texture, structure, depth or a landscape and a self-portrait

I teach a foundations course, students learn basic drawing skills. It is clear to me at this point the class understand the value of careful observation.

We spend the last 2 weeks working outdoors. They learn to focus at an even greater level considering all the distraction outside the classroom including the curious passerby, the almost perfect weather and the continuous change of their subject-matter (nature).

Enjoy these examples of their outdoor study and their self-portrait homework…

Maw – Fake Perception, Oil Pastel

Kado – Shipwrecked

Alondra’s Inconsistent

Jessica – The Heart of Everything

Tyra – I Love It

Esmeralda – Cacti

Deborah – Regrowth

Jordi – Untitled

The homework assignment, a life-size (or larger) self-portrait, is an important and  challenging process. They have all the necessary skills at this point to complete one. They work with marker (no pencil or eraser) all semester and here they can use media of their choice (many still choose the marker). The drawing brings honest conversation.

We leave this particular class critique knowing each other just a bit more.

On the drive home I think every one (every single person)  should be so lucky to have (give themselves) this assignment at some point in their adult life. #theselfportraitforeveryone #gottahaveart


Alondra – Spirit Desire



Deborah – Self Portrait 1


Tyra, Dear Aisa Don’t Stop Loving Me

Jordi – This is Who I Am

Kado- KMS lol

Kado – Voiceless


Maya – Anyone can draw one eye, but drawing two is an art

This is it with the marker – we move on to charcoal.

lesson in observation and commitment

Man who wishes to know about the world must learn about it in its particular details. – Heraclitus

The assignment focuses on natural objects with complex (and beautiful) structure and texture. The students set up a composition  balancing positive and negative space, using sea shells and insects – either or both.

Careful observation is key. I suggest they use a magnifying glass. I ask they consider the quality of the lines they use. What sort of lines represent structure? What sort of line represent texture? By now they want to have a larger selection of fine(r) markers.

A couple of students have a particularly challenging time and I suggest short breaks for them. The weather is so nice now, walking or moving will help to settle them.

Here are fine examples of the drawings.  Note composition, quality of line and the attention to detail.

Close up and personal by Virginia


Bug Portrait by Marco


Shell Game by Kat


Bug and Shells by Is SaK



Sally Sells Seashells by the Seashore by Angela


The Starry Fish by Vince Van D’oh! by Virgil


Sea Dreams by Anita



Equanimity by Amareli


Deux Ex Machina by Anthony

Three Stooges by Adonis

Advanced students use scratchboard. Here is one example by Victoria – still in progress.

Victoria’s shells on scratchboard (in progress)



negative space

Ma is a Japanese word which roughly translates to gap, space, pause or the space between two structural parts. 

IMG_7247This assignment asks the student to focus on the negative space, the space that surrounds an object (or the subject), the space in between things. I point out, in the still life, the area which they will be focusing on. It’s sort of the opposite of how we normally see, I explain. In the process, should you find yourself drawing the positive space (the foliage, in this case) simply stop, refocus and continue. We are training the brain to work a little differently.

Once they understand what they are doing, they have so much more to see and respond to. Negative space helps to define the boundaries of positive space and brings balance to a composition.  It also gives the eye a place to rest.

All of the drawings are strong graphic compositions. The contrast allows for a particularly type of delicacy and boldness to take place at the same time. In general the class enjoys the study. In some cases students are so immersed in the work, I have to remind them to take a break.

There is something great about teaching this particular assignment because as soon as the students grasp the concept, they quickly begin to use it and consequently experience things around them very differently.


Anne’s Cactus Skeleton


Trenary’s Weeds and Clover


Terry’s Poinsettia


Adam’s Flowers


Clay’s Leaves and Berries


Heather’s Plants

Drawing 2 students work with color and have a little bit more freedom with how they approach the study.


Susan’s Ironed Weed


Cassidy’s Fall Leaves


about the line – inner and outer contour study


New semester. New group.  After the first day of drawing, one student notes the work is like meditating. It is, I respond. I organize my drawing class like I might organize a Yoga class, it’s an excellent observation.

I really, really want to get this, another student tells me. You will, have patience. But I want to get it now! I have to smile – You’re ambitious, I say.

A returning student tells me quietly, I am so glad to be back in your class. Life is so busy, I just want to slow down. Welcome back, you know you’re in the right place then Cassidy.

