Art of impermanence: Student makes evanescent Expo works


On a quiet afternoon, sophomore Ben Patterson spent six hours in the library working on a drawing of a cloaked figure and a massive, winged dragon. The next day his masterpiece was entirely erased. 

This is just a normal day for a whiteboard artist. 

Patterson is no stranger to the woes of wiping away half of his artwork in one fell swoop of his drawing arm. But he’s learned to love the art form for its limitations.

 “It’s a difficult medium,” he said. “The markers sometimes start erasing themselves. So I don’t really know why [I use a whiteboard]—I guess it’s because I can that I want to do it.”

 The writing, literature, and publishing major first began sketching whiteboard drawings on his dorm door freshman year, the first of which was a “cheesy” dinosaur, he said.

 The Tyrannosaurus rex doodle drawn in green and blue Expo marker caught some of his floormates’ attention, he said, so he decided to make his whiteboard masterpieces weekly. Though he had little background in sketching aside from a few high school drawing classes, Patterson said his work has improved over time. He said he has since grown from drawing relatively simple dinosaur images to full-scale, highly detailed dragons, demons, and comic book characters.

 “Just the quality of the drawing is ridiculously improved,” Patterson said. “Earlier today, I checked back at that first cheesy dinosaur I drew on the board and thought, ‘Wow, I’ve come a long way.’”

 Patterson said that his last drawing from freshman year was one of his favorites. The board depicted the final scene of Jurassic Park, where the T. rex is in the building and a banner descends that reads, “When dinosaurs rule the earth.”

 “I paid some homage to the floor—we had an RA who used to call us all her little nuggets, so I wrote on the banner, ‘When nuggets rule the floor,’” he said. “I thought that was a good way to close out the year.”

Patterson’s RA, Gabby Balza, said that she would always see him drawing on his door or doodling on other floormates’ whiteboards, and noticed these images getting progressively more detailed throughout the course of the year.

“Everyone would always be asking when he would be working on a new one,” she said.

When Patterson returned home for the summer, he said he found a giant whiteboard his older brother had dropped off so that he could continue his artistic pursuits. His most intricate drawing, he said, took eight and a half hours with breaks, and depicted 10 various characters from the anime series Dragon Ball Z.

 He said he also experimented with stop motion, creating a video in which a character is waving, gets a rock dropped on his head, and promptly gives the audience a thumbs up to let them know he’s OK. Patterson created a YouTube channel to show this video as well as time lapses of him drawing his work.

 While his theme last school year was prehistoric animals, Patterson said he’s focusing on mythological creatures this year. He said he searches for inspiration on Google, then freehands whatever comes to mind.

 He created a recent work in the Iwasaki Library last week—a large, winged orange dragon and a cloaked figure with no face—which he spent six hours drawing on the whiteboard wall where the Will & Grace set used to be. Patterson said he was approached by the editor of Artful Comics while working on the piece, and a librarian emailed him about posting the image on the library’s website, which was done.

 Patterson said that though he likes to draw for people’s enjoyment and has become known in his hall in Piano Row as “the whiteboard guy,” he enjoys the art for the fun of it.

“I don’t expect a lot of recognition,” he said. “It’s a hobby right now. If it goes somewhere, great. If not, I’m just doing it for enjoyment, more or less.”

As for the impermanence of his work, Patterson said this transience is what makes the medium intriguing.

“I think that the fact that it can’t and won’t last makes it special,” Patterson said. “It can only be admired till it’s brushed against and erased, so I guess it makes it that much more interesting — at least to me.”