look, see, teach / look, see, learn

The act of drawing remains a fundamental means to translate, document, record and analyse the worlds we inhabit. The role of drawing in education remains critical, and not just to the creative disciplines in art and design for which it is foundational.*

I am detailing the above work when I receive something in my Canvas inbox from a student taking Anatomy and Physiology 201. I don’t know the sender but clearly she attends the college where I teach drawing in the Fine Arts department, so I don’t hesitate to open the email.

The message is sent to only a few people and includes an image file of a human brain. It appears she needs help identifying particular areas.

Confused to receive the email, I soon realize she’s thinking I can be of help to her. I appreciate understanding this and I also like knowing the one response she did get…is correct.

Someone else sends her an on-line course book. I take the opportunity to look through it. It seems like another world from what I teach. (But is it?)
#Look #See #AndLearn

I’m thinking…
about next Fall and whether I will return to PC to teach drawing. Right now  I don’t know about a full semester of on-line drawing instruction.
#Observation #HandsOn 

*Why drawing needs to be a curriculum essential by Anita Taylor


negative space

I could understand what he was saying, but it didn’t come naturally to me. I had to be reminded to look for it. To see the stuff that’s there but not there.

-Carol Rifka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I’m Home


We are looking at the space between and around the subject – we are looking at negative space. After I have given the directions I come around and remind  each student what we are doing.  Some students find themselves frustrated and others take to the focus easily. That’s just the way it plays out. And though a few insist that they don’t exactly have it down, they all come through with beautiful completed works.

Here are a few examples:


The Tim Burton Leaf by Robert


Angel Hair by Joshua


Fall by Angie


Tales of Two Cats by JT


Popay works on his drawing


The Stand Out by Popay


Bella is completely focused.






Aloe Vera by Kayla

Kayla (above) a Drawing 1 student, completed both in class and home work and still worked on an extra drawing. She went outside and after seeing what she was doing I handed her a box of pastels with not much direction on how to use them. I just thought she should have fun and experiment – she did.

Below are Drawing 2 students. They experiment with different media, though still focus on negative space.





Ma is a Japanese word which can be roughly translated as gap, space, pause or the space between two structural parts.

IMG_5028 IMG_5029



Into the last week of school. Spring semester flew.

Students complete the first charcoal study, a lesson on value. Overall they do a fine job. They work off of color fabrics, and learn to distinguish lightness and darkness in a design. I let the assignment continue one day longer than scheduled, because the majority want another day. Consequently there’s no time for critique.

We’ll have a final class critique next week and it will include discussion on these works along with the final assignment. The last lesson of the semester is a still life using a light source…continued looking at value but also working more intently with creating illusion of depth.

Here are a few works, in process and in completion. Note the surface of the work. Charcoal allows emphasizing lights and darks and creation of rich surface. Students are experiencing new freedom and expression.





drawing a line, playing the edge

“Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere.” GKC

Oh…I couldn’t help using that quote. The political climate is absurd these days. Are we losing our minds? Enough of that.

…back to drawing, and the classroom, where we’re developing our minds. We play with edges, but not such crazy ones. It’s a new semester, a new group of students, first assignment, and a new batch of contour studies. Today we hold our first class critique.

For the assignment, students were asked to look closely at the subject matter and draw only what they see, using inner and outer contour line. It’s a challenge. Critique goes the full 2.5 hours. Everyone has a chance to speak and share their work.  Some students are clearly more at ease with the critiquing process than others. Understandable. A few are consistently generous with their thoughtful commentary. Experience.

The classroom is really a microcosm of the macrocosm.  Learning to look closely is a skill worth developing. Learning to see clearly is a valuable asset.

Here are a few of the classes favorites.

Alexis, Corn on the Cob


Ben, Pine-cone, top view


Sergio, Pine-cone, profil


Diana, Cabbage and Bell-pepper


An eloquent beginning to a new semester.  Everyone has a bit more experience than they came in with, and hopefully everyone has a bit more confidence as well.

Now…to getting these spot lights fixed… so we can see the whole picture more clearly.

wanted for messing with charcoal and pastel

The semester is unusual in that I only have 4 female students in the class.  What’s more unusual, none of them are present at the start of critique, this week. Eventually one of the women does show up. Better late than never.
In the meantime, we have fun with the class photo.  We create a line up. The only thing these men are guilty of, is drawing with charcoal and pastel.

