bugs, seashells, skulls

This semester the majority of the students use a variety of Micro-pens. Note the line work in this assignment, some indicates structure while some indicates texture.

The subject matter is a natural and complex form. Students used to draw only shells. A few years ago I brought in bugs. This semester, thanks to the PC biology department, we have small animal skulls. The composition is to include 2-3 objects and students must balance out positive space with negative space.

While I would like each student to include 1 of each (bug, shell and skull) in their composition, I let them pick and choose. I’m not surprised some students don’t like the bugs. I’m very surprised others don’t care for the skulls. And I understand why most of them love the variety in the seashells.

Santan focuses on a star fish.

Drawing students learn the skill of observation. Using a magnifying lens, they look closely at the form and surface of their complex object. Marker (no eraser) forces them to work slow and careful. They learn to focus. They learn patience, commitment and discipline. During critique we talk about how these traits show up in the work.

The assignment goes well. Here are a few of the studies.

Santana’s What Am I Looking at?

Angel, She Sells

Luis’s Land and Sea

Seb’s Sirens Song

Leo’s Hopper Goes to the Beach

Grace’s SeaShells

Pedro’s Dinner Time

Ilse’s Monsters

Aine’s She Sells Sea Shells

Eman’s Food Chain

Luka’s Linear Evolution

Luka’s Speleothems

Fernando’s Skulls Overboard

Early in the semester, students tell me about Inktober. In general, I think the idea behind this is one ink drawing a day throughout the month of October. This study takes at least 4 days for the majority of the class. But it’s still a fine drawing for the month!  #inktober2019


The post includes only a few of the drawings. You can see all of the work on Thursday, November 7th, when Phoenix College (main campus) celebrates National STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) day.  Free and open to the public. You’re invited!
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to marilyn from larry

Larry wanders into the drawing studio in October. My class is outside working on a landscape assignment. He asks about art and the studios in general. He knows the building, he says he works the air-conditioning and heating in the Fine Arts department.

My students are working outside this week. If you have anything you need to do in here, feel free. He comments about art and says he doesn’t know a lot about it. I sense he has a question.

Larry explains his sister has lung cancer. She lives in Pennsylvania and he would like to send her something special…maybe art. I don’t hesitate to tell him art is especially thoughtful.

What are you thinking? Do you have something in mind?

Marilyn, rescues dogs. I listen to him tell about the many senior dogs she rescues. She cares for them until the end. He describes a graveyard she has for them, where each dog has its own headstone. 

Your sister Marilyn sounds pretty special.

Larry would like a drawing made for his sister. He has an idea and shows me. Do you know anyone who can do this for me?

I happen to know the perfect student for the job. Maw, in his second semester with me, and a Fischl Scholar, agrees to do the work. Within a few days him and Larry are in communication.

Maw spends time researching in the library and returns to the classroom to begin working out details which include Marilyn’s home and her many dogs. We discuss material including charcoal, color pencil, graphite, pastel and BFK rag paper.

Maw organizes a general layout and invites Larry to come and see.

Maw and Larry holding the now titled To Marilyn, Dogs on Duffy

All along I talk to the class about what Maw is doing. I invite them to ask questions. It’s valuable knowledge.

Larry returns one more time to okay the final composition before we spray and fix the work.

We carefully tube the drawing Larry will send to his sisters in Pennsylvania, for framing. We hope Marilyn will have it by Christmas.

Before Larry leaves Maw gifts him a fine art print he made while visiting the Grand Canyon with his father.

Maw, you rock!

Marilyn, we wish you the very best. You have a great brother!

To Marilyn – Dogs on Duffy

#yougottahaveart


Marylyn Jean Blair
Oct 8, 1946-February 21, 2019
Rest in peace.

anatomical drawing workshop with med students

I teach an anatomy drawing workshop at the college of Medicine on the Phoenix Biomedical Campus. Participants come from several programs (including a couple of faculty) though the majority are Northern Arizona University (NAU) students in Occupational Therapy (OT).

They introduce themselves and I enjoy hearing why they signed up to come to the drawing workshop.

One young woman tells us she saw a kidney and thought it beautiful and wants to learn to draw it. I understand completely. Another speaks about the piriformis muscle – she explains, it’s from the Latin and means pear (shaped). She wants to see and know this. I don’t know piriformis means pear-shaped, I want to see this too! Someone else explains she would like to learn to draw the human body when needing to explain something – instead of the usual stick figure. I smile and note if I had a patient and needed to be efficient – that stick figure would come in handy.

I move around the room and learn every participant has a personal reason for being here, including an appreciation of anatomy. Someone tells me she likes my artwork and thinks this could be fun. Thank you. Yes, it will be! I tell her.

