I got the list of required supplies for my drawing class today in addition to the syllabus and schedule (part 1 and part 2). Altogether, the supplies cost around $100 to acquire. My initial thoughts as I took a look at this set of materials was how visible the tools necessary to compose were to me. I want to compare this with a writing course, but I should hold off on that. The materials includes a variety of surfaces (newsprint and drawing pad) as well as a variety of marking utensils (pencils, pens, charcoal) and erasers. I am thinking about how we need a multitude of instruments to fulfill our purposes in composing – each instrument offers its own potentials for marking or inscription. Each instrument affords certain potentials for inscription, and those affordances must be learned and mastered (hand-eye-brain coordination) as a set of skills and abilities. Taken together the entire cache amounts to the basic tool set for drawing.
After looking at the syllabus and materials list, I replied to my instructor’s email inviting the class to view the documents on Blackboard. I wrote:
Hi Prof. X,
I wanted to drop a line of introduction. I teach writing in the English department here at Wayne, and I am looking forward to your class this semester, as I am starting a BFA in photography. I feel a bit nervous, though, since I have never taken a drawing (or any other art studio course) before. I completed course work for an Art History BA, and I’ve practiced photography, but drawing will be a new experience. Thanks for sending out the syllabus and list of materials!
Clay Walker, PhD
Lecturer, Department of English
Wayne State University
The anxiety has been real, and surfaces as I look at the materials that I purchased today. I am very aware that I really don’t know how to use each instrument – I have some knowledge about using the pencils, but I’ve never used charcoal and there are two types of erasers, neither of which are familiar to me. Likewise, I felt overwhelmed when I went into the art store with my list of supplies — I was able to find the huge pads of paper (maybe because they are literally a few square feet each in area), but I was at a loss with where to begin with the rest of the materials. I ended up walking around the story with the clerk. She helpfully explained how some of the materials are made (for instance, the willow charcoal is made of burnt willow branches selected for their hardness) as well as where I could save money. My instructor quickly replied, urging me to feel at ease and not let my brain get in the way of drawing. I thought it was an interesting reply and it certainly reminded me of how I deal with my own anxious students in writing courses.
My take away so far is that the materials of inscription are so fundamental to composing – I can’t go to class without them. The syllabus mandates that I bring all materials to every class, every day. I want to make a bridge to my writing courses: I regularly urge students to write in class, and sometimes, I compel them to write. Most of the class time, though, is dedicated to talking and listening to each other as we work around and with all sorts of material, including sample essays and assigned readings. Yet, while I urge students to take out their notes and write about what’s going on in class, so many just sit there. Using the instruments of inscription is an embodied practice that links the cognitive/intellectual process with the product nontrivially through the body. Practice – the importance of practicing practices – as a material concern, and the invisibility of our instruments of inscription in writing courses strikes me.