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Sherman Says: Even black and white cartoons qualify as fine art

HAMBURG — Drawing always came easily to me. It was a skill I must have inherited from my father, who was always good with both watercolor illustrations and posters promoting our school events.

As he retired, he rediscovered watercolor painting, often gaining his inspiration from the rugged coast of Maine.

I was the kid in elementary school who had zero difficulty whipping up maps or posters to enhance my grade in history or similar classes. My parents bought the poster board and I used illustrations from hardcover atlases and encyclopedias as my inspiration to create colorful learning tools.

Markers soon gave way to pen and ink sets. This transition from color to black and white was epic, to me at least. The sharp steel tip of the pen, dipped in jet-black ink, could do wonders on the right type of paper. I could scratch across the surface and draw the way one sketches with a pencil. Shadows could be filled in with solid masses of ink, while crosshatching gave depth to the illustration.

This is how I discovered that paper had “tooth,” the texture of art papers made to be stiffer, with subtle textures. Glossy photo paper has no tooth at all, and I soon discovered that ink sat on top of it or rolled right off. It was not possible for it to soak into the paper and dry.

Around this time, my father gave me several pages from an already outdated booklet created by a cartoonist. I think his name was Nick Nichols; if I could find one of those pages today, I might frame it.

These lessons offered simple steps to enable anyone to draw a face or create a funny character. The genre was very ’20s or ’30s and never included color or excessive details. The Nichols look was stark, but accurate – and humorous.

I took art classes during all four years of high school, in place of more practical courses such as physics and chemistry. Other guys took art because their grades were not good enough to successfully complete science and math courses. I believed that I would become the next great commercial artist, although I had no idea what that would entail.

When it came time for college, I felt extremely confident in submitting an application to the Rochester Institute of Technology. After all, RIT cranked out some of the best artists and illustrators working for newspapers and magazines.

Applicants were required to attend a portfolio evaluation with a faculty member. I rounded up numerous sketches, paintings and informal illustrations, but faster than you can say “Hindenburg,” my hopes went down in flames. It was the worst of times, and it was the best of times – for me, at least.

I ended up going to Monroe Community College and successfully completed a program that helped expand my knowledge of photography, gave me new outlets for writing and allowed me to draw cartoons for the school paper. Some called it an extra two years of high school, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I can see myself rediscovering the beauty of pen and ink drawing, in the near future. I always enjoyed its precision and simplicity. The finished work is seldom larger than the cover of a magazine, so it is extremely easy to execute and display. Conversely, I have no interest in any electronic means of creating illustrations.

Thanks to my dad (who would have been 95 last week) for steering me along this path. He never realized his dream to be an artist or illustrator, but he did draw some nice sketches in his World War II scrapbook.

Take that, RIT.

David Sherman is the managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.
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