I want to say a lot of things to them. I want to talk about science and art and their connection, and I want to talk about Leonardo (I never do!). We have 3 hours together – they’ll start something today but will probably finish up on their own.

They arrive ready with organ (subject-matter) references. And medical models are available. We talk about a contour study and I quickly explain the value of working organically. While Cindi (Director of Art in Medicine) provides a variety of papers (surfaces) and materials – the majority of the group chooses to work on black paper (I’m excited to see the black paper – I know what color does on it). A couple of the participants pick out beautiful rice papers and after some conversation – they work in parts and layers – bringing a more sculptural sensibility to their work.

Here are some captured moments of the afternoon. Note everyone begins with a careful contour study and then loosens up (with some prodding) to bring in color and texture. The nervousness steps aside and the afternoon brings a little science and a little art together. Ahhh…creativity!

On a side note: I particularly enjoy the overall conversation. It’s an unusual experience being around medical (health and wellness) people. They’re familiar and comfortable with the body in a way that the average person is not.

The afternoon is coming to an end and  I hear comments like … Oh! I love your kidney! Oh…look at your brain!! 

I learn some new things. I don’t take notes but I probably could (should) have.
Thanks everyone. And a special thanks to Cindi and Rebecca.


My drawings and paintings are on display right now at UA College of Medicine in downtown Phoenix until March of 2018. You can see the exhibit M-F, 9 to 5.
An Artist Reception is in the planning for February 2, 2018 – First Friday, 6-8 pm.

drawing your body’s anatomy – a workshop

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Arriving to the museum last Saturday morning, I ride up the elevator with a young woman who appears to be jogging. Are you out … for a run? I ask her. She is. It’s colder than I thought it would be, she tells me. And you came to the museum? She nods a yes and goes on to say … to warm up and maybe look around.

In the 2 trips I have made here – between the conversation in the museum with both visitors and docents, and in the city – I get the sense that the museum is a part of regular life for the local community.

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I return to Bentonville to take part in a Symposium at Crystal Bridges. The panel I present with focuses on Science in Artistic Form (I’ll talk about this another time).  This is one event in many. I also teach an anatomy drawing workshop for teens.

After the symposium on Friday night, I meet a couple who visits the museum regularly. We have a long talk about the facility and its various activities. Their daughter hoped to take my workshop but it sold out. I suggest they contact the museum and while I can’t give her a firm invite, I tell her I am open to more participants. I like the synergy of a large group. The next morning they arrive with their daughter. She attends the workshop while her parents attend the rest of the symposium. A few others join us. When everyone signs in I learn the group comes from all the surrounding areas.

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I walk into the studio to find a few artist anatomy books. Influenced by medical illustrations, I am more than excited to see that we also have one of the museum’s rare books on hand – Medical Anatomy; Illustrations of the Relative Position and Movements of the Internal Organs , Folio Size, 1869, by Francis Sibson. Earlier when I learn the museum owns this book, I ask if we can have a special showing. I explain to the class this is a rare opportunity. Anatomy! 1869! Hand-colored lithographs!

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I talk about my work and explain how we’ll proceed with the afternoon. I show one sample of a drawing and pass out postcards of my artwork – one to each participant. I explain general process including  use of color. I note that while I do look at artist anatomy books, most of my references come from medical anatomy and Yoga study sources. I mention I have a full human skeleton which is part of the video I end my introduction with. I pass out flash cards that include skeleton and muscle diagrams – and we begin.

The next 3 hours – we work out anatomy of their choosing. Class ends just as rain begins to fall in the small lake in front of the classroom. Here are photos of the productive afternoon.

A special thanks to Lori, an art instructor at Crystal Bridges, who helped me with the workshop.

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The purpose of the museum is to educate and build community – I’m glad to be a part of it.

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To go to the State of the Art website, click on the image above.

 

textile pattern design equals a charcoal value study

When I put this still life together I was deliberate in the fabric and its layout. I combine stiff white cotton, furry faux zebra, mint satin, shiny red and white stripes, matte red and white pin stripes,  velvet-black with even blacker glitter circular designs, textured sofa fabric and even a shiny cheep-polyester spider web pattern – maybe the latter is a cruel option or maybe a challenging one for the right person. I let students decide. Anyway…that’s just a few of the complicated patters and surfaces.

This is student’s first charcoal composition. It’s intimidating to say the least. By this point the class is wanting to move on to a new medium, so they jump in – head first, to the deep end. I am pleased with progress and result. Most important, so are they. Charcoal is all about working a rich surface, putting down black blacks and lifting out white whites…and working all the values in between.

