The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Sunday, Debtember 12, 2004

How to cheat at art

Even a pencil can “cheat”. In fact, the idea for this lecture was partly inspired by Paul Spooner, an artist who only half jokingly accused me of cheating while watching me draw a cartoon. I start with a pencil, scrubbing about, gradually deciding where the lines should be, what looks right. (I never went to art school, I'm an engineer by training, and I can only draw in this one style which evolved over 14 years doing a weekly cartoon strip for the Observer (called The Rudiments of Wisdom) so I remain a sort of primitive. Eventually I go over the lines I like with a pen, and finally rub out the pencil. Paul had previously admired my drawings, assuming I had some unerring ability to get my pen in the right place every time—but this use of the pencil was “cheating”, it was almost copying, not drawing.

Historically, though, artists have done much more cheating than simply using pencils. The renaissance artists were so keen to make their paintings look “real” they used all sorts of tricks. Realising that medieval paintings had rather strange perspectives, they drew elaborate geometrical constructions to make sure they got it right. But they went further, inventing a whole series of grids, screens and sights to “improve” their work. I had been drawing for several years before I found myself holding out my thumb at arms length to compare the relative sizes of things—a simple version of these renaissance drawing aids which I had assumed was simply an artists pose, but it's actually very useful.


Now I don't feel so bad about cheating on my Drawing I final.

Well, it felt like cheating to me. But I went ahead with it anyway.

It was December of 1989, and for our final in Drawing I (at FAU) we had to do a self-portrait. Our first assignment in Drawing I was a self-portrait and I suppose this was to show us how much (or little) we had progressed during the semester. And like our first assignment, our final was a “take-home” test—one that we had to do at home, to turn in before date such-n-such. And time was running out.

Of course it was the night before it was due before I even started. All my life I've been one to procrastinate (although oddly enough, I never procrastinate procrastinating—go figure) and now was no different. Knowing me, I might have even waited until midnight—the day it was due to start.

With a very hard deadline staring me in the face, I started looking for the quickest, easiest thing I could do that could still be considered “drawing a self-portrait.” It was then I saw the copy machine in my closet.

Yes, I had a copy machine in my closet. No, I am not going to explain why I had a copy machine in my closet (doesn't everybody have a copy machine in their closet?) but the fact was, I had one. I also saw the homemade light table (plywood box with a glass top and lightbulb inside used for animation and tracing—doesn't everbody have one of those in their closet?) when inspiration (or was it despiration) hit.

Within the later chapters of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (one of our textbooks for the class) was a technique of drawing where you shaded (using graphite) the entire paper, then used an eraser to “draw” the picture. The technique lent itself very much to a “photo-copyesque” look.

Copy machine. Light table. I also had the means to produce the vast amount of graphite powder to shade the drawing paper. And enough erasers to get through this scheme of mine.

So. Photocopy my hand (sorry, I wasn't about to photocopy anything more risqué). Generate copious amounts of graphite. Smear graphite over drawing paper. Tape photocopy and graphite covered paper to the light table. Grab eraser and start to erase “draw.”

All in all, it was probably two hours worth of work (even with the light table, it was hard enough to see through a graphite smeared paper, and mostly black black-n-white photocopy) to get a “drawing” of a photocopy of my hand.

Which is why it felt so much like cheating; but I never said anything. I had a grade to get.

And grade I did. Got an “A” on the final.

A few weeks later, I had the drawing framed (a cheap frame, but still, framed) and took it into my office (at the time, at IBM). About two weeks later, my picture was gone!

Someone stole my art from IBM!

The cynical side of me says that someone stole the image to get the frame, but then again … how often is it that someone can claim their artwork (no matter how it was made) was stolen?

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