Drawing Class

Drawing of Owen Essen with a wolf and an owl

In art school everyone has to take drawing classes. This is a source of much anxiety and frustration to film majors like myself, whose drawing ability is often limited to stick figures.

Freshman year I had my first ever serious drawing class. Nearly everyone else, it seemed, was majoring in painting, illustration or animation and had spent practically their entire lives drawing almost constantly. Many of them had gone to elite arts high schools and had technical artists skills rivaling many of the professional artists where I was from.

The first few weeks they totally blew me out of the water. I was downright embarrassed to present because they were so much better than me. I realize I would never be able to beat them on raw drawing talent or on technical skills. I needed to come up with some other way to compete. After careful consideration, I came up with two things:
First, I could work harder than them.
Second, I could have more creative, original ideas than them.

From then on, I applied those strategies to every assignment. Each project I tried to come up with some “wow factor” that would get everyone talking (and distracted from my limited technical ability). For one assignment, I made my drawing 8 ft tall (it took up a full half of the class’s display wall), for another I used cardboard cereal boxes, transparency paper and a flashlight to project an image on a piece of paper so that it could be traced (there was no explicit rule against this). I looked for political tie ins that would generate discussion, or funny ideas that would make people laugh. When all else failed I fell back on brute force. I would draw a subject again and again until I got it right. If we were assigned 50 sketches, I did 100.

For the final project I combined my two core strategies into a series of six drawings that employed the Gestalt Principle. One of the practical implications of that principle is that a series of tiny drawings can, if properly arranged, lead the viewer to see a larger image that is the sum of the parts. In other words, tiny drawing make up a larger drawing. It does not require a great deal of technical ability, but it does require careful planning, attention to detail in the execution and a whole lot of commitment. I barely slept the week before it was due, but when the last class finally came, I had a series of drawings that appeared to be of one thing from a distance but, on close inspection, were made up of hundreds and hundreds of other tiny drawings.

Upon seeing it, my professor declared to the class that I was “obsessive” and promptly gave me an A. I finished near the top of the class.