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In New Book 'The Heart of Drawing,' Artists Show, Tell and Inspire

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Published December 22, 2021 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated December 22, 2021 at 10:27 a.m.


The Heart of Drawing: Stories and Images From Around the World, by Michael Strauss, Mags Phelan Stones and Abrah Griggs, Area223, 122 pages. $24.99. Available locally - COURTESY
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  • The Heart of Drawing: Stories and Images From Around the World, by Michael Strauss, Mags Phelan Stones and Abrah Griggs, Area223, 122 pages. $24.99. Available locally

Does the world really need another art book? Michael Strauss thinks so. At least anyone interested in drawing — and drawing inspiration from other artists — would enjoy The Heart of Drawing: Stories and Images From Around the World. It's not a how-to book, Strauss clarifies in a phone conversation; it's about "drawing with focused attention on the moment of creation and accepting what comes." The "heart" of drawing, in other words, is more about the journey than the destination.

Strauss, 82, is an artist, author and retired chemistry professor at the University of Vermont. The South Burlington resident has penned 10 previous books, including 2013's The Mind at Hand: What Drawing Reveals, reviewed in this newspaper, and taught art classes for about 20 years. Since the pandemic began, he has offered his sessions online.

Strauss' classes aren't exactly how-to lessons, either; they reflect a more holistic pedagogy. In The Heart of Drawing, he writes: "As an act of cognition, drawing can help you learn to write, develop eye-brain-hand coordination, conceptualize and analyze ideas, think creatively, and express yourself literally and metaphorically." You might say drawing helps the brain learn, which in turn helps the hand draw.

The new book evolved from a Facebook group with the same name that British artist Mags Phelan Stones launched in May 2019. Strauss discovered and joined the group shortly after its inception and is now one of 4,464 members from all over the globe.

"The philosophy that Mags has has been part of my life for quite a while," Strauss says. That is, she promotes what she calls "expressive drawing." According to the book, that means a loose, free style, perhaps even with "elements of distortion."

Many of the drawings chosen for The Heart of Drawing reveal lines reworked, erasures and other marks that show the artist's process. In the Facebook group, Strauss notes, Stones is not interested in seeing flawless finished pieces.

Strauss pitched the book idea to Stones in 2020; she agreed, and the two set about choosing members of the Facebook group to feature. They brought in Hardwick-based graphic designer Abrah Griggs to reach out to the artists and to design the book. Strauss did most of the writing but says he engaged a former UVM colleague, Corrine Glesne, now retired in Arizona, to help shape the artists' stories.

The Heart of Drawing consists of Strauss' introduction, followed by brief biographical statements and two drawings apiece by artists from 22 countries. There are 59 in all, including Strauss' and Stones'. Sixty percent of the artists are from the United Kingdom or the United States. Strauss notes that translators had to be engaged to communicate with some non-anglophone artists.

Regardless of language or country of origin, most of the artists report drawing at an early age and say that someone in their lives encouraged the practice, Strauss writes in his introduction. Others came later to art making. What they all have in common is their approach to drawing.

Many of them reveal entering a sort of "flow state when nothing matters other than the act of putting marks on a paper or board."

"This sort of fluid drawing is an adventure," Strauss writes, "and the artists represented here are explorers on a quest." That adventure is a felt experience, not an intellectual one.

Montpelier-based artist Joe Loccisano's story suggests that the flow might begin even before the mark making: "I keep a journal of my thoughts, a kind of reservoir for fleeting feelings and impressions where, like a primordial soup, ideas congeal and give birth to strange creatures that crawl onto the shore, discover wings, and take flight."

Strauss chose a charcoal-and-chalk-pastel work by Loccisano, titled "Vision Swimming," for the cover of The Heart of Drawing. Both dreamlike and exuberant, it looks like the expression of an offering.

The other Vermont-based artist included in the book is Caitlin Glaser, says Strauss. (Her bio indicates only that she grew up in an artistic family in New York City.) Now living in the Burlington area, she's a member of the Essex Art League and a participant in Strauss' drawing classes. Glaser writes that when she picks up a brush, "I feel the joy of being creative and the joy of being alive."

The best thing about The Heart of Drawing is, well, the drawings. Strauss and Stones made excellent selections. Aside from a few drawings of animals or landscapes, the vast majority are of faces and figures. How these artists materialize their subjects is as diverse as humans themselves.

And that's the point. "It's a whole repository of very creative people who give me ideas," Strauss says, "and might be good for artists who are feeling stuck."

The Heart of Drawing: Stories and Images From Around the World, by Michael Strauss, Mags Phelan Stones and Abrah Griggs, Area223, 122 pages. $24.99. Available locally

The original print version of this article was headlined "Penciled In"