, literally detailing the drawing in charcoal right down to the pupils, in my mind, preparing to paint. When I thought I was ready to start Tucker came over and took an eraser to the sheet and smeared out the entire image stating, ‘This is a painting class.’ And then he punched me in the arm pretty hard. From then on he taught me to sketch with paint using classical techniques with umber and green oils.  Just this past weekend I was plein air oil painting with the Philadelphia Art Meetup group at Bartram’s Garden and my friend Joe Faith looked at my sketch in oils and said it looked like I was already finished the painting. I thought of Tucker punching me in the arm.

Drawing, DoN Brewer

DrawingDoN Brewercolored pencil on Canson Mi-Teintes Pastel Assorted Pad 12 in. x 16 in.

In the 1970s I also took a drafting class at PCA which opened my mind to understanding depth perception. Like Neo discovering the Matrix, suddenly the world around me was covered in geometric code. My view of the world changed as grids, diagonals and intersections of line revealed themselves. I studied drawing with PAFA trained artists like Paul Dusold, James Dupree, and Al Gury at Fleisher Art Memorial and learned how to leave out lines, use an eraser to make marks and how to bump planes of tone into each other. At University of the Arts, my multimedia professor Chris Garvin began the high tech digital arts course by having the class work with charcoal on newsprint. If you can’t communicate well with basic tools like pencil and paper how can you communicate with sophisticated ones like computers?

Drawing, DoN Brewer

DrawingDoN Brewercolored pencil on Strathmore 412111 80-Pound 24-Sheet Strathmore Toned Sketch Paper Pad, 11 by 14-Inch, Gray

The descriptive drawing class with Chris Zelinsky at UArts, I was pursuing my BFA in Multimedia and Communications, was probably my most transformative drawing instruction. For the first month we drew simple shapes like squares, circles, and cubes, after we had finger painted abstracts on newsprint with tempera paint to opera for an hour. Chris Zelinsky understood that if we got our brains into an alpha state through abstract thought, we would be able to tap into the technical aspects of drawing descriptively more freely. One day a student challenged her to do what she was asking us to do, draw perfect circles. She sat in his seat, used his tools and drew a perfect circle.

Drawing, DoN Brewer

DrawingDoN Brewercolored pencil on Canson Mi-Teintes Pastel Assorted Pad 12 in. x 16 in.

I have been away from drawing for a while but this past Summer I began going to the Thursday evening art workshops at The Plastic Club. The first twenty minutes of the three hour session are five minute poses followed by twenty minute poses with ten minute breaks. Each of these drawings are two twenty minute poses, but I find that if I really tough it out and stay until the end, because it can get very tiring, my last drawing is usually the most expressive.

Returning to drawing after a five year dry spell is satisfying and fulfilling. Even if no one ever sees the sketches, the feeling of accomplishment and self control inspires me to keep drawing. Another reason to draw again is learning of the ALS diagnosis of my friend Jay Smith. One day last Spring Jay was awarded the Popular Science Inventor of the Year Award in the morning and learned his fate in the afternoon. Soon Jay began to lose motor control of his hands and his speech is becoming slurred. As artists our role is to communicate, I often joke that if the power grid goes down artists will become the tribe leaders because they can communicate ideas with simple tools. Drawing is a way to test my power grid, making sure I still have motor control and can see to communicate effectively. Jay inspires me to take advantage of my skills.

Drawing, DoN Brewer

DrawingDoN Brewer

Drawing, DoN Brewer

My friend Bob Bohne inspired me to get my tools together in an easy to carry, ready to go, messenger bag. My super-kawaii pencil box holds all my basic tools: solid graphite pencils, HB lead pencils, Prismacolor, Eagle, Caran D’Ache colored pencils in a limited palette of sanguine, rouge anglais, granite rose, gray, black and white. The gum eraser is used to remove mistakes and add highlights, I’ve had the blob of gum for decades and enjoy coaxing it back to life, warming and squeezing the eraser in in my hands. The black box is filled with a variety of red, brown and white pencils and the blue box holds assorted colored pencils and tools. In my studio I have hundreds more pencils I’ve collected over time, enough pencils to make drawings for the rest of my life.

© Written and photographed by DoN Brewer

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