If we were to wipe out insects alone on this planet, the rest of life and humanity with it would mostly disappear from the land. Within a few months. – E. O. Wilson
I am going to try something new here. And you all are part of the experiment. If it works, I’ll do it again. If it doesn’t work, I won’t. I bring out the shells students normally draw to learn about structure and texture. I also bring out my collection of insects (and lizards). I hear gasps from some students and note smiles on the faces of others. I don’t necessarily think everyone should draw a bug but I would like particular students to draw one, maybe two.
Shells and bugs are the general subject-matter. The insects I bring to class certainly have interesting structure but not all of them have a variety of texture. We proceed anyway. They need to arrange the forms and consider both the positive and negative space in the composition. And they use a magnifying glass. I expect some students will hesitate because they are nervous. Once they get past the initial fear they not only look at the bugs closely, but they hold them with kid gloves. They can’t help but draw with care.
I see the bugs are a challenge for a few of them, but the shells are always a challenge for the whole group so I let it pass. I ask (while they work and after) if they appreciate the result (if not the process). All of them answer yes.
Our conversation about insects and life sprinkles into the 4 days we work on these drawings. Here are a few samples. Enjoy the titles.
Peeka-Boo! by Ryan
Palo Verde Beach Party by Casey
Rattle my Rock by Ryan
Whoa there Shell-y by Kiria
Tantalizing by Gwynne
Bug Light Year by Alejandra
Bad Moth-fia by Mary
One of These Things is not Like The Other by Casey
Susan is an advanced drawing student. This semester she is choosing to work on faces. Below is a portrait of a previous classmate. I would say Charles is interesting structure and interesting texture. He’s since cut his dreadlocks but here they are captured forever in this silver-point drawing.
Portrait of Charles by Susan, Silverpoint drawing
The assignment: to study and identify complex structure and complex texture, create a composition and balance the positive and negative space. The subject-matter for the majority of the student’s are shells. They can make other choices with homework.
I consider this assignment to be a turning point. The commitment is big and the work is intense. Students must work slow and careful using a magnifying glass to see, and see more.
Take a look at some of the finished drawings. Note the advanced students work on scratchboard.
detail shot of one of Anne’s shells
Ali’s dry leaf
Terry’s hand and seed pod.
Heather’s starfish shell.
Drawing 2 students use scratchboard and work off of photos. Clearly they have more freedom but the assignment requires steady patience.
Charles’ bird on scratch board.
Susan’s work on scratchboard
In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous. – Aristotle
We return from Spring break to a class critique. Students have spent two weeks looking closely at natural objects that have complex structure and texture. The assignment requires a magnifying glass, I want them to see all the variety of lines on their shells of choice. I suggest they run their fingers across the form and feel – is the surface smooth or textured? They balance positive and negative space. The work is challenging.
The class as a whole does well. As usual in this assignment – they don’t know what they are in for until they actually start working. They pick 3 or 4 shells and set a composition. I do allow a few of them to change out shells as they progress. Below are some examples of their excellent work. Note the variety of shapes and marks, and especially see the sensitivity they have acquired.
This class talks a lot about how intricate nature is – they had no clue for example – how much texture fills a leaf. I decide by the end of class every person on the planet should be required to draw some bit of nature in this manner – no doubt we’d respect its grandness more.
Roman’s shells, feather and leaf.
Detail of leaf.
Three skulls by Roger.
Detail of upper palette and teeth.
Roger’s shells and bone.
Detail of shell.
Daniel’s Two Shells.
Detail of shell.
Alex’s 4 Shells.
Detail of spiral shell.
The last work below is an advanced student who works with color on scratchboard, for this assignment.
Vicki’s Lavender on Scratchboard.
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
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
“Pure drawing is an abstraction.” Paul Cezanne
Because they’ve worked with me before, Joey and Julietta get some choices. They pick the subject matter and among other things I offer scratchboard and a needle tool. They accept the challenge . The result is stunning. Joey draws a seed pod and Julietta works from a photo.
For Drawing 1 students, the subject matter, on this round, are shells. Students learn to define structure and texture though the use of a variety of line. They also set up a composition by balancing the positive and the negative space. The result is a beautifully detailed drawing. I’ve explained in earlier postings of this particular assignment, for many students it’s a turning point. For Yari and Salman below, it certainly is that.
Next we are outdoors. We’ll be working on spatial depth. Phoenix give us a cool down…please.