looking closely and the value of seeing


It seems right that this last weekend, on an early morning run, I find two objects ↑. The small, golden pinecone catches my attention as it shimmers in the grass. The larger pinecone waits for me at the end of my run. I bring both of them to my studio and consider the following Monday (that would be yesterday) we’ll be holding our first semester critique. And the subject-matter is the pinecone.

A sign of good things to come?  Oh yes!


Here is my new group. Their completed drawings fill the wall behind them. We critique, among other things, some fine pinecones yesterday.

The first full assignment of the semester is a contour study of a complex natural object. You’ll see students give me more than that. Yes – note the fluid lines! I am  pleased with their careful observation and drawing. This is the first time they use markers to start and complete a work.

For many of them this is the first time they spend so much time looking at one thing (at least 9 hours if not more). One student asks if she can keep her pinecone. I tell her she can keep it if she has bonded with it. I have! I spent a lot of time with it. This is the value of looking and really seeing – I think out loud.

Here are some of the pinecones as well as some homework assignments (subject-matter of their choice). Note the titles…they tell you something about the group.

Yes…we are off to a great start!

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Sofia’s Pinecone


Jennifer’s Separation


Nati’s The thing….


Gabreila’s Life Lesson


Bravilio’s Nature


Sofia’s Pineapple, Strawberry and Lemon


Nati’s Lemon or Lime


Matt’s  Orange you glad I drew this?


Yari’s Y el aguacate?


Gabriela’s The Pain of My Eyes

I also have a couple of returning students. And while they pick up where they left off last semester and use mixed media, they have to keep focus on the line.


Neomi’s Through Life


Gwynn’s Charcoal drawing

in all fairness, no two lines are exactly the same

“Life can’t be fair. If it were, then everybody would have the same clothes, the same furniture, the same houses, same color eyes and hair. Some people would like it, some people wouldn’t. I prefer life NOT be fair. I don’t want everybody to be the same. Because then if somebody is famous, everybody would be famous. So Bob Dylan would be like ‘hey, I’m Bob Dylan… ‘ and the other people would be like ‘hey, we’re Bob Dylan, too!'”  Sam Hart – 6 years old

This quote by Sam (my friend Evon’s son) makes me laugh. There is something he’s picking up in his young thinking process. Maybe it has nothing to do with fairness and everything to do with recognizing the extraordinary. If one could dance gracefully across a canvas and drip paint in fluid, rhythmic line, in all that is fair and true, there would still only be one Jackson Pollock.

Fall 2011.  New Drawing classes, new students.  We’re looking at line. A line is an element of art which refers to the continuous mark made on some surface by a moving point. There are at least 8 types of lines.  The focus in this assignment is the contour line, both inner and outer contour. Contour means outline, and presents exterior edges of objects. A plain contour has a clean, connected line, no shading and emphasizes an open shell of the subject. More complex contours can imply shading values through interior outlines, may have line textures or be contrasted with mixed media. We use black marker, one student uses Conté and Charcoal.

The subject matter varies for a few of the advanced students but most of the class draws a pine-cone.  No two pine-cones are exactly the same despite their seeming to be. Each is a one-of-a-kind natural object. That’s what looking closely and drawing carefully teaches the beginning drawing student. Every object in nature is unique. Drawing students learn to look closely at what they perceive as something ordinary, and slowly they learn it’s in fact quite extraordinary….like 6-year-old Sam already seems to understands about Bob Dylan (wow).

Here are the first completed drawings of this semester.  I’ll show you drawings with the cleanest, smoothest contour lines, that vary in thickness.

Kim in progress.

Kim's Pinecone

Ivon has sets up rhythm in her composition.

Yera in progress.

Yera's complete pine-cone includes some texture.

Art in progress.

Erica in progress.

Erica's completed dry flower.

Julieta in progress.

Julieta's Artichoke Flower

Excellent start!  On with the show…and discovering the extraordinary.

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.