It takes this group 2 days (6 hours) to complete this first assignments in careful and slow observation of a complex – natural object. They are nervous to start working with marker As they get going, they do just fine.

Below are some examples of their completed drawing. A few of these students have never drawn before and a few are experienced. I won’t say who is who. I suspect it will be a very good semester.

Drawing 1↓


Heather’s Pinecone


Terry’s Bell Pepper


Cory’s Citrus


Julio’s Onion


Andrea’s Citrus

Drawing 2 ↓


Robert’s Pinecone



Cassidy’s detail drawing of a Magnolia Seed Pod


Charles’ Stem and Seeds


the last day of drawing class

Discipline in art is a fundamental struggle to understand oneself, as much as to understand what one is drawing. Henry Moore


We have lots of conversation this semester. We talk about art, looking, seeing, putting down what one sees, and focus. We discuss art as discipline, as practice.

Look closely, work carefully. Look closely, draw slowly. Are you drawing what you see?  Look. Look. Look again. See.

This last critique includes final charcoal studies. The group stays focused with this medium. They work to make the surface of their drawing look smooth and rich. They consider the shape and material of objects, dark darks, light lights, values in between, edges, space and illusion of depth.

Have a good break – you all deserve it!


Susan’s knot.



Aimee’s knot.



Pedro’s pattern work.





Jorge’s skull drawing.





Leah’s skull drawing.


Aimee and Susan



Aimee’s wine glass.





Renee’s bottle tops.



Pedro and Charles



Charles’ containers and candlestick





Giovanni’s metal watering can.

Below is an extra charcoal drawing Susan worked on. Susan doesn’t need any extra credit, she’s got 5 extra credit drawings in the queue – but just in case.


structure and texture


Here are a few works from yesterday’s critique. The examples include in-class and homework assignments. Note the lines that make up the structure and then note the lines that make up the texture. Students use a magnifying glass to get a clear sense of the surface on shells and other natural objects. They also have to pay attention to the negative space.


kayla in process


JT in process

J.T. shared with the class that he spent a good amount of time setting up his composition before he ever got to putting down a mark on his paper.


J.T.’s Not Four Shells


J.T.’s – Land and Sea


Cassidy’s –  Land and Sea

This last photo below is a Drawing 2 student working on scratchboard. Because Adriana worked with me last Spring, I knew she was looking forward to this assignment. Her composition appeared one black, white or silver shape at a time  She understands and trusts working organically.


Her work brought up interesting conversation, eventually leading to comments about the nature of empathy.


Adriana’s – Laura

This is such a valuable assignment. It’s a good amount of work for the willing student. Vicki, one of the Drawing 1 students commented on how much she is seeing. There is so much detail, she says with eyes wide open. She chooses and arranges these 2 shapes, a melon leaf and a bay leaf. They grow in her yard, she thought she was fairly familiar with them.  Now with her careful observation (that includes a very good magnifying glass) she comments on the fuzzy stuff, the hair-like edge of the melon leaf. She’s aware of so much more.  And she draws it …


….on a side note…
I want to share a work I commissioned from a student who worked with me over a year ago. Kimberly dropped into class last Spring to show me how her scratchboard work was evolving. She was completing a series of small pet drawings. I was so impressed by her developing skill that I asked if she could draw my cat. Over the summer she drew Issa.


Kimberly – Portrait of Issa

give me lines

The permanence of ink encourages one to “go for it,” to try to put the line right where it should be… continued attempts to place lines accurately build the eye-hand coordination necessary for sketching. Paul Laseau


New semester. New series of line drawings. You’ll recognize my usual subject-matter, the pine cone. This shape has everything I need to challenge my students – complexity and elegance. You’ll also remember the students work in marker. They use Sharpie’s and Micro Pen’s.

Homework is  a complex natural fruit or vegetable of their choice. Note, the charcoal study is a drawing 2 student. Only those that have gone one round with me begin with charcoal. They pick up right where they left off. Here are some top picks from today’s critique.

Notice how lines flow…


Pinecone by Papay


Broken Pinecone by Cassidy


Morning Stretch by Mariah


Pinecone 1 by Kayla


Pinecone by JT


Pinecone 2 by Kayla


Flittering Pine by Robert


Artichoke Flower by Alexa, Charcoal and Pastel (Drawing 2)


Kiwi by Robert


Jalapeno and Tomato by Angelica


Mushroom and Cabbage by Kayla

We had a strong downpour of rain this morning, it’s a sure sign – something’s been seeded.

