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Former Vancouver Sun cartoonist demystifies art of drawing

Draw Down Finale encourages young and old to put pen to paper and let it flow

Drawing became a "religion" for David MacLean nearly a quarter of a century ago when his young son who had a language disorder spewed out 70 sketches on a "light" day.

"The more he spoke the less he drew, and then it vanished," MacLean said. "It just deepened my respect for the processes involved and the respect for everyone's individual way into it."

The former Vancouver Sun illustrator, who works in film and TV, hopes to help those normally too intimidated to draw shake their inhibitions during a free caricature, cartoon and comic workshop that's part of the citywide Vancouver Draw Down Finale, July 23.

"It's usually around age seven that people stop drawing because perfectionism sets in in the individual," MacLean said. "So if you get over that hurdle, you're over it and then you can do it."

Free workshops have been held at nine locations across the city during this second year of Draw Down: The Summer of Ten Thousand Drawings. The sessions have emphasized collaborative drawing projects, where, for example, three people make marks on a single sheet of piece of paper to form a wacky creature.

"It's really about looking at drawing as a social activity, as well," said organizer Cindy Mochizuki.

Collaborative still life, pinprick and one-minute "blind" portrait drawings are some of the activities on offer at venues that include Oppenheimer Park, the Museum of Anthropology and Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre.

MacLean, who recently joined the Avenue for/des Arts non-profit visual arts group in GrandviewWoodland, will lead a two-hour session advertised as appropriate for eight to 80-year-olds at Britannia Community Services Centre.

He's keen to demystify drawing for all who attend. "The trouble with fine art is that it can be oh, other people do it, or oh, it's special, or oh, it's out there," he said. "Draw Down is good because it gets to the fundamentals, it makes it understandable, explainable, doable. it would get rid of the mystery and get into the fun of it."

The 59-year-old resident of Deep Cove has drawn for as long as he can remember.

"I've just stolen this approach, that approach, and because I'm an infinitely lazy individual, I've tried every different thing," MacLean said. "So I feel I have collected a number of different ways into artwork in my lazy man's approach to learn to draw. That's kind of what I have to offer. I don't subscribe to any sort of drawing or art religion, everything is valid."

He notes painter Sylvia Fein's book First Drawings: Genesis of Visual Thinking points out cave art from around the world includes similar symbols such as spirals.

"There are things that are hardwired into our brains," MacLean said. "The joy of drawing comes from connecting to that."

Once he's got participants' lines flowing, MacLean will teach caricature, cartooning and comics.

"A cartoon is not real, it's a symbol of what's real, so you're drawing an idea of something the way you would probably feel comfortable with it," he said.

Oliver Sacks, the neurologist who wrote the book Awakenings, which was made into a movie starring Robin Williams, has written that we don't see cartoons in the same area of our brains that we see everything else, MacLean said.

"We change that image to a caricature of that image and then we can do anything to it. We can beat them up on the page and go to town much like Bugs Bunny can be crushed and can pop right back up, we have a need to do that politically, [with] political cartoons, as well."

Doodlers and sketchers can check the Draw Down website or receive daily tweets to get their creative juices flowing. A fun assignment and a more challenging task are posted each day.

For more information, see

Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi