City living: Drawing with doodles, dancers and acrobats

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All artists of all ages — along with poodles of all sorts, too — were invited to Ian Forbes’ painting tent under the Main Street poodle statue for Vancouver Draw Down.

It was one of 48 places across the city where people could draw, sketch or paint as part of the fifth annual art celebration this past Saturday. Inspired by England’s Big Draw festival, Vancouver’s version ranged from Ghazel Abassalian’s large-scale drawing in the lobby of the West End community centre to Sheila White’s costume sketching at the Arts Club. Unlike these sessions, however, Forbes’ Poodle on Parade was outdoors and at the mercy of the drizzle.

“The poodle picked me, I didn’t pick it,” said Forbes while he clipped finished poodle doodles to a string which hung at the back of the tent. Regardless of who picked whom, the visual artist was happy to be leading people to art at one of the day’s smaller stations. The drawings, which at that point consisted of some poodle scribbles, one “evil poodle,” as well as a sample from Forbes, were made with Chinese ink and drawn using skinny tree branches as brushes because, as Forbes explained, “using sticks breaks down people’s inhibitions.”

Instead of sticks, Dance Traces used chalk footsteps drawn around its station under the gazebo near Science World to get passersby moving, and Roundhouse arts programmer Cyndy Chwelos echoed Forbes’ words.

“We’re really interested in dropping inhibitions and challenging the notion of ‘I’m not an artist’,” she said. “We want to spark somebody to engage who might not otherwise. Stop somebody in their tracks — they hear music, they hear dance and pretty soon they’re here for half-an-hour.”

So imagine the delight of the people behind Dance Traces when they overheard a grandmother tell her family to wait for her as she twisted and hopped through the chalk steps.


The only big movements at the Roundhouse community centre came from aerial acrobats from the Firebelly Performance Society, who wrapped themselves in silk ribbons for three minutes at a time, surrounded by a circle of artists at easels and scribblers with notepads. It also provided the day’s second sighting of Draw Down organizer and Roundhouse arts programmer Marie Lopes, who had earlier been handing out green pencils at the morning’s launch at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch.

“The big goal is to show people how drawing happens in everyday life way more than they think it does,” she said, before heading out to one of the other venues via her bicycle. “We draw when we sign our names, right? Drawing is a way to think, drawing is a way to move…”

Unlike at the Mount Pleasant community centre, where mostly children participated in Amanda Lye’s Exquisite Corpse drawing game, adult artists were the majority at the Roundhouse. Despite the demographic, session leader and artist Thomas Anfield still played. “When you’re doing your drawings,” he called out, breaking the silent concentration, “I want you to label all the different muscles!”

Lisa Ullén spent a moment to study a drawing somebody gave her at the Western Front before reaching into the string guts of a grand piano to give the artwork a song. The instant graphic scores from drawings and doodles was clearly astonishing for all ages; five-year-olds as well as 35-year-olds whipped up endless sheets of artwork for the Swedish pianist to play.

“No, I don’t pretend,” said Ullén, stretching her shoulders after her two-hour, on-demand performance. “I don’t know how flowers sound but it’s the shape around flowers, or their colours, that give sound.”


A few blocks up the street, the Poodle Parade was still going strong under Gisele Amantea’s statue which Forbes said liked so much that he wished it was bigger.


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