Pencils meet performing art at the Vancouver Draw Down

In the citywide event, everyone from dancers to costume designers will invite the public to tap the power and pleasure of mark-making
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Sign up early, and you’ll get a free pencil. Stick with it, though, and self-esteem might also be yours—or at least that’s the way Marie Lopes sees it. The spark plug behind Vancouver Draw Down sees the annual event as an opportunity for everyone to exercise a latent skill, while feeling better about themselves in the process.

“At the park board,” she explains in a telephone interview from her office at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre, “we look at the diverse roles of the arts in everyday life. And certainly in visual arts, drawing is the dividing line that makes you an artist or not an artist. When people tell me, ‘I’m not an artist,’ the next thing that they always say is ‘I can’t draw.’ So the Draw Down is really focused on reconnecting people to the power and the pleasure of mark-making, and the number of ways that we do it in our lives, and how useful and pleasurable and deeply satisfying it is.”

From the event’s official launch at the Vancouver Public Library, where the first 50 participants will receive a shiny green City of Vancouver writing implement, right through to an after-party at the Contemporary Art Gallery, Saturday’s event offers dozens of free, ticketless ways for would-be draftspersons to get started, for established drawers to hone their skills, and for the merely curious to examine just how diverse the act of drawing can be. And what distinguishes the 2014 Draw Down from previous incarnations is the increased presence of the performing arts, including drawing-related appearances by Swedish avant-garde pianist Lisa Ullén (1 p.m. at the Western Front) and the aerial dancers of the Firebelly Performance Society (1 p.m. at the Roundhouse’s outdoor turntable). The Draw Down is all about engagement with our city and with each other, says Lopes, and what better way to provoke public interest in drawing than by turning it into a performative activity?

“It’s a way of thinking about drawing as a way to spend time together, drawing as a way to ask questions, drawing as a way to move your body differently,” says Lopes. “Drawing as a way to laugh!”

Laughs will be frequent during at least one Draw Down event: at 11 a.m. on the seawall near Science World, choreographer Julie Lebel will offer a Dance Traces event that riffs on the old Arthur Murray Dance Studio practice of learning movement by following printed footsteps. Taking a break from minding her four-year-old twins, Lebel explains that while she won’t be able to be present, her associate Caroline Liffmann will lead participants in drawing imaginary dances on the pavement, bringing them to life with their own bodies, and then watching as random strangers join in. It’s something Lebel has done before, and joy, she says, is often the result.

“It’s a game, an inspiration,” she says. “It’s for people to lay down their maps, try them, exchange ideas, try other people’s dances. And hopefully, passersby will try them as well. That’s what I’ve seen. Because it’s just a small moment, you can look silly for five seconds; it’s okay! But it creates this zone where suddenly these bodies can move differently instead of just walking. Jumping, turning, hopping… And, yes, joy. Yes to the joy!”

Sheila White is in a fairly joyous mood herself. When the Georgia Straight reaches her on her cellphone, the Arts Club’s resident costume designer is in Langley, on a movie shoot for Russellmania, a new flick from the creators of Air Bud. She’s doing costumes for the film, which presents an unusual challenge: not all the actors are human.

“It’s about this dog: his name is Russell, and he becomes a wrestling star,” she explains, laughing. “And then Monkey Hunk is his trainer. He kind of looks like the trainer in Rocky, Burgess Meredith. They’re awfully cute. We were just looking at a bunch of pictures of the dog and the monkey in bed, in matching pyjamas.”

White admits that she doesn’t have a formal plan for the 10 a.m. Costume Design Illustration workshop she’s giving at the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage; what she delivers will be determined by who shows up.

“We might get people who are actual theatre technicians—up-and-coming designers who want to better their illustration technique, maybe,” she says. “Or if I don’t get anyone who actually wants to learn to draw better, we might just talk about the history of costume design, or the history of illustration. But I hope everybody brings a sketchbook, a pencil, and an eraser, ’cause that’s all you really need.”

What’s important about drawing, for White, is that whether she’s clothing the Prince of Denmark or a wrestling terrier, it’s a quick, interactive way for her to exchange ideas with a director, then deliver theatrical concepts to cast and crew.

“I’ve often been told that my drawings are good because they convey a lot of character for the actor,” she says. “Like, they can sort of get a lot out of what the director and I are thinking about the concept for the play, and then that helps the actors a lot with their characterization.

“But it’s all about what’s needed for the play,” she adds. “It’s not about me. It’s doing artwork that’s for a purpose, and getting everybody else involved at the same time.”

Which, as it happens, sounds exactly like the mandate for the Draw Down itself.

Draw Down 2014 takes place at various Vancouver locations on Saturday (June 14).

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