Studio Visit: Dennie Eagleson
This story is about reinvention and making the time to begin again. Producer Susan Byrnes joins retired photographer Dennie Eagleson at her homestead in Yellow Springs, Ohio as she explains how she’s taken up something new.
Dennie Eagleson’s six and a half acre farm is dotted with berry patches, fruit trees, and here and there a chicken. The farm has always been her creative inspiration. While we walked, she told me how she started to see it in a new light when she joined a drawing class.
"I have drawn this black walnut tree when we were learning how to draw trees and it's kind of amazing because it makes you see what you walk by seven times a day," Eagleson said. "This is such a beautiful tree. Mostly, I struggle with this tree because its always dropping black walnut and doesn’t allow me to plant certain things underneath its drip-line, but it became such a gorgeous, kind of like a goddess tree. So I’ve really appreciated that I’ve gotten to know things, kind of intimately, from having drawn them."
Learning how to draw helped her get through the pandemic. Her work as a documentary and editorial photographer dried up and she was also at a turning point in her own creative photography, unsure of what to do next. Then she saw that a former Antioch student was teaching drawing classes online.
Eagleson recalled, "I was thinking, 'What could thrill me?' Boy, to draw, it’s so basic and it’s so essential, and I just always wanted to develop my drawing practice."
"We worked with some 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 portraiture?' So over the course of two years, I was able to handle more situations, I became more proficient with the tools."
"And I love, in terms of learning how to draw, being a rookie," Eagleson expressed. "After having been a professional photographer and showing work, and making work for other people, it felt so good to be starting at the beginning of learning a skill, because I didn’t have that big investment and big preciousness in it, I was learning it for my enjoyment, I’m drawing for love."
The class ended but Dennie kept drawing. We went upstairs to her studio that doubles as a bedroom. Lately, she’s been making abstract pieces with color, pattern and texture. She works quickly without planning out a composition first.
"See this is when it gets really fun," she said excitedly. "You have no way of predicting what’s going to happen, and just the experimentation is very liberating."
Around the studio I saw what looked like brooms or brushes made out of dried plant stalks. She started using plants around her farm to make drawing tools. She picked up a stem from a hydrangea, dipped it in blue ink and dragged it across the page.
"All of my art making experiences in my life were fed by this interest in spontaneity," Dennie said. "Like when a line of ink meets a wash and they start growing into each other, that’s a kind of an alchemy. So that’s a kind of constant through-line in the way that I like to work."
"I’ve come to this new sense of freshness and aliveness again, " Dennie said assuredly. "I think it’s like a spiral, you know, you’re sort of finding yourself, losing yourself, finding yourself, and I’m not doing it for any professional reasons, I’m doing it just for the pleasure of it."
The pleasure of making a mark on a page is about as simple as it gets, no fancy equipment required, just a piece of paper and a sense of adventure.