Critique is good. Everyone appreciates the finished drawings….they’re strong compositions. We discuss the challenge of the material, that everyone experiences. We discuss the variety of the values, and the surface of the drawing. We talk about how realistic something appears in terms of the cloth, and we talk about space, layers, and edges.
I’ve discussed this assignment before (11/30.2009). We’re in the midst of working with value. It’s the first real charcoal drawing many of the Drawing 1 students have ever worked on (keep this in mind when you see their work below). One advanced student works in color, with pastels. They complete a value scale right before starting the still life. They know by the time the value scale is finished , elbow grease will be required, from this point forward. Also necessary and in development, is another form of patience.  It seems they just learned to control the marker, and now they have to let that go…because charcoal…has it’s own very unique challenges, in terms of trying to control it.  It goes everywhere.

I always notice the class, in general, becomes more quiet with the charcoal studies.

Davin and Misty



In all honesty, I find it very hard to be in the classroom teaching, on some days.  I want to be drawing too…that’s what watching the students learn this particular medium especially, does to me.






Davin, Drawing 2

The end of semester is quickly approaching. One more drawing, and one more critique.

the first bit, more pieces to come

Today I offer the first glimpse of a creative collaboration that I am excited to be writing about. Involved are three other artists. Here begins the first formulations of what will be a future art exhibition.

The group of four has come together for specific reasons, most important is that we want to work together. Working together is a bit more involved than merely showing together in an art exhibit. It includes a systematic series of actions directed to some end. What is the end? Simply put, it’s the creative experience itself.

Certain criteria underlies the procedure of coming together. The artists are mature in their work, with a certain level of ambition still very palpable in their art. Not one  of us can call ourselves an “emerging” artist anymore. There’s experience present, singularly and collectively. And though there hasn’t been a “merging” within every arena wanted, everyone’s on it, in their own way, be sure of this.  Each has an MFA. With this footing, a level of tenacity and self-awareness is implied. Each person can draw, though each of us handles the ability in a very different manner. Everyone relates to the education process as a student, and as a teacher. And each person’s sensibility stands out as unique and precise. You see the individuals hand in the individuals works. There’s unmistakable presence of time, be it fast and quick or slow and steady. And evolution is a constant.

The evening’s conversation bounces around, as we share a meal. Discussion involves how we proceed in making art.  Process will be a part of the exhibition so this discussion is important.  How does one begin a work of  art? Is end result in mind? I listen to each response, there’s overlap in conversation, excitement, agreement, curiosity. I hear how different everyone is, in some external sort of way.  I do note a more internal form of connection as well.

Conversation continues. What do you listen to while in studio? This one element is important to everyone, so much so we discuss it at various points in the evening. Someone asks if the impetus to create is retinal or cerebral? Interesting choice of descriptive words. It’s retinal, they’re in agreement. I pause to consider. I can’t answer easily. Intuition, instinct, a strong understanding of the elements of design, confidence in the process, materials, adventures, age, personal interests…we’re talking about all of it. One spouse contributes a comment that gets our attention. It appears to me, you all solve problems. One person voices appreciation.  We all agree with the observation.

Here it is, in a nutshell. We’re working together, yes. There are four of us. We may have a venue and a general time line.  The whole picture isn’t clear…yet….but we do see it happening. It’s retinal. What do we call the exhibition? It’s important that we get this. It’ll determine various specifics.

This evening we’ve each brought along something. Some thing we work with; tool, material, a bit of process stuff. The symbol is a jumping point to help formulate a working title. I enjoy the discovery, the sharing. We throw words around. Out comes Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary , and I begin to read.

Process – operation.  PROCESS. PROCEDURE. PROCEEDING.   Apply to something that goes on or takes place.
A PROCESS is a series of progressive and interdependent steps by which an end is attained.
PROCEDURE usually implies a formal or set order of doing a thing, a method of conducting affairs.
PROCEEDING applies to what goes on or takes place…

“That’s it! I like that!”  One person calls out. Though I’ve not finished reading the whole thing, with similar excitement, everyone agrees. The working title of our project becomes What Goes On and What Takes Place.

