Never once in five years of taking art in school did I have a teacher who could actually draw. Not one time. The reasons for this are many, first is that art is an elective at University and the requirements to get a degree that says you can teach art is strange. You’d think being able to draw would be the main requirement but alas no, that would require you learn different skills. Instead what often happened (things might have changed now, this was over twenty years ago) is that you got a minor in art history or some other offshoot of art and got a certificate saying you could teach art. Then you get into a school as an English teacher and they happen to need an art teacher too and you get drafted. Can’t draw, can’t paint, don’t really know much at all about art, but you get to teach it (the advantage to the teacher in getting that art minor was that they had something on their resume that other English teachers didn’t and were more likely to get hired). No one seemed to mind this.

Except for one little boy who really wanted to learn how to draw. I’d get books out of the library on how to draw, I’d draw as much as I could, and practice all the time. Art class for me was the one time of day that I wouldn’t get yelled at for drawing, but it was also the one class I had the hardest time passing. Why? Because they couldn’t teach art and were focused on occupying students time with crafts and collages. Not really into crafts, refused to do collages (you can learn something about composition by doing collages but you’d learn more about that by learning to draw), and would just draw and hand in my drawings. The teachers couldn’t exactly fail the one kid in the class who could draw and was productive, but they couldn’t exactly give me high marks for ignoring the assignments and doing my own thing. Scraped by while irritating my art teachers and being irritated by them in turn. If ever they got on my case I’d ask them about an art term they didn’t know about (of which there were many) and they’d leave me alone while trying to avoid my gaze.

Then I entered High School and my High School had a beautiful art room, with giant sky lights and its own kiln, and all the supplies you could ever want. They couldn’t possibly have built something like that and populated it with an art teacher who couldn’t draw, right? That’d be silly.

The first day of art class we were issued a syllabus, guiding us through the modules (painting, clay, watercolors, and so on) and it had a section on sketches. Ninety different simple things to draw and then ten of our choice. I thought the ninety were suggestions of things we could draw, not requirements we had to draw. There was a reason for that but I’ll get to it in a second.

The art teacher was unpleasant but I didn’t care, I was happy and hopeful to learn so in that first week I was working on a drawing of King Arthur and couldn’t get his surcoat to flow correctly as he swung his sword. Naturally I asked the art teacher to show me how.

She couldn’t. She tried but she made a hash of it. Terrible work and I saw it and she saw that I saw it. Unpleasant person. Watched me from then on. She played favorites and her favorites were the ones with less talent and less drive than she herself had. Anyone in that class who was better than her knew to avoid asking for help as it would be delivered in such a way as to hurt your work and bring you down. A lesson others learned by watching me.

It was strange, I could draw okay (the quality of art at the start of the strip is kind of low but that’s because of nearly fifteen years of atrophy and is not indicative of where I was in grade ten), I could paint a bit, I knew forms and colors, but every assignment I handed in got less than fifty percent.

Except for the sketches. Those I was bumping along at nearly a hundred percent. Naturally I concluded that drawing was my talent and I had no talent for anything else. Though it was strange; my stuff didn’t seem worse than the other student’s stuff, and they were always confused when they saw my low grades. But I was used to that in a way: Lots of teachers would give artificially low marks to smart kids who weren’t trying very hard to motivate them. I assumed that’s what she was doing. Besides, the sketches were worth fifty percent of the final mark so anything I got on everything else meant I’d finish in the seventy percent range. I was fine with that for two reasons; one it was an okayish mark, and two: I wasn’t ever taking her class again. Never again. A very unpleasant, condescending, mean, churlish, petty little dictator who ruled her roost like students were peasants. That meant I was done with art period since she taught all the art classes there.

But I didn’t think she hated me, after all she was giving me an average of Ninety-five percent on my sketches. My plan was to pass. That’s all I wanted.

Then a week or so before Christmas break I handed in my ninetieth sketch, only ten left to do, a week and a half of classes before the assignment was due to be completed, plus the week-long break. Tight, but very doable. Until I handed in that sketch and she said she didn’t know why I kept handing the sketches in, and I said for the sketches assignment, fifty percent of our grade. She then informed me that only ten of my sketches would count, the other eighty didn’t matter. Only ten were optional and I’d just drawn whatever I wanted instead of the assignment. It didn’t matter that I pointed out my sketches were far in advance of the ones she’d asked for, that clearly I could draw, that the best artist in the class, and the one who’d produced the most work, shouldn’t fail the assignment and thus the class. She informed me that I had almost three weeks to get ninety sketches done and if I worked hard enough I could do that.

Which I could have, but badly. Badly enough that she could then justify giving me the same mark on my sketches (just below fifty percent) as she’d done for the rest of my assignments. I knew I was done and thought I had no recourse.

But it was the look in her eyes that did it for me. The glee. The laughter. The mockery. She’d destroyed my dream of going to art school, and she loved it. That’s not an opinion. Cold hard fact. She’d done me up good and proper and she enjoyed doing it.

I was faced with a binary choice, work like a dog and fail (I barely have the speed now to produce ninety good sketches in two and a half weeks), or just ride it out and fail. Which I did.

She taught me nothing about art. Not one damn thing.

But she taught me a lot about people and who to avoid.

A few years later, after she’d done similar things to many students before and after me, finally the litany of official complaints got to be too much for the school and they had to do something. She lost her job, whether transferred, or simply fired, I don’t know. Understand this though; the teachers have a very strong Union, and she showed up for class and ostensibly did her work. Getting rid of her would have been a massive pain in the ass, but they did it anyway. That’s how egregious she was. I wish now I’d put in a complaint against her, because even though I’d have lost (my key piece of evidence that she’d done it deliberately was tone of voice and gleeful, mocking eyes. Not really admissible), at least I’d have felt like I’d done my part when she finally did go down.

In my last year of school I took Art again, not out of hopes of going on to University or anything like that, but because I liked art and thought it might be fun. The new teacher was an emergency replacement due to the removal of the unpleasantness.

She couldn’t draw either. But she encouraged me, and liked my stuff, and because of her if I’d gone on to University (had the marks but not the money), I would have taken a minor in art.

That first Art teacher was the inspiration for Mr. Witt, but she was actually worse. Witt was a jerk because he was bullied and enjoyed the reversal of being able to bully someone he considered similar to those who had bullied him. She was unpleasant because she liked it. That was her personality. Who she was.

This isn’t whining, or anything of the sort, just an example of how you can take bad things and use them to fuel you. Whether to keep going against hard odds, or as inspiration for the art you produce.

She beat me then, but by continuing to do art, and continuing to get better, I can beat her now.

She can’t stop me, she never could. Only I could do that, and I did.

That’s why I’m grateful to Dodge the Bullet, and to all the readers of it, for rekindling my love of drawing and watching me get better over the last seven years.

I always end these posts with ‘thanks for reading’, and I hope you all know now just how much I mean that.

Thank you for reading,

Steve