Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Old Board

It measures 13 inches by 16 inches.  It is made of plastic.  It has a half-inch wide channel running all around it like a frame.  And I have been using it since I was in the second or third grade.

It is my drawing board.

Seen in its natural environment.

My drawing board came as a portion of a Christmas gift I received as a kid.  The gift was a drafting kit that included the board in question, various triangles, rulers, templates and french curves, which were all clear, yellow plastic.  Along with these tools, there was a ruler that had a mechanism which would lock the ruler in place anywhere along the channel of the drawing board.  The mechanism consisted of a large green button which you pressed to lock the ruler in place, and a yellow ring around the button which you twisted to release it.  Finally, an instruction booklet was included that gave step-by-step instructions for drafting various cars, trucks, airplanes, etc., all from a profile view.

To be perfectly honest, I was a little confounded by the gift.  Sure it seems like it would be up my alley — what with it being drawing related and all — but in fact I just didn't get the point of it.  Sure learning to create rudimentary technical drawings of cars in profile might be fun once or twice, but then what?

In retrospect, however, it's clear that the gift was an attempt on my parents' part to encourage my love of drawing.  It offered up an alternate outlet and exposed me to something completely foreign.  The gift also allowed for a little male bonding as my father could show me what he knew of drafting, a subject he'd actually taken classes in.

Truth be told, I looked upon the various tools provided with only mild curiosity and a little disdain.  I saw many of them not as opportunities to learn, but as limiting factors.  I saw only the opportunity to draft the things in the instruction booklet and completely failed to realize that the cars and trucks were only a starting point.  Still, I remember my father sitting me down at one point to instruct me on the uses of the various tools and how they might be applied.  This was followed by him starting the a drawing of a tractor trailer, which he then handed over to me to complete.

Battle scarred and ready.

I believe the full set got only one or two more uses from me in the coming years.  I just wasn't that interested, and the act of slavishly putting lines down at just the right angle and choosing just the right circle from the template seemed pointless somehow.  Before long, the instruction booklet became lost in the bottom of my trundle bed which served as my toy box instead of a spare place to sleep.  I couldn't even begin to tell you of its ultimate fate.  The ruler which locked in place I kept until the springs inside it finally gave way and ceased to function properly.  I replaced it with a standard wooden 18 inch ruler that was laying around the house.  That was about the seventh or eighth grade, or so.  The templates and triangles slowly broke, one by one, as the clear plastic grew brittle.  I remember trying to tape a triangle back together in vain, only to become frustrated by the tape's inability to solve the problem.  Slowly but surely the various tools disintegrated, thus ending their time among my belongings.

The only thing that stood up to my abuse was the little drawing board.

Reflecting on my feelings for the gift, I was totally torn.  I was not really interested in drafting but I didn't want to be ungrateful.  I gave it an honest go, but eventually just reappropriated the tools of the trade for my own various uses.  I hated to see the pieces shatter and disappear because I valued the gift itself, but in all reality they rarely got any real use.  Except for that board.  Still, I think it's fair to say that I learned early on that drafting was not what I wanted to do with my life, and I think narrowing the possibilities was quite important.  So, intended or not, this gift from my parents was valuable indeed.

Until I'd received the board, I'd done most of my drawing on our kitchen table.  Once the board came along, however, the possibilities of where I could draw became endless.  I drew in the living room.  I drew in my bedroom.  I drew on the porch outside.  I really put that thing through the ringer!  The board survived high school.  It survived college.  And it has survived the thirteen years since college.  Every sketch I did for all of my early clients was done on the board.  Same with every Dungeons and Dragons sketch.  Every book cover I've done started there too, and every Magic sketch has spent time atop the board at some stage or another of its development.  I have painted on it, too.  Much of my early card art and D&D work was done on Bristol board that I taped to the board's surface.

Look at all the monochrome goodness.

I'm not a superstitious person, but if I were, I suppose the drawing board would be my rabbit's foot.  It has been around so long that I wouldn't even think of using something else.  It's always there at the ready, waiting to support me as I do battle with another sketch.  And most importantly, it remains the most direct tie to the birth of my dream to make art for a living.

Nowadays, the board never sees a ruler.  Even if I wanted to use one, it's become so warped that a ruler would be ineffectual, anyway.  The channel for the old locking mechanism has turned into the repository of pencil shavings and eraser crumbles.  The once crisp, white surface has become marred by marker stains, pencil dust, tape residue and paint, and the very edges are beginning to yellow.  It is clear to me that this drawing board's days are numbered.  Someday, it too will snap, and once again tape will be unable to save it.  On that day, I will have no idea what to lean on.  The physical tether to my childhood drawings will be permanently severed.  Another Christmas gift will be gone.  To be sure, I will be at a loss and there is no replacement that could possibly mean as much to me.


  1. Great post Steven. I really enjoy stopping by your blog. It is unique and insightful. Makes me wish I was a better writer :)

  2. Thanks, Eric. I have a good time with it. Glad to know folks like yourself do, as well. By the by, looks like we'll be in Philly together. Should be a good time!


  3. Lovely post, Steven. I suspect we all have talismans from our childhood that somehow, mysteriously, have survived and are used every day. My oldest artifact is probably also a drawing board (actually, it occurs to me, it's also a DRAFTING board) that I bought in 1982 for my 2D design class at the University of Michigan. It's got a hollow core, so it'a really light, and has two metal edges for the T-squares that I, like you, no longer use. 29 years later, it's still my go-to drawing board.

  4. Chris,

    I've got one of those, too! Bought freshman year at Pratt. It gets pulled out when the drawings outgrow the smaller one. Got the T-squares, too. They used to be more decoration than anything before we moved. But since coming up to Mass., I just don't see the point in putting holes in the walls just to hang implements I never use. So, they're in a box somewhere, instead.


  5. That board was present at the Harrison-Ford-A-Thon...kind of where we first met.


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