The ancient Roman oil lamp…

But first…
Dulltown, UK: Today’s carefully selected fish names are: the cookie-cutter shark, the kissing gourami, Peters’ elephantnose fish, the threadfin bream, and the yellowfin croaker.

When I was in secondary school we didn’t have a proper art teacher for my first couple of years – it wasn’t a very good school. The old round grumpy tired technical drawing teacher Mr Sugden used to copy in chalk a nice pastoral scene from a postcard (with distant churches and barns, flapping birds, forests, ‘interesting’ clouds, etc.) from his collection onto the blackboard; we then were supposed to copy it in pencil, and then, if it was ‘good enough’ we were allowed to carefully ‘ink it in’ in black Indian ink using an old-style dip-and-scratch pen. Then, again, if that was ‘good enough’ we could ‘tint it’ with pale watercolours. We did this weekly – some of the results looked quite nice and some didn’t – you could easily ruin a good drawing at the final ‘tinting’ stage.
After Mr Sugden we got a proper art teacher, he was young-looking, and he even had a small pointed ginger beard like proper artists have. He was with us just a couple of terms until, along with another teacher, he took a party of us kids (I didn’t go) on a short educational trip to Paris. He apparently liked the place so much, on the first day he abandoned his colleague and the kids and ran off to absorb the Parisian culture, and to get drunk, and was never seen again. Well, that’s Paris for you!…
I did learn something from him though, before he absconded. (It was the talk of the school for weeks! They couldn’t understand how he could prefer Paris to teaching art to dimwitted kids back here in Dulltown!)
I remember the occasion well; one day we were sitting in groups of three or four around tables which each had an item placed in the middle of it for us to draw – ‘still life’ I believe this is called. Our table had a small, apparently real, ancient Roman oil lamp made of pale reddish pottery; I recall it was about three inches across; there wasn’t much to it, just an oval dish thing with a pointed bit to accommodate a wick – no wick extant with ours though, just a hole.
We started drawing it. After about five or ten minutes we all had a pale wispy pencil drawing of… an oval. We thought that we had finished, but we hadn’t. Mr Pointybeard came up and told us in a harsh sneering voice that we were all useless lazy idiots and that we should start again on a fresh piece of paper and spend at least 45 minutes on the thing! We were to look very carefully, observe, see, and to record accurately what we saw with our needle-sharp sharpened pencils – he also added that pencil ‘shading’ was banned!
We all stared for a while, goggling at the thing smugly sitting there, and then I thought that I’d try to do what he’d said. I copied every little mark, scratch, dimple, blemish, and stain on it that I could see onto my drawing. It was very tempting to do a bit of ‘shading’, but I managed to hold off. After twenty minutes I had recorded every little detail on the damn thing that was there, and I, and the other lads were getting pretty bored – and we had another twenty minutes left on this exercise!
I decided to carry on drawing, but slowly…
I started making things up which didn’t exist on the lamp – even invisible marks on the smooth table top on which the thing rested… My drawing was starting to fill up with plenty of dots and marks.
Mr Gingerbeard glided across from his desk and peered menacingly over our shoulders. When he looked at my effort I was expecting him to compare my drawing with the original and pick fault big time, and I prepared myself for a burst of angry shouting – he didn’t produce any. He didn’t mention the made up stuff I’d added, instead he said in a surprised voice, ‘Oh… That’s rather good!…’
So, what was it that I had learned from Mr Paris-Absconder?
Well, two things – firstly, that it really is a good idea to look very carefully, and to accurately record what you observe, but far more important than that – I discovered the bullshit side of producing art, where you deliberately ‘cheat’, and you make stuff up, so that it looks better than the real thing, and you make it look nice
Oh, and to always keep your pencils sharp…

About Dave Whatt

Grumpy old surrealist artist, musician, postcard maker, bluesman, theatre set designer, and debonair man-about-town. My favourite tools are the plectrum and the pencil...
This entry was posted in academia, art, brain, creation, drawing, history, Hull.UK., humour, instruction, observations, school, words and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The ancient Roman oil lamp…

  1. Sharon Mann says:

    Good story…I wonder if “ginger beard” stayed in Paris his lifetime.

  2. Jheron Bash says:

    Probably the absinthe did for him years ago …

  3. David Manley says:

    absolutely priceless dear boy!

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