On Gunboats and The Rule Of The Thumb-

A fictional conversation between my drafting teacher and me.

By Steven Gordon


The strangest time of my life was adolescence, itself starting (emotionally) about 6. To say I didn’t have a real positive adult role model is a tremendous understatement. And it’s not that I was unfamiliar with the concept of discipline, just the negative aspects of it.

My perception of discipline changed for the better in high school when I began Drafting class with John L. McCabe.

He challenged me to move beyond the everyday, the mediocre. How to think in different terms in regards to the suburban myopia I had been mired in since I could remember.

Mine was one of the last classes to learn the things we did the way we did: pencils, scales, ships’ curves, triangles, t-squares, eraser shields… day in, day out, the detail, the line weights, the proper placement of cross-sections, every brick exactly like the last, exactly like the next… the art and performance of a perfect drawing.

The onset of CAD was swift to follow us, and with that, the gradual loss of appreciation for a well-laid-out, hand-done plan; the shading, the endless, precise, always-uniform hand lettering… everything designed in the drafters’ mind and executed with intense, studied precision.

Here is an excerpt from a conversation that never took place sometime in the past:

SG: You were my teacher for 2+1/2 years. The things I took away from your instruction were some of the most long-lasting lessons of my life. Do many former students keep in touch after they’ve moved on?

JM: All the time! It’s a wonderful thing, the relationships one can build with former students. Most of them tell me the things I was able to teach them have served them well in one capacity or another.

SG: I know, growing up, I was constantly doodling or drawing, and usually getting in trouble for it. Even art class in high school was as unchallenging as they could make it- my advanced drawing class was taught by the wrestling coach- I went 18 days out of a semester and STILL passed with an ‘A’.

In fact the only class I NEVER skipped was drafting.

JM: I tried to set up an environment much like you would find in the workplace: regimented, professional. It was important to me to instill in you kids a strong work ethic. And while it may have seemed a bit militaristic at times to a young mind, the discipline I tried to teach was designed to serve you a lifetime.

SG: In my case, I took away so much more, though. It started my relationship with design, you were a positive force I could respect and learn from… that work ethic carried me through my engineering years and still guides me in my art career. In fact, to this day I still use every bit of the skills I learned from you; from whenever a client wants a sketch for a commission to doing a layout for a painting to a thumbnail for a ceramic sculpture.

JM: You know, I saw you at my memorial service. I want you to know I appreciate that.

SG: It’s the least I could do to honor the man that made such a huge contribution to my abilities, my self-esteem, really, my whole life.

I skipped my fathers’ funeral.

I wasn’t about to miss yours.

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March 2020


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