Above: my sketch of a dairy barn and milk house
Recently (June 2020), for the first time in my life, someone asked me to do a pen and ink drawing for them, a drawing of an old barn. The request came from a young plumber who was at my house installing a sump pump. The barn was on his grandfather’s farm, a family farm now through three generations. The plumber and I were talking about one of my drawings, which I had framed. The sketch was of an eccentric gingerbread Victorian, and he knew the building because he’d done work there. That was when he asked me if I could make a drawing of his grandfather’s barn.
What do you say to such a request? Anybody delving the depths of this website would know that it’s purpose is to document my quest for “meaning in my retirement years.” They would also find that the one set idea I had when I retired in 2003 was “to learn to draw” and that the website chronicles my efforts in that direction, which have not been exactly an easy go!
I’d never drawn a barn… I had drawn quite a few old buildings… so I thought I probably could draw a barn… but… what to say….? As I dithered, I remembered something I’d recently recorded for LibriVox, advice from a stained glass master, Christopher Whall, on being true to yourself, and to art. Whall was a leader of the Arts & Crafts movement in Britain at the turn of the 20th century. What he had to say those many years ago still rang true in my estimation: “Simple things and little things, and many things, are more needed in the arts today than complex things and great and isolated achievements.”
Whall authored a technical manual for “workers in glass,” in 1905, in which he talked frankly about “methods of getting work” for aspiring craftsmen: “Take anything you can get, and be glad, not sorry, if it is small and comes to you but slowly… if you have nothing to do for others, do some little thing for yourself; it is a seed, presently it will send out a shoot of your first “commission,” and that will probably lead to two others, or to a larger one; but pray to be led by small steps; and make sure of firm footing as you go.” I, frankly, wasn’t sure whether I was even seeking an audience for my work, certainly not a paying audience at any rate; but here was a chance given me, out of the blue, to validate the efforts I had been making to learn my “craft” of drawing…
So, what I said to the plumber was I’d like to come see his grandfather’s farm, and although I wasn’t a professional artist, I’d try to make a drawing of the barn.
It was a grand old dairy barn. I had great fun exploring and photographing it and the attached milk house. My drawings turned out–at least the plumber told me they looked “amazing”–and they made a unique father’s day present for his dad. Relatives wanted copies. I told the plumber that if anybody he knew wanted a drawing of their barn to send them my way!