IMG_4914 IMG_4915

we begin – with line

We don’t need shading or even perspective and we can understand the image. It’s all in the placement of the lines of the work; the pressure and direction of the line.
Rick Rotante


Adriana: I never thought of drawing a pine cone. 
Me: Did you enjoy it?
Adriana: Yeah, I did. 
Me: Do you like the end result?
Adriana: I’m really proud of it. I didn’t know I could do that.

In-class subject-matter: Pinecone
Focus: Inner and Outer contour – which basically means they are working with the design element of line. A fluid, simple line is arrived by careful observation and careful putting down what one sees.
Out of class: complex natural object of their choosing.


I Got The Pinecone Blues by Adriana


Bell Pepper and Onion by Adriana


Tilted by Alyssa


Jalapeno by Alexssa


Pinecone by Kyle


Curvy Cone by Katie


InnerCone by Jesus


Orange by Lela

Below: Drawing 2 students.
They have to stay connected to line. But they get to pick their subject-matter and drawing medium. I’m pleasantly surprised when they each choose to work with charcoal and pastel. All of them have studied with me before, basically they pick up where they left off.


Artichoke Flower by Alejandra


Gone With The Wind, by Manny

Is the drawing believable? Carefully observed? Do lines flow? Does your eye move through the composition?
We take a 15 minute break mid-class and usually the class goes out to the courtyard. This time I notice many return to the drawings and take a closer look at each others work. Already their understanding has expanded.

…. clearly we are off to a good start … 

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

a fine line

Line is a rich metaphor for the artist. It denotes not only boundary, edge or contour, but is an agent for location, energy, and growth. It is literally movement and change – life itself. (Lance Esplund)

….and we’re off.

New semester, new students, new contour studies.

The first critique went the entire 2 hours and 45 minutes. They did get a short break. It was productive and energy was high and maybe tense now and again.  Most everyone had something to say about the process, the marker, the pine cone, and / or my directions. I know I’ll miss some stuff but it went something like this…

It was not easy.
It was so hard.
I thought I wouldn’t be able to do this.
I loved it.
I didn’t like any of it.
I have no patience.
I was surprised by my patience.
I am happy with the drawing.
I like it…yeah.
I’ve never done something like this.
I usually have more…you know…not so many rules..

I especially appreciate that last comment.

The first assignment is a contour study of a complex object. Some students do more than inner and outer contour. They start to add texture.  I don’t believe in stopping progress so I let it them go a bit. The nervousness for the majority of the class comes from the complexity of the subject-matter and the use of marker.

The assignment is such a valuable lesson, working slow and careful and developing patience. Learning to see the edge and translate it into a smooth flowing line and finally creating a flowing composition.

Here are a few samples of some of the completed works.

Kristine’s Pinecone

Manny’s Stepping Stones

Melissa’s Rejuvenated Pinecone

Ale’s Focusing

Sergio’s Pinecone

Kyle’s Calibration

The second semester students have other concerns, though they still have to emphasize contour lines.

Isi’s Delicatus

If they’re inclined they can take the general lesson out into the world –  slow down, think carefully, do mindfully.


The little dissatisfaction which every artist feels at the completion of a work forms the germ of a new work. – B.A.

Some students are satisfied with their last drawings of the semester, some are not. It’s the way it goes. Personalities vary, as much as the work.

Drawing 2 students reproduce an old masters.

Crystal’s Matisse is excellent, though she’s not satisfied.

Madame Matisse madras rouge. 1907

Kim working on Degas reproduction

Kim reproduced a Degas …  2X. She has a new twist on the dog ate my homework story. Her cat jumped her drawing table, smudged, and ripped the almost completed pastel. She had photos. I couldn’t help but be amused. The cat still has pigment on her. Kim is able to complete a second drawing in less than half the time of the first. Interesting.

Chuck (below) copies a Leonardo – Self-Portrait. Despite reflection, you can still see detail.  He always does his best to take things to full completion, including framing for critique.

Chuck’s reproduction of a Da Vinci  Self-Portrait

Chuck also works his second to last value study (below) until it is the exact rich surface he desires.  The hours in the piece are many. The graphite finish glows a deep and dark silver, I can’t quite capture in the photo below.

