Mike Draws in Public
On July 2 the United States Army Field Band, “The Volunteers,” performed a concert at the Rotary Pavilion in Faurot Park. It was a coolish evening, sunny for a change, in the low 70’s. By the time I got to the pavilion there must have been 200 people scattered all over the big grassy area in front of the stage. While most of the people looked well over retirement age, there were a few families with young children scattered among all of the lawn chairs. The predominant colors, as you can imagine, were red, white, and blue and many of the older men wore ball caps with their branch of service or the war or conflict they fought in embroidered on the front.
That evening I decided to bring along my small sketch pad, 2 mechanical pencils, and an eraser. After talking to a couple of fellow Rotarians, I set up my camp chair and waited for the band to come out on stage. I expected to see soldiers march onto the pavilion stage with trumpets, horns, and other brass instruments. Instead, at exactly 7:00 PM, 8 soldiers in Army polo shirts, khaki pants, and military style boots ran onto the stage, picked up their guitars and began to play rock and roll.
Once the music started and I was sure everyone’s attention was on the stage, I pulled my sketchbook and pencils from my small black backpack and waited. I looked around to make sure no one saw what I had just done. I was very nervous about drawing in public because I am not that confident in my newly learned drawing skills. I don’t like to show anyone what I have done until it is finished. Now I checked the crowd sitting around me once more and began to look for something easy I could draw. The most obvious thing was the pavilion itself where the Army band was performing. But the pavilion had so many angles that I didn’t know where to begin. So I just kept searching for some part of it that I could draw. I picked a roof angle and drew a line. Then tried to connect another angle and in a few moments the page was a complete and discouraging mess with lines that didn’t look like anything. I couldn’t fix it so I erased the whole mess, confirming for myself my utter lack of any artistic ability.
I stared at the page with bits of eraser still stuck in the lines I had erased. Then I started to get a little mad – just mad enough to get myself motivated and I asked my Self, “How can I draw this thing?” I stared at the pavilion that looked like an impossible maze of lines and angles. Then I saw it. There in the middle of the stage stood one single straight line. It was a pillar. I can draw that, I thought. So I drew one straight line and then another next to it and connected them with a few curved lines. I had a pillar. Then I noticed a second pillar and I thought, I can draw that one too. It was a bit lower than the first. Then I drew a line that connected them both and I had a girder. Once I had the two pillars and the girder connecting them I was in business. Viola! The rest of the pavilion just snapped into focus.
The rest of the evening I had a wonderful time, comfortable in my chair and listening to the music from “The Volunteers.” I was drawing in public. Slowly the sketch emerged and to my delight, the picture I drew actually looked similar to the Rotary Pavilion in Faurot Park. Later in the sketch I even tried to put people into the scene. They look like people if you hold the picture far away and squint.
I was thrilled that I’d taken the risk to try something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and even though my initial attempt was terrible, I didn’t give up and tried again in the end producing a sketch that I feel good about.
It won’t hang in the Art Institute of Chicago but I like to look at it. It reminds me of a wonderful 90 minutes I spent with wonderful people one evening. Maybe there is an Artist lurking inside me somewhere – deep, deep inside. I’m glad I took the risk. So if you see me someplace in a park or sitting on a sidewalk, I may be trying to draw my second sketch of a building or a tree. Or I may be trying to draw you!