March 07, 2016

Draw Winky

My Happy Place has always been wherever I am doing something creative with my hands. I can spend hours or days in my craft room. It’s where I get inspiration, get lost in my thoughts, let go of inhibitions and just play.

The following stories about my early creative side are so ME.

In the summer between second and third grade, 1960 I do believe, the public school near our house had a fun summer school sort of thing. It is not clear in my adult head, what it actually was because there was no curriculum that I can recall, just a camp kind of atmosphere where we went to play. It could have been for a day or two, or longer, I’m not clear on that part either. I am sure of the time frame because I attended that public school in second grade before attending Catholic school in third grade the following year.
I doubt very seriously if it was something my parents had to pay for, that wasn’t going to happen, but nonetheless, we went to the school for part of the day and did stuff. Fun stuff. Like gathering in the auditorium and watching black and white movies. It’s where I first saw Esther Williams and for those of you too young to know who she is, she was a swimmer turned movie star and they made movies about, well, swimming - starring Esther... Busby Berkely at his best. She was beautiful in her one-piece ultra conservative bathing suits, and she wore spotless makeup and smiled while she swam. When she took off her swimming cap and shook her head, her hair fell into a beautifully coiffed-do. I was mesmerized.

More appropriate to my story, the other fun thing we did at that summer school was to go to an art room and do projects. I vividly remember drawing an elephant walking on grass. I added a palm tree for effect! I was awesome (not) and I was so proud. When I shared it with the teacher he immediately said “Well, that is the skinniest elephant I’ve ever seen” and he promptly handed it back to me and walked away.  What?! His obvious disenchantment with my drawing was shocking! Shocking.

A couple of years later, I made the most incredible Father’s Day card ever (not). I drew a popgun on the front of a folded piece of paper and wrote “to the best Pop ever” on the inside. See what I did there – Oh, I was brilliant alright! My dad oohed and ahhed over it and hung it in the garage over his workbench, obviously so he could look at it all day. Every day.
Eventually I found the card ripped in half and in his trashcan in the garage and immediately kicked my little brother’s ass for having the audacity to go in there, take dad’s treasured card and just throw it away like that.
Tom told me that it wasn’t him but dad who threw it away, but I just knew he was lying. Like a rug. He had to be. Snickering little liar! That night, I overheard my dad tell my mom the story, and my heart was broken. Yes, dad was the one who threw my awesome card away.
I’d love to insert here that I apologized to little Tom and gave him a hug. Bwahaha, I never apologized for anything. As my grandson says… “I’m sorry for nothing!

Forward to 5th grade in Catholic school. Our art assignment was to draw something depicting Egypt. I spent the entire class staring at my paper and looking at papers around me being drawn by my classmates in hopes that I could copy someone else's idea (cuz that’s what great artists do) but I had NOTHING. Oh, I knew about sphinx and pyramids and deserts but I couldn’t make a single mark on my paper. The only thing I drew was a complete blank. My head was spinning and my inside voice was saying, “draw SOMETHING!” Instead - I turned in a blank paper. Blank! I got a D that semester on my report card. In art for Pete’s! And to make it even more horrendous, Father Hagerty circled the D in red ink before my report card got handed to me. Yes, the pastor of our church came to each classroom and looked at every single report card in the front of the class. He was seated at the teacher’s desk with a red ballpoint pen in his hand. Just watching him make a move towards a report card with that pen brought audible gasps from the entire class. The red circle of shame, and I got one. I also got my ass kicked when my parents saw that D.

In my junior or was it my senior year in high school (don’t ask me why that time frame is blurry to me) I found a match book with this on it:

This was an ad for Art Instruction School of America, and this dear was named Winky. I of course, drew Winky and sent it in.  It said... "draw Winky and you too can become a famous artist". Well, Lo and Behold, a representative of the famous school came knocking on our door soon after, proclaiming I had soooo much potential and would be the perfect candidate for their at-home art instruction classes.
More than anything this gentleman said, I remember that he had one arm. I stared at his fake arm, which was sticking out of the sleeve of his suit jacket. It was very low tech and actually looked like a department store mannequin’s arm - flesh toned and stiff. The fingers didn't move. This was the late sixties, so technology hadn't quite kicked in for prosthetics. I only heard about every tenth word of his pitch, because in my head I was saying "don't stare at his arm, don't stare at his arm".
I begggggged my mom to let me sign up, and looking back on it all, I am amazed that she agreed, but she did! I know it was beyond our budget, but I swore I’d do all the assignments and become a great artist with a brilliant career.

So there I was, a student in Art Instruction School’s at-home art classes. They sent me real supplies, like a wooden drawing board and pencils and chalks and charcoal and water colors. This is how it worked: they provided you with an assignment every few weeks or so, to which you would read the instructions on how to do the technique, then you used the supplied tools to complete the assignment. After completion, you sent back your paper to the school. When it came back after grading, there were some critiquing notes on the pages - written in red ink of course, the color of shame - and a letter grade at the top. I’m pretty sure I was a solid C student. I'm not kidding - it was the man-art-teacher-who-hated-my-elephant all over again. I don’t remember how many assignments I did before I quit… But I do know my mom made me finish making the monthly payments until the contract was done. In my own defense, you can read all day long how to use watercolors (or any other technique), but figuring out how to actually do it on your own was difficult.
Turns out, I wasn’t the perfect candidate for at-home art instruction. Surprise! But that wooden drawing board came in real handy later during my apartment years. I used it as a weapon to hurl like a frisbee on top of gigantic roaches or spiders that creeped their way in.

Thank you Art Instruction Schools, I have no diploma, no brilliant art career. Just a smack on the back of the head from my mother ("I told you so, you never finish anything") and the memory of a frightfully bad artificial limb burned eternally into the front of it.