Saturday, December 8, 2007

Mentors

Every artist remembers the person in their life who first encouraged them to draw. My mentor was my big brother Dan. We shared a room when I was in second grade and we worked on the same drawings, usually sailboats.

Here’s a photo of Dan from earlier today at his home in Sebastopol, California. Here's his blog about teaching kindergarten.

One day Dan gave me a piece of advice that hit me like a thunderbolt: “Draw what you see, not what you think you see.” I had been drawing the symbols for the eyes and nose and not really paying attention to the way they actually appeared.

This began a sort of obsession for me. I wanted to draw things as accurately as I could, trying to make my eyes and hands work like a camera. When I was 13 years old, I set up this arrangement with a rocking chair, and drew it with a Rapidograph pen from observation. It’s diligent work, but a bit tedious, lacking entirely in feeling.

Dan also introduced me to the concept of silhouettes. I did this drawing the same year, 1972, when I was thirteen. It was for a poster contest promoting health in my hometown of Palo Alto, California. The message of the poster (cropped out here) was “On the Road to Better Health.” You can see the Norman Rockwell influence.

I was sure I’d get some kind of award or recognition, because I was at the top end of the 9 through 13 age category. But I didn’t win anything. Nothing. Not even honorable mention. Dejected, I asked if I could have the picture back, but they said it was the property of the contest and would be kept at City Hall and eventually destroyed.

A sympathetic lady made inquiries for me and found out that the judges rejected my entry because they decided that an adult must have helped me. But that wasn’t true! I did the poster all by myself and I spent weeks on it.

When my dad found out that I was falsely accused, he marched me down to City Hall. We found the office where the picture was stored, and a soft-spoken man found it and returned it to me. Once we explained the whole story to him, he was very kind and encouraging. I noticed his office had a drawing table and art supplies. The man explained that he was a professional illustrator. I had never met an illustrator before, and at that moment I decided I wanted to be one.

7 comments:

K_tigress said...

I can relate to that. ;)

Tom Scholes said...

Wow, now that's a great story. Been really enjoying the blog lately, thanks!

eric said...

james,

i've been hoping for years you would do somthing like this. your blog, images and behind the scenes look at your work and techniques is awsome!

i hope you are able to post more for years to come. the information is wonderful. what took you so long! haha

keep up the great blog!
eric

Malcolm said...

You know I can see why they thought an adult helped you. You were much more better than me or other peole I know when you were thirteen... or fourteen... probably fifteen too.

Mary Ann Archibald said...

Wonderful.

Gwen Buchanan said...

13 years old.. you were a natural!! I'm glad you weren't discouraged by the incident..
Very often I have found when unfair things like that happen, They provide Fuel for the Fire..
I wonder what they all think of you now??? Hope they are all blushing!!

seanpclark said...

You know, it's funny how that happens to kids... When I was little my dad bought 2 pinewood derby car kits so he had one to demonstrate on. His looked like a lump of wood at the end because he'd just use it for demonstration purposes. This way, he told me, no one could ever claim again that I didn't do the work myself.