I was in the last generation of people who reasonably expected to earn a living as commercial illustrators, doing realistic hand-drawn art.
I displayed drawing talent from a very young age and my narcissist father seized on this as a way I would be successful and famous. He wanted me to be educated, so I could “be the best”, and he began to pay for my art tutoring and then classes from age seven.
As a kid, I knew so many professional illustrators, like my father’s girlfriend Susan, and professional artists, like my best friend Victoria’s mom J. Nebraska Gifford, and so many more.
As a kid, I just assumed I was gonna be an artist as a JOB. Not the job I wanted – I wanted to be a jockey!- but as the thing I would logically do, because aptitude for one. and already too tall for the other.
While from age seven to seventeen my career intentions changed a little – first, a horse book illustrator like Sam Savitt, then a fantasy book artist like Pauline Baynes, then a New York Times fashion illustrator, then a comic book artist – the need to draw realistically and well never did.
If you wanted to learn to draw well in most of the 20th century, your training started with the figure.
After I dropped out of Stuyvesant on the advice of my guidance counselor at 16, I went back to the Art Students League. I took figure drawing classes during the day, when I managed to get there, and shoplifted James Bond books at Coliseum Books.
How did I go from these timid little umber conté crayon figures made at the League in 1984, above, to the drawing at the top of this post, made at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1991? Parsons.
In the fall of ’84 I took fashion illustration extension classes at Parsons, a mile walk from the apartment in Chelsea where I grew up.
It was shocking! Gesture drawing hit me like a nuclear bomb. The idea of drawing the figure from the inside out, from the line of action, was electrifying to me. I was so locked up, so rigid, from the League, with my Rapidographs and my delicate line. And suddenly I had to draw with my whole arm, with my wrong hand, with my eyes closed. Transformative!
In January of 1985, when I turned 18, I matriculated as a full-time student in the Parsons Illustration Program. I had just decided to become a comic book artist, and I was there to learn SO HARD!
The teachers at Parsons in the 80s were tremendous.
They would tear you apart to make you draw better. And sometimes literally tear your drawing in half, if you were being lazy or imitating your own clichés!
I loved it.
We had to take up the whole 18×24 or 24×36 inch newsprint page, we had always get the feet in, we had to do 20 one-minute gesture drawings to start every class, we had to draw with all the bravery and power in our hearts!
Having to fill the whole 18″ x 24″ or 24″ by 36″ sheet of newsprint with huge sweeps of charcoal released the messy, punk power of my drawing.
(and then later working in comics locked it back up – I’m still trying to release it again, much harder in my weakened, disabled body! But that’s another story.)
The part of me that was a graffiti artist, used to moving fast on rough surfaces, began to breath fire as a draughtswoman.
The truth is, I have always been best as a draughtswoman, and the more precise I get, the more strength I lose.
At the same time as I started full time at Parsons, I also started reading “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way.”
What a bible! What a banger of a book! Good lord I’m afraid to look at it, though it is on the shelf, for fear of some horrible problematic surprise.
I loved drawing at Parsons so much. But I was put on academic suspension in 1987, after I vomited bright orange painkillers all over the place during the queue for course registration.
So I went to the School of Visual Arts for a semester. Which was also a great school, then, though sadly I was so wasted and strung out at that point I almost never made it to class.
Then I went to treatment in St. Paul, and the only art school in town was The Minneapolis College of Art and Design, MCAD.
And figure painting, as it turned out! Which was an adventure I never expected to go on.
I got sober and went to an art school where nobody could draw. Illustration had turned to early computer-based work and stylization; Fine Art was focused on the conceptual.
I’d be there knocking out figure drawings that left everyone else in the dust, and nobody cared. Except my friend Al Pepin, my peer and equal! In my last year at MCAD, Al and I were standing up for figurative art.
Being reconnected with Al via his Instagram is a blessing of recent years. He can still draw like hell.
End of Part One.