He’s off to ASU next year. Best wishes Chuck.

Chuck’s graphite study of patterns and clothes.

Drawing 1 students in general, took to the markers from the first part of the semester. They loved the control they developed. Usually a class is ready to let go of the Sharpie’s when the time comes. Only one student swore off markers for eternity this semester. Come on Ali, practice makes perfect.

So with that said…charcoal is a challenge, to say the least. It’s not a medium that is easily controlled.  We could have used another month. But all in all some rich, full valued studies do emerge.

Jose’s charcoal skull, in progress.

Sabrina’s study in progress

Andres’ charcoal study of a transparent vase.

Alexis’ charcoal study of transparent jar and opaque t-pot.

Ali’s charcoal study in progress.

Alban and Sharon work with charcoal.

Kyle’s still life in progress.

Michelle’s Creepy Baby still life, in progress.

Last critique of the semester begins…

and it ends.


A self-portrait is the last marker drawing of the semester. Charcoal is near on the horizon. This last ink assignment is to draw oneself while looking into a mirror…real life, no photo. The students will use every skill they’ve acquired to now. Though their attention and willingness become a bit more intensified before it’s all over and done.

They are instructed to include something in the drawing that informs us (the class, the audience) about them, making the work narrative.  If someone’s going to deliberately miss one assignment, the self-portrait might be the one. A few always try to avoid it.  I require they hand it in, even if it’s the last thing they do before the semester is over. It’s such a valuable learning experience.  And it’s one of the few drawings that allows for a bit of creativity, in this beginning drawing class.


Elizabeth above, tells us about a video game she enjoys. She also informs she us through her use of line, she is observant, careful and deliberate.

Erica "Elf Madness"

What exactly is Erica communicating while wearing elf ears and making a face? What is elf madness?

Chase "Frustration"

Chase captures himself.  He’s always more than a bit concerned about his progress.  The clock numbers are backwards…a nice added element. And it allows us to know he is working off a reflection.

Gabrielle "Gnomes"

Gabrielle has a garden of hundreds of gnomes. We learn some interesting things about gnomes and elves…a first appearance of either, in my drawing class.

Julietta "Venus and Me"

Julieta, artist. It’s her world.  She’s focused and content.

Diana, below, from last semester.  I include the drawing because I only photographed the completed work after the semester was over. She really did turn this drawing in the last week of school.  Not because she didn’t want to do it, but because that’s how long it took her to finish it. I told her it was worth the wait.
What does Sunburn (the title) tells us about Diana…maybe she loves the outdoors, or she lives in Phoenix where the sun always shines. Maybe both. One thing we do know for sure, the girl looks closely and knows how to put it down carefully!

Diana "Sunburn"

Eric Fischl and Andres Serrano will be on campus this week.  Should be exciting. MORE

accentuate the negative and the positive shows up anyway

The poet John Keats wrote that understanding poetry required that we must be willing to put ourselves in a special state of mind, which Keats called “negative capability.”  He described this state as one in which a person “is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts; without any irritable reaching after facts and reason.”

My drawing students play with uncertainty in this assignment…

New semester, new class, new Positive and Negative studies…

A few students found the assignment easy enough and  jumped right in. But most students were somewhat confused.
I explain this is a whole new way of looking, seeing and drawing.  We are looking at the space between things. It’s completely different from how we are trained to see. One by one, they do get it.  It takes practice I remind them.  And a few mistakes. One student did 3 homework assignments to really get it. His perseverance impresses me. Once you get it, it’s yours, you don’t lose it.

The assignment is important in understanding how to create a strong composition. Students first learn to identify negative space and then they learn to use it. In the assignment that follows this one, they’ll be utilizing what they’ve learned.

The assignment might be a bit of a challenge, and then there’s the coloring in of the negative space, which requires some work. When the positive image, the subject-matter, starts to stand out, the work becomes visually exciting. They see it, they know it.

The homework is the same, and I am pleasantly surprised by what some of the students are willing to do outside of the classroom. Their willing to look, and put it down, makes my eyes happy. Maybe it will please your eyes as well.  Critique is particularly fun for this beginning drawing group. Take a look at a few of the class favorites.








it’s official, they can call themselves draw-ers

Drawer – (n) A person or thing that draws, esp a draftsman.