Here, you have the Why. I’ll fill you in on the Who these other artists are and the Where, and When the exhibition will take place, and a few other important details.  Bit by bit, time will reveal.  After all, the creative experience, is what it’s all about. This collaboration is a building of trust in the process, as we each continue to make art.

Stay tuned, more to come!

P.S. this is way better than any reality show.
Hmmmm…..now what if….

drawing directly from nature

Spring has rolled in.  Landscape drawing in Phoenix, this is the time of the year to do it. Students are still looking…closer than ever.

The assignment uses everything the class has learned thus far…the added lesson, creating depth. Students learn to create the illusion of spatial depth in a drawing. They realize foreground, middle ground and background. They learn to distinguish and draw shapes that appear closer and others that appear further away.

Landscape is complex subject matter no doubt, especially when texture is being emphasized.  I notice all the various ways students resolve the texture of their subject matter, in their drawing.  I refer to it as mark making, and it can be beautiful, expressive, and exciting. The finished work will be more dense than any drawing completed so far.

They won’t include in their composition everything they can see. How much should they include? Twelve hours is the time allotted  in class, to complete this assignment. A few students will make more time.  I suggest they put into the composition as much information so as to make the drawing unique, interesting and so it feels complete. One can’t include everything…pick and choose… the viewers eyes should move about the composition easily, all lines and marks should convey some information.

Today’s progress….








Davin, Drawing II




















Weather held out, and so did the class.


What do drawings mean to me? I really don’t know. The activity absorbs me. I forget everything else in a way that I don’t think happens with any other activity… John Berger

Drawing class…critique day.  Assignment was challenging.  I knew it would be, they knew it would be.  We jumped in any way. And then they really realized the challenge. No turning back. All about the looking. To look at and draw a complex structure is not easy. To look at and decipher texture requires attention. Students learn to stay focused in a much more intense manner than previously.

I will say…this group has appeared to be very focused, in general.  So much so that I have decided to share photos of the process instead of the end result. You can see how much they’re looking and how much they’re drawing.












For the record…end results are impressive.  I know it and they know it.  Class ended on a high note.
Spring break…looking won’t stop though…they’ve learned to see at a different level at this point…

text as an element within a 2d design

Preparing to facilitate a workshop at SMoCA, in the coming week. Thinking about my use of text in an art work.  Text as an element within a design, is the focus.

The World Stage, a play in finite acts

The first time I consciously used text in a painting, I wanted to create a series of works that together made up a narrative. I was drawing/setting up (the idea of) an act, a play. And like the playwright, I too had a cast of characters I was to direct. I was influenced some, by Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. I liked his use of the narrator/stage manager. I created narrators that stood in the foreground, in black and white, while the cast stood center stage, in full color. Introduction text was in black and white. I wanted the audience to read the words and relate to the characters, so the words were literal, familiar, direct.

Let Go

I used text in another series where I was thinking about the power of the words, thoughts and the make-up of the mind. The series dealt with the creation of a limited identity. I used Spanish words (alongside English) for the first time in this series. Because large canvases, with a central figure were surrounded by words, I recognized the use of text as a way of creating movement in an artwork. I played with letters and punctuation, and created rhythm using strings of words. Not only can text be read, it can also create interesting space.

Label and Seperate

Lately I have been using words or complete sentences to create small intaglio prints. In this case, words generate the image.  They come first. Words are used to frame or surround a focal point.  Text informs the form. The printmaking process lends itself to making small, quick, stream of consciousness artwork that stands alone or can be the start of a larger series, at a later time.

The workshop will be fun. And it will be informative for all of us. I’ve prepared a presentation of some work, to begin the day. And then I’ll teach process.  The participants will hopefully complete a small work within the allotted 4 hours. I’m sure to learn some specific things about each of them, while they apply what they learn.
Using text, communication is usually immediate.

ted kennedy

Several years ago I took an evening Mexican art history course at Phoenix College.  The class was mostly filled with 20 something year old college students, except for Kevin, who was older and wiser.

