Fitz column mug

David Fitzsimmons, Tucson’s most beloved ink-stained wretch.

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

Our art professor’s joke was lame. “Today I want you to have fun drawing Bedelia Bare Bottom.” We university art students took ourselves very, very seriously. We had too much respect, and gratitude, for our model to snicker at his discomforting attempt at ribald wit.

That semester, joyfully sketching model after model, I fell in love with drawing, after a long courtship that began years earlier, way back in the first grade, when Mrs. Logan introduced us to Crayola crayons and the miracle of Infinite Butcher Paper.

Until then Bad David had only drawn on the walls at home. And mom’s “good” stationery.

Mrs. Logan unrolled the paper across the floor, set out the barrel of crayons, instructed us to draw a city with “skyscrapers and farms” and excused herself. “I’m off to the principal’s office. I’ll be right back. Behave yourselves.”

Soon as she left I persuaded my fellow students to let me draw the entire mural.

Head down on your desk, mister. No recess for Bad David. In my sixth year at Myers Elementary, Mr. Burke saw that I doodled constantly. On my desk. On books. On worksheets. Mr. Burke tutored me in the art of cartooning. Apply yourself, boy. Practice. Focus. Stop drawing me with horns and a pitchfork.

It’s a shame most adolescent boys lose interest in drawing. Not me. Bad David found fame tracing the lingerie ads on the back of mom’s movie magazines, peddling poor boy’s erotica to my schoolyard chums. I could wield a pen the way Chuck Muncey could whack a tetherball to Mars; the way Tommy Knapp caught every single pop fly. I had a gift. My “Wonder Woman” was superb.

In high School Mr. Hover encouraged me to draw cartoons for the Rincon Echo. At last. I was published. People do this for a living?

My paycheck from the Arizona Daily Wildcat suggested the possibility. I won Press Awards followed by a series of dream jobs. Nine thousand cartoons and four decades later I had become a numb drawing machine.

Hoping to rediscover my early passion for drawing this summer I found salvation at the Drawing Studio, in what used to be Ted’s Country Store at the corner of Tucson and Glenn.

Years back, my talented friend, Rand Carlson, the Tucson Weekly’s brilliant cartoonist, invited me to guest-speak to a class he was teaching at the Drawing Studio. I found a heavenly sanctuary that reminded me of the happiest days of my life, back when I was a young art student.

All the props were there: Splattered sinks. Wooden easels stacked along the wall. White pedestals awaiting their still life subjects at the center of every room. Art gallery notices. A rainbow of student art pinned across every wall. And every inch of it covered with so many drips of paint it looked like the Jackson Pollock fairy had exploded in there.

So I showed up for Drawing Fundamentals 1 on a warm summer’s night, supplies in hand:

Giant sketch pad

Too many pencils

Charcoal sticks

Not enough erasers

Positive attitude

My fellow summer school classmates were sunny acolytes of all ages and skill levels.

The class was taught by a wonderful artist and a gifted master teacher, Lynn Fleischmann, an original co-founder of the Drawing Studio, along with Oracle’s amazing creative force of nature, Andy Rush.

The charcoal felt like a familiar friend I hadn’t seen since school days. And no, this basic drawing class featured no Bedelia Bare Bottoms.

Lynn offered us philosophy as she shepherded us through our drawing practice. Drawing is the most elemental and profoundly personal way humans observe and record existence. See with mindfulness. Watch the irrational yearning to always be elsewhere morph into contemplative contentment. Lynn’s lessons and musical playlists seduced us into the pure bliss of drawing. Beginners and pros blossomed. Lynn was right. Everyone can benefit from drawing. Every one.

Even crusty old cartoonists who thought they knew everything.

The Drawing Studio’s website summarizes their credo. “Art practice supports well-being by integrating the powers of concentration, presence and awareness. A deepened ability to ‘see’ connects us in new ways to our mental, physical, and spiritual lives.”

When I eavesdropped on my fellow students, as they drew, I heard conversations that transported back to my youth, to the gratifying afternoons I spent sketching beautiful humans in a paint-splattered classroom filled with easels, sunlight and Mozart, surrounded by the quiet sound of 20 artists patiently scuffing their charcoal portraits into existence.

My first love.

Once in a while a person will say to me, “I can’t draw!”

You’re wrong. You can draw. You just stopped when you were a kid. Most do. Big mistake. You should sign up for a class. And fall in love with seeing the world.

David Fitzsimmons: tooner@tucson.com.