Fall 2010 comes to an end.  I had Drawing 1,2,3 and 4 students.  A large group (only a few shown here) guarantees never a dull moment.

In this final run, we have various projects going on.

Noelle’s focus is creating the illusion of volume and depth, drawing still life and using a light source.

Alexis worked on the same form as Noelle, but from a different angle.  Nice character in this developing work.

Edgar, below. His composition has strong contrast. He creates white whites, and dark darks, and many shades in between.  He includes transparent and opaque objects, two that become focal points. The darkest and lightest objects in the drawing seem to interact with each other.

Nicky, also chooses an area that has transparent and opaque objects.  Her composition is not as dense as Edgars. She stands where there’s more light. The drawing offers repeating shadows that create rhythm. Her composition has both appealing vertical and horizontal movement.

You can’t see Ben and Diana’s work close up, but they both have a great eye for detail and much patience to put down exactly what they see.  The works are compositionally similar, but stylistically different.

The more advanced students reproduce a Master’s work.  Fun to watch them. By this time their endurance is well in tact. They’ll have so many other problems to solve that I suggest soon after they start, they take several shorter breaks, as opposed to one long one.

Patient Warren, above, has worked with me for 2 semesters.  He’s working on  De Vinci’s study of hands (for the Mona Lisa).  It takes him a few days to get the ground perfect, before he even begins to draw. During critique one of the students shared with the class that it took Cezanne 4 years to complete one particular work.  This is valuable info for Warren whom I hope never looses his eye for detail nor his thoughtful method. His work comes alive one breath at a time.

I remind the class, that Cezanne worked…without cellphones, texting, and I-pods…those 4 years, had none of that distraction.  Everyone laughs…I’m not kidding...

Amulec at work, on an easel of his own making. He’s working on a Scheile. This artist was not on my list of options, but Amulec wanted to reproduce the work.  I okay the choice because the challenge is significant and worthwhile for him…oh…and fun.

Paul, below, completes a Cezanne, inch by inch, working organically. Paul had recently seen the recent Cézanne exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum and particularly enjoys the assignment despite, the intense work.

Max, reproduces a Van Gogh self-portrait.  Ironically, Max’s eyes are 2 different colors, we learned this when Max completed his own class self-portrait. And in the process of doing the eyes in this image, we discover this painting to have the same detail, 2 different colored eyes.

Gabriel, drawing 4, chooses Cadmus.  Again, not someone on my list, but a good choice for th assignment, (and one of my favorite artists). In the  figure study, the original has simple and obvious quick line work that form the muscles of the back. The test for Gabriel is to reproduce quick line…slowly and carefully.  He gets it right on.

No gridding  allowed. Only careful observation and putting down what one sees.  That’s always the requirement.

Another semester, over and done.  One more group of students that can surely say they know how to draw. Kudos to them for steadfast work.

good drawing = good critique

Monday afternoon…many good drawings equal one good critique.  I can’t show you all the works…but I’ll give you a quick look-see of a few of them.

Challenging assignment.  Students not only learn to set up a composition, work with complex structure and a variety of texture, but they also learn to extend their focus.
How many times can the average student be distracted in one session? Countless. Cell phones, email, text messaging, internet, I Pods…all of it has made for a challenging time for many students to sit down and focus for the allotted 2 hours and 45 minutes of drawing class.  And then there’s the regular stuff of life that distracts all of us. Nothing new. It’s just something to get passed, and for the most part we do.

In this particular assignment I note the difference in focus on the first day of the assignment and then on the last. They stop and start, walk, talk, wonder, disappear…less and less each day. By the last day, everyone is working. You might hear a pin drop, it’s so quiet. I have to remind them several times to take a break. For some it’s a bigger challenge than others. There are the few that start slow, and work steady, with the appearance of ease. Is it just an appearance? I ask at critique.  Numerous replies and laughter comes back at me.

This assignment, despite its difficulty, gets them all.  I mean, it pulls them in.  Lots to see, lots to put down, limited time. End result is always more impressive than any of them can imagine.  They have to find presence.  It seems to me this is the turning point.










The assignments don’t get easier, but attention and focus becomes more and more steady. Next assignment they’ll have new skills to learn, and new distractions to master. We’re going outside for a few weeks.  Phoenix weather, be nice.