If there’s anything Elizabeth MacKenzie believes in, it’s that the act of making a mark on paper with a pencil—or on a cave wall with the burnt end of a stick—is at least as natural as speech.
“Everyone can draw,” the Vancouver Draw Down organizer explains via cellphone from Hornby Island, where she and her sketchbook are exploring the shoreline of Ford’s Cove. “The problem is that we have developed an idea of drawing that excludes a lot of the drawing that we actually do. And what I mean by that is that drawing, for most people, means naturalistic, representational drawings. You know, like “I have to be able to draw this flower that’s in front of me absolutely accurately to be a drawer.’ ”
But as far as this Vancouver-based artist and Emily Carr University instructor is concerned, drawing encompasses everything from writing one’s signature—“a kind of mark-making on paper that’s unique to oneself”—to sketching with the fluidity of a Picasso. That’s the impetus behind Vancouver Draw Down, which offers 27 free workshops at 18 different venues this Saturday (June 9).
MacKenzie’s hope for her own Tracing Memory workshop is that it will be nothing less than transformative—for its participants, and for the site where it will take place. She’s asking aspiring artists to gather at Mountain View Cemetery’s Celebration Hall (5445 Fraser Street), where they’ll mediate on a lost friend or family member and then draw their face, in the process turning a site of mourning into one of creativity.
“For me, I use drawing as a form of remembrance,” she notes. “And so the idea of tracing a face that you’re familiar with which is no longer available to you has been a really important act for me as an artist. I wanted to share this idea of tracing the face of someone from your life that you’ve lost as a way of thinking about them and sort of bringing them back to mind.”
After the initial drawing session, she adds, the images will be further transformed. Using a technique she calls “pinprick drawing”, participants will puncture their images along the drawn lines; when placed against a window, their loved one’s portrait will appear, haloed in radiant light.
“There’s something a little mystical about them, or a little magical about them,” she says. “They have a spiritual or an otherworldly quality to them.” And she stresses again that the only thing participants in Tracing Memory, or any other Draw Down event, need bring with them is an open mind.
“‘I can’t draw’—so many people say that to me,” she says. And I just think, ‘Oh, my goodness. All of us have a voice.’ Like, I go to a community choir, and the woman who leads it says, ‘We all have a voice. Some of us practise it more, and some of us have certain advantages, but the thing is, we all have a voice.’ So I think it’s the same with drawing: there’s this idea that you have to have training and skill and something called talent to draw, when in fact most of us don’t have talent; most of us just practise the thing that we love to do.”
Vancouver Draw Down takes place at venues around the city on Saturday (June 9).