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!

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.

complex structure and surface texture

The class assignment is complicated…

I ask students to look at and draw complex (interesting) structure and (interesting) surface texture. I have an array of subject-matter including insects, lizards and sea-shells for students to choose. I hope everyone picks up at least one bug but I know not everyone will.

First semester students use only markers (and paper) while second semester students use scratchboard. Everyone is required to use a magnifying glass. They work 4 days (about 12 hours) in class. Many take the drawing home over Spring Break, to complete.

Critique covers the strengths and weaknesses of the finished work. We talk about the process and the challenges of the assignment. And we discuss the elements of design.

Here are a hand full of the completed drawings. I include a few process and detail shots.

…complicated but beautiful!


Diana Three Bees


Diana Two Bees


Jezebel Grasshopper and a Lizard


Nina’s Moth

Maw draws a shell and a cicada titled Corpse vs Death

Alisza’s cicada –  Mother

Carlos “There was Four”


Kaylani’s Badger


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)



every picture tells a story


Wouldn’t you know, they get their marker act together and it comes to an end. We move to charcoal next.

But before we do…
Here are samples of (larger than life) self-portrait work. They use media of their choice. This study moves students into understanding art is a form of communication.

Every portrait tells a story. We learn a lot about each other during this critique.












Kanata (#2)

















I include a few of the outdoor assignments. Students spend 4 days on the campus, drawing landscape.

img_9397 img_9404 img_9400 img_9393

…and there’s Susan, an advanced student who learns how to collage. She’s never done it before and this is practice. The image does tell a story but it’s not about birds, it’s about a fox.


Basically we cover texture, structure and depth. Next week is value.

structures and textures, insects and shells

Watch the greater image materialize. You need that thing over there to tell you what to do about that thing over here. -Robert Genn

img_9315Structure – a complex system of parts arranged together (to form a whole)
Texture – tactile quality of a surface

The student’s task for this assignment is to learn to distinguish different types of lines. They look for those that form a structure and those that define a surface. I bring out large and small sea shells. I also bring out my collection of insects and lizards. Secretly I wish they will all choose the creatures, but I know better than to insist on this.

Aside from looking at the lines that make up a complex natural object they also work to balance positive and negative space.  And they continue to develop patience.


Karen’s shells




Victoria’s dead lizard and a spiral shell


detail of lizard


Brittany’s Bees – Two of them




Kanata’s See shells, Sea shells


detail (amusing tarantula wasp)


Kevin’s (maybe ready to kiss) cicada and palo verde beetle 


first sketch – too small


Robert’s shell studies




Maygin’s shells and mantis


detail mantis face


Alma’s shell corner


….a little humor I found on Facebook last week.

Jose, below, was late to start his homework assignment, a self-portrait.  I don’t usually include incomplete work in posts, but I like what he brings in and I photograph it before he takes it home to finish. He’d mentioned he was going to shave before starting the portrait. I’d told him to hold off because texture could be a great added element. You see here, it is.


By the time the class arrives to this point, they have all the skills needed to fulfill the assignment.  BTW, they don’t start with a circle, they work organically. They move from edge to edge, shape to shape, or from the center out as Jose does here.

Though the class always enjoys this particular critique, they don’t necessarily find the self-portrait work pleasant. Many express how awful things are turning out, how many times they’re having to start over, long drawing nights with little sleep…do they have to share it? and what’s the worst that can happen if they don’t do it?

If you don’t do it, the world will end, I say to them.

I do know the challenges of the assignment. I trust they get much out of it if they are willing to complete the experience. So it continues to stay in the game plan despite the difficulty.


Michelle "Flowers"

Andres, Turtle Gossip

Sabrina's Smoke n Mirrors


Drawing 2 students below, use a variety of materials.

Chuck’s oh so real drawing, in silvery graphite.

Chuck "37"

The ever-amusing Crystal uses mixed media including acrylic, ink, marker, and ball point pen.