Kevin stood out not only because he was mature in this young classroom but he was impeccably dressed, always came to class in a beautiful suit, a great tie, and polished shoes. FYI…not the norm…in an art dept. He communicated beautifully.  He was intelligent, thoughtful and kind. I think about him today because in his younger years, he knew and had worked for the Kennedy’s.  In conversation he talked about John, Robert and Ted. Their influence on him was clear.

Kevin met with an untimely death a few years ago.  He was a public servant in that he worked for the city of Phoenix, yes.  But he was also a public servant in that he was clearly a mindful human being, present to serve.  The classroom was filled with students who had families and held full time jobs. One young single mother who sat behind us worked the night shift at Motorola. I learned thru Kevin that she had a daughter. He took the time to connect with her most every class. She was often tired and would forgot her pen, he always had extra pens for her.  She had the sniffles or a cough and he had a cough drop or a Kleenex to hand her.

Kevin loaned me his brand new copy of a, at the time newly released, biography about Diego Rivera. He told me to take my time with it and enjoy it. He regularly brought me the art section of the New York Times. I was grateful no doubt, but I used to tease him…What are you, the nice guy of Phoenix?!
He was a professional business man with a kind spirit very much influenced by the Kennedy’s. He explained to me that life is tough for some people and one should, if one could, be supportive and willing to lend a hand, the smallest gesture to make a persons life a bit more comfortable, is worthwhile.

Today I listen to commentary about Senator Edward Kennedy and his humanity is noted. I know of his efforts towards immigration, as he worked alongside Arizona’s John McCain.  I liked the team. And Kennedy always spoke passionately about health care for all. Both of these issues are sitting on the table today.

Kevin informed me that important people can cross our paths and  influence us in large ways. But he also reminded me that the everyday citizen is important too.  As an artist I think about what I do, and who I do it for, all the time. I don’t know that I make a life more comfortable, it’s possible…but I do my best to expand ones awareness…for what it’s worth.

I always thought of Kevin whenever Ted Kennedy was on T.V. or the radio.  Kevin helped me to see Kennedy as more than a political icon, he made him a human being to me.

To Mr. Ted Kennedy…goodbye.  And to Kevin…thanks for making it clear how we all can and do influence one another. RIP.

“good, and a little bad”

Part 1
Drawing a Self-Portrait

Veronica’s the get this plan into action person as far as Portrait day is concerned.  Likes to paint and play with materials. Curious. We talk, several times, about a drawing workshop. Veronica sets it up. Natural organizer.

She begins her first drawing with anticipation. Trying to focus she says, but the marker won’t cooperate. The point of the marker is to get one to slow down and become a more careful observer. I suggest to everyone, they try and keep the marker down on the paper, to lift it as few times as possible while they work, creating a more fluid line. I’m not sure she likes the drawing tool, nor the control it requires. Veronica is loose and free spirited with her own process. She does her best to follow directions and completes numerous warm ups of the group.

domver  davever  eddiever
Self portraiture is challenging and technical difficulties are only a small part of it. The marker is arduous for a few individuals. When students get frustrated, I tell them to slow down, look closely, and work carefully. Or I suggest a short break. If they make a mistake in the line work, I tell them to refocus and keep working. At the beginning of the semester some students want to start over all the time. I don’t allow it. They labor with the marker and then ironically many of them miss it when we move to charcoal. By the end of the semester, they’ve let a lot of resistance go. They’re most aware of looking and seeing. In general, their energy is more focused from the start of a project. They know better to steady it for longer periods of time. They’ve learned  a form of discipline. They’ll need it for the advanced studio courses.

Veronica’s focus was more or less on the drawing. She enjoys giving people her attention. Manager. Big sister. It’s all part of who she is. In this case, while everyone is very focused, Veronica is keeping one eye inward and one eye outward.  I suspect she’s enjoying both actions She directs me, Go look at Greg’s drawing, maybe he needs some guidance. Amused, I go to Greg. He’s doing fine, I have nothing to say.  He barely looks up. I smile at him and then at her.

