This story is about reinvention and taking the time to start over. Producer Susan Byrnes joins retired photographer Dennie Eagleson at his Yellow Springs, Ohio estate as she explains how she tackled something new.

Dennie Eagleson’s six-and-a-half-acre farm is dotted with patches of berries, fruit trees and the occasional chicken. The farm has always been his creative inspiration. As we walked, she told me how she started to see him in a new light when she joined a drawing class.

“I drew this black walnut tree when we were learning to draw trees and it’s pretty amazing because it makes you see what you’re walking on seven times a day,” Eagleson said. “It’s such a beautiful tree. Most of the time I struggle with this tree because it always falls black walnut and doesn’t allow me to plant certain things under its drip line, but it has become so beautiful, kind of like a goddess tree. So I really enjoyed getting to know things, in a pretty intimate way, after drawing them.”

Learning to draw helped her through the pandemic. Her work as a documentary and editorial photographer dried up and she was also at a crossroads in her own creative photography, unsure of what to do next. Then she saw that a former student from Antioch was giving drawing lessons online.

Eagleson recalled, I thought, ‘What could delight me?’ Boy, drawing is so basic and it’s so essential, and I’ve always wanted to develop my drawing practice.”

“We worked with pencil, we worked with ink,” she said. “We worked with charcoal, and then we started looking more thematically, like, ‘How do you draw a tree, how do you do a portrait?’ So in two years I was able to handle more situations, I became more proficient with the tools.”

“And I love, in terms of learning to draw, being a rookie,” Eagleson said. “After being a professional photographer and showing work and doing work for other people, it was so good to start at the beginning of learning a skill, because I didn’t have that big investment and this great preciousness in there, I was learning it for my pleasure, I draw for love.”

A painting by Dennie Eagleson

The class ended but Dennie continued to draw. We went up to his studio which doubles as a bedroom. Lately she has been creating abstract pieces with colors, patterns and textures. She works quickly without planning a composition beforehand.

See, this is where it gets really fun,” she enthused. “You have no way of predicting what’s going to happen, and the experimentation is very liberating.”

Around the workshop, I saw what looked like brooms or brushes made from dried plant stems. She started using plants around her farm to make drawing tools. She picked up a hydrangea stem, dipped it in blue ink, and dragged it across the page.

“All of my experiences creating art in my life have been fueled by this interest in spontaneity,” Dennie said. “Like when an ink line meets a wash and they start to grow into each other, it’s kind of like alchemy. So it’s kind of a constant line in the way that I likes to work.”

“I came back to this new feeling of freshness and vitality,” Dennie said confidently. “I think it’s like a spiral, you know, you’re kind of finding each other, losing each other, finding each other, and I’m not doing it for professional reasons, I’m just doing it for the pleasure.”

The fun of making a mark on a page is about as easy as it gets, no fancy equipment required, just a piece of paper and a sense of adventure.

Studio Visit is produced by Susan Byrnes and created at Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.


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