We have all had them. Some good, some not so good, most leaving lasting memories, and a scant few emboldened you to be something greater than you would have been otherwise. Leaving you with the greatest gift. Some of my art professors are dead now. And similarly Bud Wall, the man who showed me how to draw with color, has left this planet.
I had Bud for several classes, because the University I attended had a small art department. Bud taught jewelry, sculpture ánd drawing. The ‘Beginners drawing’ was a twice a week, 3 hours class; an eternity if drawing isn’t your forte.
Bud had us buy the largest newsprint paper we could find, and we were to draw expansively. After 30 minutes, 15 minutes, a few strokes even, Bud would call time. Then we would have to wipe out everything we had on the page, (leaving a smoky circle like the one that follows Pig Pen on Charlie Brown) and start again on the same sheet. He was teaching us that nothing is sacred, nothing is precious. If we did it once, we could create it again, or maybe even something better!
As the beginners drawing class progressed, Bud had us bring twigs to the class. Yes, you read that right, twigs. We drew twigs for three hours. When I fell into despondency, Bud would come over with a hopeful look on his face and say: “You look like you need a new twig.” He would go to the large over flowing pile of twigs on a back table, and come back with what he considered a “fresh twig”.
We drew twigs for WEEKS, each and every day. These were Small twigs, about 3-4 inches long. Most of them had interesting bark, or I assumed that at least Bud thought the twigs bark were interesting. This was Wisconsin, a state that had an overwhelming surplus of trees. There was an endless supply of wood, kindling, or whatever you call twigs. The twigs didn’t even have leaves on them. To me, it was the ultimate boredom.
That was it. That was all. Words of wisdom. You need a new twig. I was started faltering in this class, even though I was showing up every day.
I came from a high school that didn’t have art. Because of this, the high school had an agreement with a local junior college to allow high school students to attend art classes.
I took night art classes at the junior college (a 90-minute drive roundtrip from my house). This was on top of all my other high school classes, and I received no high school credit for these classes.
Art was THAT important to me. Important enough, that I made the junior college trek twice a week. In those classes, I learned to use stick charcoal, kneaded rubber and different types of pencils. I learned to use newsprint paper, or the finer colored papers.
On beautiful weather days, Bud allowed us to sit outside and draw. We still had to draw twigs, but it was a better project just because we were sitting outside on the grass. Then one day he told us to bring pastels. So immediately, I bought pastels. I carried them along with my charcoal and pencils. But Bud didn’t mention them again. Weeks went by without any further mention of pastels. I floundered further in beginners drawing, the twigs getting to be more boring and challenging all at once.
And on an amazingly nice spring day, while we were outside drawing, I snapped. I thought; he can critique me all he wants, I am going to use the pastels! I was tired of black and white, of graphite. I was tired of sticks! I broke out the pastels, and I started drawing the scenery in front of me.
When Bud came by to see how things were going, instead of being mad, he was actually excited. Maybe he was as tired of sticks as I was! He told me to continue. He gave me the singular most important advice in my art career, certainly then, and perhaps of all time.
“Don’t use black. Use Orange for light and blue for shadow, then work your palette from there.”
I did not understand the logic of those directions at all. But I knew I could do it. I followed his advice that day. He put my drawing on the wall outside of the class room. From then on, my drawings would ALWAYS be on the wall of drawing excellence.
The next days, I followed Buds advice, each day after class, he posted my drawings. Other students came to me and asked me how I did it. All of a sudden, I was the star of the class! I was clueless to how it happened. I was just doing what Bud told me to do. The drawings didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t know I was creating an artistic style. I was just following a formula Bud had given me, and then finding a composition that felt right. I was adding my perspective to it. It was enough to become Bud’s favorite student.
The remarkable fact about Bud’s formula is that I remembered it, and I continued to work with it long after the beginners drawing class was done. I received an A in the beginners drawing class, enough of an incentive to continue using blue as black and orange as light. I continued with it, even though I didn’t “see” it, while pursuing an art degree. I took two years of art history, getting a background of how art evolved thru time, printmaking, ceramics, sculpture – yet my highest passion was to draw with pastels.
Decades later, I still paint the way Bud taught me- colorful imagery that contains magic, creates magic even, on foundation of solid drawing techniques. Bud’s advice is the most used of all the artistic instruction I have ever received in my life, even though I did not understand it at the time I was taught the technique.
Let that sink in for a moment… I learned the technique, before I understood it. Then years after, I was STILL using the technique. Let me confess something. I had a ‘not so brief foray into ceramics. I am not that great at all at throwing pots, but I was enthralled by slab-work and coil building the figure. Ceramic/clay folks are fantastic; they have the best potlucks, give great critiques, and are grounded. I got into making big stuff; large platters, bowls, figure sculpture some even life sized.
When photography processes improved, so my work could be reproduced accurately, I went back to pastel. I knew that one of the secret reasons I was in ceramics is I was mediocre at it, so it didn’t bother me if I didn’t succeed with it. But pastel? Pastel is my heart. If I am a failure at pastel I fail at the soul level. I knew I was good at it, exquisite at it even, and it meant as much to me. To fail at pastel would be devastating.
So devastating in fact, I was hesitant to try. That is the under belly of being the favored student; if you aren’t the favorite anymore, who are you? I quit doing pastels for twenty years. I didn’t have the stomach to fail at something I was good at. I’d rather take this pottery class over here thank you very much.
The Greatest Gift
Bud Wall is dead now. But his love of art lives on in students like me who gleaned much from all the classes we had together.
But please don’t – Just PLEASE don’t – ask me to draw a twig ever again…