Drawing with a stick

While an Art student at UC Davis in the late ‘60’s, I took some theatrical set design classes and spent time in the set shop. One of my teachers, Gene Chesley, was a hell of a guy and a key influence on me.

One time he asked me to transfer a drawing of a sunset on a piece of paper to the entire stage backdrop canvas for a production – about 20’ high and 60’ long. He suggested I use a grid on the paper and a larger grid on the canvas and draw in each square.

Seemed like a lot of work to me, so I just had the canvas stretched onto the set elevator covering entire back wall of the shop, found a 15’ piece of 1×1 lumber, taped a large piece of charcoal to end and drew directly on the canvas with my giant pencil.

The whole shop was abuzz about what I was doing – they’d never seen anything like it before and I could have easily ruined an expensive piece of canvas.

Then Gene walked in and everything got quiet … I could tell he had been expecting something quite different; my canvas was not an exact 1 for 1 rendering of the original drawing. I don’t know if he was smiling or biting his lip, but he didn’t jump on me or call me a lazy bastard, he just said “well OK, this will work”.

I look back at him now and admire his ability to grant beingness so, so much – truly a great man who left us way too young.

I recently learned that Henri Matisse also drew with a long stick sometimes … maybe Gene knew that.

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