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Discover your deeper self: take an art class

With water-soaked brushes and black ink, a panda is born.

GEN YAMAGUCHI | Times

With water-soaked brushes and black ink, a panda is born.

RUSKIN — Forget ink blots, personality tests and expensive trips to a therapist. If you want to learn more about yourself, take a drawing class.

I've always wanted to be able to draw a person who looks less like a lollipop and more like, well, a person. So when I heard about Ruskin's monthlong Big Draw and the dozens of free art classes, I signed up with my husband for a few sessions.

It would be fun and relaxing, right?

By the third class, I wanted to quit. My chairs didn't look like chairs — but not in the way Picasso's chairs don't look like chairs. His are abstract. It's called cubism. Mine are ugly. It's called trash.

Our teacher, USF art graduate student Ariel Baron-Robbins, tried to encourage me.

"You look sad," she said one Tuesday night as I sat in front of my easel.

Well, it wasn't helping that she was oohing and ahhing over my husband's picture of a chair, waving it around the room at the other students. I told her I was bored and disappointed. It's not as easy as I expected. I'd quickly draw the chair and then sit and stare at the mess. A 5-year-old could do better, I'd think.

"Just try to be patient," she said.

Whoa. It has been years since I last heard that from my mom. But maybe there's a reason I was always one of the first to complete tests in school and why I won't cook anything that takes more than 15 minutes to get to my plate. And it isn't because I'm a math or cooking genius.

I'm impatient.

Now, how to change? Baron-Robbins suggests, "Just take your time." But it's harder than that.

At the next class, I vow to use all the allotted time for exercises like the other students do. Maybe it will look better. Maybe I'll try to be a perfectionist like my husband. Then my pictures can avoid the recycling bin and join his art in the pile of Things We Will Save.

One Thursday, I went to a Chinese-style drawing class. Kirk Ke Wang, an artist who moved from China about 20 years ago, taught us how to use water-soaked brushes and black ink to create fluid pictures of pandas and bamboo.

Without much practice, our pictures looked good. Our symbols of "family," "man" and "woman looked like his. We were masters.

Not quite. Chinese calligraphers will practice the same symbols for decades. They're perfectionists like the Western world has never seen.

Wang said that a picture of three symbols recently sold for $6-million. That's $2-million per word. Where can I sign up?

Although we'll never be as good as the masters, it's a gratifying class and I think I might frame something.

The final class is a portrait session taught by Baron-Robbins. She wants us to each take 45 minutes to draw our partner. Forty-five minutes.

My first sketch takes about 10 minutes, and it looks more like a zombie than my husband. Deep breath. I'm going to try again, and I'm going to take my time. Patience.

I grid the face, as Baron-Robbins taught. Eyes are halfway down the head, not up high, as we naturally try to do. I slowly shade the upper lip, take my time with the eyebrows. And by the end, it actually looks like my husband. Well, with a haircut. He needs one anyway.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or 661-2443.

Discover your deeper self: take an art class 10/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 16, 2008 4:32am]

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