The first drawing I remember, was my mother drawing. She began by making two circles. She connected the circles together with curved lines, making them into a hotdog. Then she added a head, a tail and legs to transform the hotdog into a dashound. Magic!
My grandparents had this picture of a stream and a stone bridge in their living room. For as long as I can remember, I saw a hidden picture in the rocks in the lower right corner of the picture. It looked to me like the image of a fallen soldier boy in a bearskin hat. He lies face down with his head to the right. His arm is bent at the elbow and his hand is holding the strap to his backpack. His legs are a section of the stream. Although I couldn't believe the image was intentional. I couldn't shake my reading of it either. It was like seeing the Madonna's face on a potato chip.
In the fifth grade, we had an assembly featuring an artist from the Walt Disney Studios. He began drawing much like my mother had, starting with two circles, which became Mickey Mouse's ears.
His visit set off an avalance of drawing activity among the boys in my class. I told Delwayne Weighmink that he drew really great phesants (obviously influenced by close observations on hunting expeditions with his father.) To my suprise, he complimented the way I made mountains (overlapping snow-capped peaks to create a kind of perspective.) And that encouraged me to work even harder on my drawing.
Most of us acquired our drawing styles from comic books. The kids who had access to Action Comics learned a lot more about drawing figures, than those of us whose parents only let them read Disney comics. My favorite character was Uncle Scrooge, and drawing him didn't even teach me much about duck anatomy. .
Donald Rolch was my sixth grade teacher. After my mother, nobody did more than he did to encourage my involvement in the arts.
We were always working on art projects in Mr. Rolch's classroom. One of the most memorable was our project for the Tulip Time parade. Every schoolkid in Holland, Michigan marched in the parade, although by the sixth grade the thrill had kind of lost its luster. We wore dutch costumes and carried some kind of prop; a fishing pole, a crepe paper tulip, or a paper plate with blue crayon "Delft" drawing on it.
Mr. Rolch decided we would march as tulip bulbs. I think we used basketballs as forms for our paper mache masks. My mother suggested I use a cardboard paper towel roll as a nose. (Was she saying something about my face?) We painted them with brown tempera, and added cartoon eyes and mouths, but the result was still pretty drab. Nobody watching the parade knew what we were supposed to be, but we were very pleased because we had done something 'original'. Nobody else had ever done it before, and surprisingly nobody else ever wanted to do it again.
We spent endless hours making floor plans for our dream homes on gridded paper; mansions with swimming pools, turrets, and servants quarters, although nobody we knew even had a cleaning lady.
We had little ceramic figurines that we treated like pets. Mine was a skunk.
Mr. Rolch not only tolerated our play, he encouraged it. He gave us permission to be kids one extra year.
On Fridays, we made up performances based on characters from TV variety shows. One serial drama was never finished because we couldn't find an essential prop for Reginald von Gleason the Third (a cigarette lighter shaped like a gun.)
The big class play was Rumplestiltskin, and somehow I got the title role. The trees for the forest scene were cardboard abstractions taped to volleyball poles. My mother sewed a pair of my dress pants into tights, and put bells in the toes of my slipper/socks. Nobody had to memorize lines, we made them up. There was one scene where I was supposed to recite a poem around a campfire revealling my name. It was the only thing written out, but when it came to the time to recite it, I made up a two line ditty on the spot, because I thought the prepared script was too constricting. That was an omen.
The second most memorable event of the year, was an experiment in life drawing. Mr. Rolch put a chair up on top of his desk and asked Roger Burma, a popular athlete, to sit still while we drew his picture. I still get goosebumps remembering the thrill of having the permission to look intently at someone without feeling guilty.
Seventh grade was the first year we were put together with kids we hadn't known since kindergarden. It was a time when we explored new interests, and caricatured our 'old school' personalities.
I made an illustration for the cover of the weekly school paper. My sources were a comic book drawing of an old maid, and a panel cartoon of one of Donald Duck's nephews leaving a half-eaten apple on the teachers desk. .