Crystal's Shenanigans

Kim uses marker for the line work, and soft pastel for everything else.


The self-portrait study is homework on this round.  The in-class assignment is an outdoor study. There were a number of excellent works, here are 4 highlights.


Sharon's Pine Tree


Crystal's Tree Dandruff

We’re done with markers.  Some students who thought they hated them are sad to see them go. Next week…charcoal.

Master printmaker Mauricio Lasanksy left the earth this week, at the age of 98. Because both my undergrad and graduate drawing and printmaking instructors, Kurt Kemp and Spencer Fiddler, worked directly under him,  I’ve always felt a strong kinship with his work.
I’ll leave you with one of his Intaglio self-portraits today.

RIP Mauricio Lasansky 1914-2012.

Mauricio Lasansky, Self-Portrait

detail, discipline and some kind of drive

Beware of the person who can’t be bothered by details.
William Feather

Assignment: Complex Structure – Complex Texture – Looking closely.
Students lay out composition before start of drawing. They pay attention to balancing positive and negative space.
Because they pick their own shells to draw, they also pick their challenge.

Critique takes place our first day back from Spring Break.  I ask who worked over the break to complete their assignments, and more than half the class raise their hands.  This is the commitment this particular group has shown with every assignment. It’s  a quality student’s must have to continue in a fine arts program.

In general nothing is more satisfying to me than working on paper.  And when the class put up their assignments for critique this afternoon, I get the sense that right now this may be true for them.

Here is a drawing from each student present for critique. I share a detail shot in some cases because I want you to see how rich with attention areas are.

Element by Sabrina


Jose's "Shell-Shocked"

Sharon's "Tossed Salad"

Michelle's "Veins"

Pathways by Andres




Simplexity by Alexis




Death Star by Kyle


Drawing and Composition 2 students work with different media, including scratch board, inks, and fluorescent paint.  They choose their subject-matter.


Fox by Kim



I know how hard they’ve worked.  I appreciate the commitment and energy they’ve brought forth. It’s exciting.

inside painting insides

One of the things I appreciate about living in Phoenix is a 118°, hot summer day, in July.
It means I’m indoors, painting all day.

I have time to take this….

and 3 hours later….have it look like that…


Another great thing about hot July days in AZ, is that a museum is one cool place to hang out in. I stopped by the Phoenix Art Museum to catch the “Modern Mexican Painting” opening. Color and texture got my attention. . I particularly appreciated thick smooth, rich colored, matte surfaces.  In some paintings I could see the canvas show through, and in others I couldn’t. I also noted the use of dry brush. So you know…I worked with these elements, this weekend.

Here are a few very small details from a (another) life-size figure study.  I had time to add more layers of information, color, texture, light, and a variety of surfaces.

lines, lines, and more lines…

In this assignment students are looking at lines that make up the structure of an object and inform us about shape. And they are looking at texture, lines that help define surface quality. In class they are drawing shells. Outside of class, they have choice, subject matter varies.  They learn, in the case of the shells, to separate texture from value/color. I explain if anyone has a problem distinguishing value and texture,  feel the surface with your fingertip. Eyes become sensitive and so do fingertips. Everyone is still learning to be patient.
There is something there, I see it. But I can’t feel anything. What do I do?
Ignore it. You’re noticing color / value. It’s not texture, I say.
But I want to show it!
I know, but you can’t.  Not now.
How soon?

This is a complex assignment. They enjoy it. I enjoy it. It’s important that they pace themselves, and work with care. The classroom always gets so quiet, you can hear a pin drop.  I have music on during class, and during this particular time they don’t appreciate loud or noisy…

It’s the first time they are considering composition and deliberately balancing positive and negative space.
End result…always pretty exciting.










So…in the process of  completing this drawing, several students gift me some shells. One student, from last semester, dropped in just to give me a couple of great shells.  They pay attention….they don’t forget.

In memory of Donna, RIP

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.