I found myself out of luck one semester in art school… I thought I’d try Industrial Design because I figured with my past in the movie industry I could get a job designing props and sets for movies but it turned out that I.D. just wasn’t what I’d figured it would be. After a semester in that area of study I was completely screwed (for lack of better words)… probably one of the things that led to my disappointment in the school. The problem wasn’t in the Industrial Design program… it’s an awesome program taught by some great teachers, but its a course for designers. I learned some great skills in that course but very few of them I can actually apply to what I do now… none that I can think of actually. When I started the second semester of the year I decided to change and go back to Fine Arts – I found that semester very challenging though cause most of the courses that I was taking I had to take because they were the only ones left. One class I registered for was wood block printing… which was very interesting but I found the instruction very confusing. Much like most of the other teachers I had the privilege of learning from at my school, my instructor would give negative feedback about my work and a vague point in the general direction as to where he thought it should go… but no actual pointers or any helpful information. He said that my work wasn’t a “visual feast” and that’s what I should be after… nothing more. One thing he said though which did help enormously was a conversation about drawing. He was talking about his drawing instructor and where he learned to draw – Leonardo DaVinci taught him to draw.
Later that week I was walking through the Vancouver Art Gallery and was looking at some work that had been brought in for a show and saw a drawing by Michelangelo – my first look at an actual piece drawn by a real master. This wasn’t a bleached out slide in some art history class or some tiny picture in a text book… this was the real thing. I walked up to it – it was a small study of a mans torso and legs kinda like this one…
It wasn’t a huge polished masterpiece… it was a sketch he did in red chalk while planning one of his masterpieces but it grabbed me and pulled me in… as I stood there slowly leaning in closer to the drawing, it was like Michelangelo was standing beside me… “See??” he said… “This is what they aren’t teaching you at school…. THIS is how you do it.”
I was floored. My first real drawing lesson was given by a man who had passed on over 400 years before I was born. A little light went on inside my head and my drawing has never been the same since. Around thirty grand was spent on tuition that left me with almost nothing and this lesson from an old master that had changed everything was for FREE. I had a similar experience in Rome when I visited the Galleria Borghese and saw the wonderful collection of works by Caravaggio that they have there – and so began the painting lessons from my favourite artist of all time. Caravaggio stood beside me pointing to the areas where he glazed his colour and where he figured a little more light would make it pop against the darkness. – I actually jumped when I entered one room and saw half a dozen masterpieces staring back at me… I was moved to tears as I stood in this room all alone with one of the greatest minds in art history (in my humble opinion). In that gallery I also had a couple of little sculpture lessons from Bernini… he showed me what was possible – how far you can push the medium and what effects you can get from it. You couldn’t ever pay what that’s worth.
So today I am looking at pictures from the sketchbooks of some of my favourites – considering what I love so much about their work and how I can let it influence me and mine. There are some great minds out there and their work can tell you so much if you’re open to listen.