Thirty-five years ago I studied at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, with a professor Roger Anliker. When I knew him, Anliker was a petite man with jet black hair combed back from a pale and lined face. He smoked in class. He seemed fragile, but highly intelligent and scary.
When I climb back onto that page of my history, I am standing in a large airy studio before a tilted drawing table, the rumble of an enormous ventilation system filling the air. My miserable and vague charcoal sketch of a nude male lies before me, sans genitalia. I am hoping no one has noticed. Maybe the tilted table hides my lack of skill and bravery. I am new at drawing from nude models, and dreading the professor’s approach. But Anliker stands beside me, a cigarette between his shakey fingers, and an enormous ash built up and dangling from its end. A few sheds of ash fall across the paper and he whisks them impatiently away.
Whatever he actually said about my attempt at drawing is lost to my memory – but if he had said something clever or critical I am sure I would have remembered it. (I can still hear Stanley Whitney cheerfully using my first painting in his class as the bad example, “Ah, now this is a piece of shit.”) What I do remember is a sense of patience…and humor. Anliker (my class called him Roger) was the kind of man whose razor wit terrified junior classmen — some students called him “God” — but under the apparent arrogance and critical tongue was a kind heart.
Everyone deals with chaos on the pages of their lives, one way or another. And certain things Roger Anliker taught about drawing have armed me for arenas I doubt he expected. Though it’s true, he did cast a pretty wide net. He had no trouble presenting himself as a deity.
When you are starting a picture, Roger said, always make three models. Don’t just go with your first idea, he said. Come up with three ideas and choose the best one. This stuck with me. Chicken coop additions, strategies for fundraising, ways to talk to difficult people have all benefited from this counsel. So of course have my paintings and screenplay scripts. Christmas plays. Garden designs. Puppy training. My children can tell you that “make three models” has been an idea impressed on them, too.
Create three examples. Draw three pictures. Think of three possibilities. And choose the best one.
Roger had more to say about models. Always have a model, he said. Don’t draw from memory, from your head. If you’re going to draw an alligator, and you don’t have an alligator, find something that looks remotely like an alligator and use that.
He also said, ” If Grumbacher [sketch paper company] knew how large your painting was meant to be, and sold you a piece of paper exactly the right size for your drawing, that would great. But they don’t. If you get to the edge of your paper and you aren’t finished, then grab another piece, and attach it and keep going! Don’t allow the size of the paper to determine what you are creating.”
Thirty-five years later, as I am standing in my kitchen, making the morning smoothies, I suddenly remember those famous words. I am trying to think how to deal creatively with my son’s anger and unhappiness with his lot in life. He is stuck. We are all frustrated and stuck. How do we go forward?
Imagine life outside the confines of the page you see. Ignore the edges. Make three models. Throw out the two that don’t work. And go.