Ana goes right to the spider web and works on it slow and steady for 2 class days. The light hits some spots and a few lines are a bright shiny silver. She notes the highlight with white Conte.  She wears her spider web blouse in honor of the work. I am impressed with the patience she’s developed this semester. This is her strong charcoal drawing  below.

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Ana’s Pitch Black

Ashley (below) works almost her entire composition with her one pencil eraser. I make other suggestions but she sticks to her game plane. She’s so focused and appears to enjoy the delicate work, she doesn’t take a break. She finishes and decides to use white Conte for the zebra patterned white’s she’d already completed. I wish I’d caught her before she’d gone in that direction. We talk a little about why I think she should have kept her original carefully developed whites. After-all her erased marks were so rich and sensitive. She tones it all down using her finger tips and eraser, and pulls it together beautifully.

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Ashley’s Knotted Zebra

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Satin Charcoal by Lela

Lela (above ) notes very quickly why I ask them to use soft compressed charcoal. And why I suggest they be careful with the white Conte. She re-works the striped area many times until she is completely satisfied. I let her borrow my somewhat pricey, white soft-pastel. The folds in the cloth are accurate, – consequently believable.

Tanya (below) never relaxed with the marker, though she’s calm and happy with charcoal.  I comment on how her whole body appears at ease as she develops a beautiful and dimensional knot. She finishes the composition with some complex pattern on either side of that knot. She expresses her emotions with humor,  in the title.

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Knot Tense by Tanya

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In Between by Adrianna

Finally Adriana, above, who began the assignment so nervous she said she felt like someone who had never even picked up a pencil. And then she completed this incredible knot. I think her confidence is back.

Manny (below), one of my Drawing 2 students, kicks up dust with color pastels. I tell him to be careful. He shouldn’t be inhaling pigments. He works by the open front door and direct the dust out of the classroom. I’m amused by how he draws, its physical for him. He has taken two semesters with me. His whole style has developed. I want him to continue in the fine arts, but Manny will do what is best for him. He’s now a graphic design student.

He freely helps the other students who are struggling with the various challenges of working with charcoal and Conti. I listen and watch the way he supports others and their  work. They take to him well. I also think he could teach.

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Manny’s Colorful Knot – Pastel on BFK

I let them go an extra day even though we don’t have very much time left in the semester,  because as a whole, the group is working the materials so well The surfaces are rich and well-developed, not bad for their first charcoal assignment.

What will we do with the last week of drawing …

they look closely

Look closely. The beautiful may be small. ― Immanuel Kant


The focus of this assignment – structure and texture, parts and surface – of the forms. Students also take time to consider the placement of subject matter into the picture plane. They construct a composition and balance out positive and negative space.

Everyone picks their shells, magnifying glasses get pulled out. The work to look at structure and define texture begins. They look closely. They see. They identify. They put it down. Emotions run high. Throughout the assignment we discuss stylizing.
Critique is great.

… a few highlights

Descending Collection – by Melissa

Different Shells, Different Textures – by Alejandra

The Shells from the Great Abyss – by Kyle

Fossil Poop – by Kris

Silhouette – by Segio

Shells – by Aaron

Sally Sells Sea Shells – by Brittany

experiencing negative space

Space is substance. Cézanne painted and modelled space. Giacometti sculpted by “taking the fat off space“. Mallarmé conceived poems with absences as well as words. Ralph Richardson asserted that acting lay in pauses … Isaac Stern described music as “that little bit between each note – silences which give the form” … The Japanese have a word (ma) for this interval which gives shape to the whole. In the West we have neither word nor term. A serious omission.    The Art of Looking Sideways, Alan Fletcher

In this assignment students learn to see the space between things. All the drawings are strong, because contrast is naturally enhanced in the composition. Some works are simple and express a less is more sensibility, while others are like a series of complex pathways.

Note the subject-matter stands out, and so does the space between the leaves, stems and flowers.

Seeing Negative by Luis

Shrub by Aaron

Enchanted Forrest by Brittany

Money Tree by Kris

Negative Core by Manny

Kristine, a Native American student, responds to Izzy’s study below, in a personal way. She tells us it reminds her of a place on the reservation where there are many hand impressions left on rocks, from over 200 years ago. Or did she say 2000? Ancestors placed down the palm of their hand against the rock, and blew powdered pigments through hollow tubes over the form. A ghost print remains of the activity.

Phoenix Sunset by Izzy

We enjoy a productive critique. And though the group has just learned the concept of negative space, they will develop and understand its use with each assignment. They’re supportive and constructive in their commentary today.