With more training, I really think my grandmother could have been an art forger.
Well, I suppose she would have needed a different disposition, too. Gramma Tina was a gentle soul, as far as I could tell. She liked to paint and draw. A hobbyist artist, she never attempted a career out of it. I know she attended art classes at a community college after getting married. Her teacher was discouraging. So Tina ended up sticking to what you might call ‘folksy’ expressions.
Tina was also a devout copyist: she didn’t like to draw or paint from imagination. She almost always mimicked a source image. She would copy greeting cards, magazine illustrations, cartoons, or inspirational sayings. Her favorite canvases were slate tiles and tote bags; also, one memorable pair of knockoff Crocs. The quaintness is coming through as I write all this. But I realize warmly that directness trumps affectation.
Knowing Gramma could draw, I’d sometimes ask her to copy pictures. I recently rediscovered a notebook of Pokémon I ‘commissioned.’ The source I had my grandmother copy was an issue of the now defunct Beckett Pokémon Collector. This was the unique product of a time when magazines still had just enough cultural cachet to attract children (and their relatives’ money). These vintage mags are collectibles in their own right and are notable for a series of unofficial, off-model illustrations comprising each and every second generation Pokémon—numbers 152 through 251, Chikorita through Celebi. Because Beckett published these Pokémon before their official release in America, each one bears a translated Japanese name.
Bootleggers clearly like the Beckett drawings, as they still appear on unofficial merch. Even though these clipart Pokémon are twentysomethings now, I recently found them on stickers in a Fall River dollar store. They are things of impressive beauty. Likewise, my grandmother’s drawings are copies of fan drawings copied from the Japanese games. A pretty goofy chain of succession with a good reiterative energy. The bootleg process, but modulated.
More modulations: I photocopied each notebook page in black and white, then rescanned them into the images you see here. I have preserved the notebook lines, partly for their vibe, but mainly because I couldn’t find an older photocopier in time (one that doesn’t copy blue). The only thing I removed were pen comments I had written on a minority of pages, cuz they were distracting.
Tina didn’t leave any huge paintings or sculptures or gargantuan stuff. I have other drawings by her, and some I hung in my apartment for years, swapping out as necessary like any piece of fine art. When I found these drawings, I figured I should share them someday.
Don’t attach too much symbolism to these lines. These are just drawings I asked my grandma to make. They remind me of time we spent together. But I hadn’t thought about them in years, until I found the notebooks.
Tina read everything I wrote in the newspaper, and that included my Mercury review of the RISD Museum’s Lines of Thought. It was a traveling show full of drafting through the centuries, from Michelangelo to David Hockney. My article focused on that: “the ancient practice of thinking through line and space.”
That’s what I share here today. Pencil drawings I asked my grandma to make, on school supply-grade paper. I can see points where the oddity of the Poké-form might’ve flubbed her up a bit. Some of the drawings are from official artwork, but it seems she had more fun with the Beckett models. I’m guessing Tina was around 80 when I asked her to draw these. They are pretty nimble to my eye, and her handwritten labels have their own charm. Moderate pressure on the pencil. The drawings aren’t too dark. There is a good amount of confidence in her line, but also some hesitation. I think I share that general approach toward making.
I also just noticed she drew Electrode twice. I’m not sure why. I can’t remember if she chose which Pokémon to draw or if I did. But I like the idea of her practicing a basic circle form.
I make no claims that these represent Tina’s best work. I don’t know what art of hers she would want me to share, if anything. By the time I would’ve thought to ask—ah, I’m orbiting the sentimental again. Again, not my goal: I wanted something to anchor the day. To bring something back into the world, and make it familiar again. In this case: My grandmother’s linework. Tina’s drawings.
C’mon, monsters in the notebook: You’re free now! Ride the line to someplace new. A pencil inscribes a time, a place, a living thing. These marks make me want to ask just one more time: Will you draw me something?