January 2013: An Ode to Ben and Elland

(Written January 2013 after receiving an arts grant from the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies at the University of Redlands)

Today I went to Dick Blick, a giant treasure trove of an art store in L.A., to start shopping for my spring art show.  It was A.) the best thing ever, because I got to spend grant money on whatever I wanted art wise and it really got me reinvigorated about my art and excited for my show, but also B.) made me realize just how much I owe to my old art teachers.

How much is that, you ask?

I owe Ben and Elland everything.  Not in life, that would be strange.  But in art, they did everything for me.  Part of me hopes one day they read this, they deserve to know how much they affected my life and doubtless many others, but part of me hopes they do not because I'm a creep.  I think back on before Elland taught me how to draw and Ben taught and inspired me to paint, and I just wouldn’t be doing art.  Not even I wouldn’t be as skilled as I am now but I don’t think I would have continued with it beyond the initial interest.

This thought first struck me when I was buying canvas and stretcher bars.  I picked the kind of canvas I wanted, I started pulling out the sizes of stretcher bars.  I looked around at all the pre-stretched canvasses.  Without Ben, I’d have been buying those flimsy, slipshod quality nightmares.  If I wanted to make my own canvasses, I’d have had no idea how.  I wouldn’t have known to buy heavy stretcher bars instead of light ones.  I wouldn’t have known how to put them together.  I wouldn’t have known how tight to stretch them or to use a staple gun or how to fold or about gesso. 

I don’t know if I could have self taught.  I guess eventually I could have learned from someone else, but here at Redlands that wouldn’t have happened.  And it wasn’t just the technical details.  He taught me why stretching your own canvasses is important, about owning the whole of your craft.

I went on to buy paint.  Where would my painting be without the oil paints that Ben taught me to work with?  Nowhere.  Acrylic sucks, not sorry to say it.  Oils are where my style came from. 

And the mixing medium!  And the base layer!  Ah! 

Then I wandered around the store finding more things to buy and make into art.  I stumbled on Prismacolors and realized I can finally buy a new set!  I have the money! 

And then I thought of Elland.  Hardly anybody knows about Prismacolors, even artists I meet now.  The vivid pictures they create are always questioned, what can do that?  But Elland taught me how to use them, he taught me how to draw faces, often the skill I’m most praised for.  I learned about lots of materials from Elland, but I also got my first art community, my first real passion for it.  I wouldn’t have continued art without Elland, and I wouldn’t have embraced it in college without Ben.

I haven’t really done art since last May in Ben’s drawing class, I spent most of the fall on literary theory and my writing.  But I can't wait to begin again.  I have four sets of stretcher bars, yards of canvas, oil paints, gesso, new brushes, soft pastels, mi tientes paper, black pastel paper, and NEW PRISMACOLORS.  I’m so excited to show my appreciation for my mentors and get back to my passion with this art show.

Of course, I can’t say this without mentioning Johnston’s role.  My grant for all these supplies is the Director’s Discretionary Grant from Johnston.  You enabler, you.  But if I start talking about the importance of Johnston in my life here I’ll be up all night.