Later I make a suggestion to someone in the room. As I complete my sentence Veronica says, Tell me what to do!  I giggle…keep working!  She is serious. So am I. Come! Look!What am I doing wrong? Doing wrong?! I remind her it’s about the process and not the end result. 

warm up

warm up

As we approach the last work of the day, I briefly explain how one learns a skill like drawing and how the brain works. I don’t really have to do this. Most of this group understands the workings of the body/mind better than I do. Veronica is paying attention. I want to get this eye-hand coordination…I want to form those neurological connections, Veronica says with earnest desire. I appreciate her ambition. I am empathetic. In my yoga practice, I work on getting the perfect hand stand. I want ease and grace. Instead  I learn to gracefully ease into patience. 


Veronica explains the energy in her hand that want to scratch instead of flow. It’s interesting to have this interaction with my friend. It’s helpful to me to understand what people might experience. Still, I can’t always make it better. She just has to work thru it (or not!).  
Fact is, a self portrait is the 5th homework assignment students complete. They are long prepared for the difficulties. She’s getting it all full force, in a few hours time. I suspect Veronica wants freedom from process and material. I tell the group to look closely, draw what they see, not what they think they see, not what they want to see, draw what is there. What kind of freedom is that….! She’s good with the day, but not so pleased with her final composition. In a frustrated instance she lets her hand go and she scratches it up. I am a bit startled. I wish, in that moment, she could know the process works.

post study

post study

True to the learner that Veronica is, she takes the project home with her and keeps on practicing. She works a number of days and updates me with her progress. Smart. Sometimes when students are working at home they find an ease that they can’t find in the classroom. I was one of those people, in the area of drawing in particular, when I was a student back in the days.  
She is happy with her home work. Determination. Her face says it all. 


Part 2……to be continued.


drawing critique


…last class before the Spring break.
The subject matter for this project is very complex. Students learn about texture and structure. And they bring along, from the previous assignment, their understanding of positive and negative space, to create a deliberate composition.

The subject matter are seashells.  Have you ever really taken a long 9 + hours look at sea shells?? Talk about variety of line and shape. Usually this assignment is a turning point for the majority of the students. It requires a different sort of focus and commitment. They are asked to use a magnifying glass.

They also have a homework assignment to complete, following the same instructions but use subject matter of their choice.  The first drawing below is an example of Mike’s outside assignment.

Mike asked an interesting question today. Not about the assignment particularly. It was brought on by a lecture the students attended last night, at the Phoenix Arts Museum. They learned about Clyfford Still. Mike asked if there was a word, specifically in the art vocabulary, that could describe when something is so incredible that it makes you feel like you are just a tiny bit of life in a grand universe.  He said he once saw a painting that made him respond in such a way, and he wanted an art word, movement, description…for the feeling.

We both talked about our experience of the Grand Canyon and how truly awesome and reverent the site is. He wanted a descriptive word for such an experience of art. I couldn’t think of anything right off, but I told him I would give it some thought. And ask some people.

An art word for a sacred experience connected to looking specifically at a work of art. Any thoughts on such a word?



Mike, marker




Justin, marker




Mariam, marker




Sandra, mixed media


positive negative studies


Another critique day in my drawing class. Very fun. This part of the learning process is a clarification for them, of what they have accomplished.
Again, I will note…this is a dream group. They listen. They observe closely and work carefully.

The assignment is a positive negative study, 18″ x 24″.  The drawing tool is a Sharpie marker. They focus and draw the negative spaces of a still life. The end result will be a silhouette of the positive shapes, the subject matter. They learn to see the spaces between things.
I have drawing 1,2 and 3 students in this group. The advanced students have the option of playing with textures, color or other elements of design.

Below are a few of the class favorites.

























critical thinking

Teaching critical thinking…is…a…challenge.

Things to consider:

Art is a form of communication.

What am I doing? What am I trying to communicate? 
To whom do I want to communicate?
Am I being inclusive or exclusive?  
Be open.
Be conscious.
Be thoughtful.  
Be intelligent.
And if you’re mindless, be mindful about why. 

Not everything goes.  Some things spring one forward.  Other things hold one back.

Who? What?  Why?  
Purpose. Value. 

Think. Question. Think. Question.

Incite thought.  Incite dialogue.  Incite thought. Incite Dialogue.

No….it’s not easy. Yes, it is a challenge.  Do it anyway.

Be Creative.