The kids from the other schools were jockeying for position as well. and they were quick to point out your flaws . Someone from another neighborhood called me out for copying either the idea or the drawing. I felt humiliated and looked for another medium to gain social acceptance.
I was cast in the school play, Treasure Island, as Wee Willie, a scottish character with a kilt and bushy sideburns. I found that working on a play was a way to fit in. For someone who didn't have any skill in sports, it was a chance to play with the team, even if you were only a towel boy.
Outside of the production however, I didn't have a lot of recognizable resources. My friends were guys like Harry Hill who raised pigeons, Herky Van Tongeren, who called himself 'Pierre ze Trapper' and Dennis Bolles, whose glass eye was an object of intense interest and revulsion.
I made two new friends that year, Wayne Klomparens and John Van Wingeren. That summer, we played Monopoly almost everyday for about six hours either on Wayne's screened-in front porch or in the basement of John's cousin, Carl Flowerday. Fortunes were won and lost and we made up new rules like putting pricetags on the various markers, and valuing them like fine cars, to keep the game going. On Wednesday's, we'd bike two miles to the pop bottling plant for a free sample of 7up.
At some point we switched to playing cards. Mrs. Klomparens taught us Canasta, but I knew even then it was a game for grandmas. At the end of the summer, we boys planned a picnic for our parents and families. Because I was the oldest kid in my family and they were the youngest in theirs, their parents were quite a bit older than mine, and the families didn't have much in common either.
My interest in cartoons continued for several years. I have a scrapbook of panel cartoons from The Saturday Evening Post arranged by cartoonists. Mad magazine was a guilty pleasure my parents barely tolerated. I made this cartoon in the style of Don Martin satirizing my relationship to my mother.
During my early teens, I went to Camp Geneva for a week each summer. It was associated with the Reformed Church and one highlight of every week was a chalk talk program.
A woman would draw in colored chalks on a piece of dark velvet. The drawings started off pretty simple, a lighthouse on a pile of rocks with broad, yellow, beams of light in two directions. While someone read a few appropriate Bible verses, she would change the mood of the picture with colored lights attached to the easel.
Finally accompanied by 'Rock of Ages', she would quickly transform her picture into a portrait of Jesus on the cross, his arms stretched out on the beams of light. A few more color changes and it was over, although the experience left impressionable campers vulnerable to an altar call.
Afterwards, we crowded around to get a closer view. The drawing was pretty cartoony close up, but someone always asked how much she sold them for, and her answer never failed to bring a shocked reaction. She didn't sell them. She vacuumed off the chalk, so she could draw the picture over again and again!
In Junior High, boys had to take four, nine-week long 'industrial arts' courses; art, wood shop, print shop, and mechanical drawing. I liked them all, but it was a chore to get my counselor to let me take any of them as electives after that tasteing.
For Citizenship, we had to choose and research two potential careers.
I chose Animal Trainer and Butler, but Mr. Bertsch said that my test scores indicated that I was STS, a 'Superior and Talented Student' and made me make more appropriate, 'college track' choices. I reluctantly chose Lawyer and Art Teacher. I interviewed a lawyer who told me I'd have to take at least two years of Latin, and when I wrinkled my nose, he advised me to 'go with the art teacher thing'.
On the strength of it being critical to my career choice, I managed to insert Art into my schedule .
My teacher, was Mrs. Krum, and we learned a little about design, new media like silk screen, and new styles like abstraction.
We looked at pictures by Picasso, and made drawings to look like african masks.
We even had to make a totally abstract painting.
My mother took the abstraction out of the assignment, when she christened my effort 'Pea Soup'. We got a good laugh over that one.
My Junior year, I had to do a term paper, but I wasn't experienced at either research or academic writing.
The previous year, my family had visited Washington, D.C., and the FBI building we learned about the Treasury Department's anti-couterfeiting efforts. I managed to add a little new research to the material I got from our trip, to write my paper.
We didn't have a typewriter at home, so I hand-lettered the paper in a New York Times seriffed style. Thinking back on it, that was a pretty conceptual tack.