charcoals and pastels and the end of a semester


I’ll miss this group. Students came in early and students left late. They took on every challenge with great attitude.

The main Drawing 1 assignment is a charcoal still-life focusing on volume and depth. I wish you could see the surface of these studies. The camera doesn’t do them justice.

The charcoal and pastel work are examples of the last days of drawing – sort of breaking out of some of the rules I’d set up for them all semester.

The master reproductions are Drawing 2 student’s final assignment.


…and maybe Collin ↓ will get extra credit for the imaginative title to his work. Please note.


Collin’s “Monkey Scream – The existential horror of being a gorilla skull in an art 111 still-life.


Travis’s Skull






Kanata’s broken T-pot



Firm by Robert



Karen’s Tipsy


Jen’s Still-life



Margin’s T-Pot






Kestin’s Study


Robert’s Study



Gabriela’s Raphael (reproduction)


Jessica’s reproduction Amarita (Indian master)


Natividad’s Alex Katz (reproduction)

Happy Holidays to all my students!

charcoal and pastel – final work


Here is one good group of students. I know I said this before – they came in, focused, and drew – day after day after day.  Overall, I’d say they were a quiet group. They laughed a bit here and there just to relieve tension, I suspect. They never hesitated to point out which works they liked best and clearly express why.

Our last day of class was no exception. They came in with extra excitement and then we proceeded to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the work. We talked about how the semester played out for each of them.

A challenge I do have is teaching various levels of drawing students in one 2 hour and 45 minute class session. You’ll see examples from all the levels and you’ll note that some of the work might be unfinished.  I teach realism. They learn to look and they learn to put down what they see.


Susan’s Tortoise, mixed media on (we never knew what kind of) paper


Gwynn’s Flower Rag Boogie, pastel on BFK


Gwynn’s master reproduction, a Georgia O’Keeffe, pastel on BFK


Jessica’s charcoal still life on BFK


Sofia’s Glass Bottles on BFK


Yari’s Terrific as Terrific gets, charcoal study on BFK


Fabiola’s Friday Night, charcoal study on BFK


Deja’s Pearly Whites, charcoal study on BFK


Gabriela’s Still Life on BFK


Jennifer’s Rope, charcoal study on BFK


Ehteli’s Absract, charcoal study on BFK


Jennifer’s Great Knot, value study


Sofia’s Accidental, value study


Ehthlei’s value study


Bravilio’s Faint Memories of Freedom, value study


Dustin’s value study

Class is over. Grades are in.

I have a feeling most of this group will continue to draw throughout the summer.


charcoal – the end!

“One looks, looks long, and the world comes in.”
– Joseph Campbell


It feels like the semester moved quickly – carefully but quickly. We only just started charcoal and now it’s over, I comment. We’ve worked on charcoal for at least 6 weeks, but we didn’t break in between assignments like we usually do, to discuss things.

Today we wrap up and talk about 2 separate value studies. One is cloth and pattern (and knots) using local value. The other is a still life using an artificial light source.

I wonder out loud what did they learn. What was the thing you each developed more and more with each assignment?  Patience, someone says. Certainly patience. What else? A few other things come up and then I hear – Seeing. We learned to see. Yes!  That’s it. You learned to look closely and you learned to see!

We move through the individual assignments and talk about careful observation and how that developed throughout the semester.


49 Shades of Gray, Gwynn


Groovey, Ryan


Knot, Alejandra


Knot in this Country, Alfredo


Let’s get Knotty, Kiria


Lost in the Shadows, Gwynn


Nyeh-heh-heh, Alfredo


Defeated by a Cup, Henry


Still Life Practice, Casey


Mugshot of the Century, Aaron

Susan, an advanced student, works independently. Her goal for the semester is to gain confidence with portraiture. She begins with a baby and make her way to a mature adult. She adds to the challenge by working in silverpoint. With research and trial, Susan  completes six fine silver points. For variety she brings color into the final 2 images of the Dalai Lama.  One of the qualities of silverpoint work is with time it oxidizes. The color  seems to take on a life of its own as it changes rather drastically. Time will tell us more – it’s all about experiment in this case.
Here are her 6 portraits.


Conversation about charcoal: layering it, erasing it, the beauty of the knots, shadows and light, and the illusion of depth.
We talk about developing patience. Most importantly we talk about looking and seeing – and the value of careful observation. If you ask me there are always lessons in drawing about the world outside the studio.


value study and then some – final critique of the semester


At the start of the semester I ask students what they’d like to get out of my drawing class. Clay says Practice practice practice – and he does. Heather, an engineering student, wants visualization and fun. I hope both were prompted. I ask if she’s enjoyed the semester. Yes, and despite how hard it was, she will miss it. Terry responds TO LEARN TO SEE AGAIN! He came to the right classroom. And from the looks of all of his completed assignments – he did. Most students say they want to improve their drawing skills and in fact, each one of them does. The semester appears to come and go so quickly. We hold final critique this week.

The class has two different assignments to go over – maybe more, because advanced students worked through something very different. We get going, and in between there is plenty of laughter, cookies, coffee and peaches. It is an easy ending to a fast paced semester.

This particular group moves through the early marker assignments more quickly than any class I’ve taught before. They slow down with charcoal. A few struggle with it in a way I do not expect. Surprises for everyone I guess, including the advanced students who reproduce a master work. For a few days the tension in the room they draw in (because I separate them) was thick. By day 3 there is break through (thank goodness). I spend the last day of class walking from student to student appreciating the focus.

I wish I had their very first marker study to compare to this last charcoal. You would get a sense of the progress everyone made. Here are a few highlights – note the values. As usual, I can’t possibly include every work.


Clay’s Study.



Adam’s Teapot with reflection of windows and sky in it.



Trenary”s glass bottles on tin.



Naomi’s study.


Hyeokewoo’s Gorilla Skull.


Terry’s still-life.


Charles works on reproducing an Alice Neel.


Robert reproduces hands of God and Adam – Michelangelo

Have a good summer! Keep drawing, you’ve only just started.

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.


keep up the practice!

One looks, looks long, and the world comes in. – Joseph Campbell  


Before the final critique begins I watch and listen as students appreciate each other’s work and note their individual progress. Some students remember how nervous they were on the first day of class when I said they would not be using any pencil in my drawing class.

It takes a while but finally I get them to organize so we can begin class.

IMG_5465It’s been a good semester. This group is full of personality and support for each other. Here are a few highlights from yesterday’s critique.


Adriana’s Master’s Reproduction


Angie’s first value study – cloth and pattern and knot


Popay’s value study, cloth, pattern and knot


Cassidy’s Black Teapot


JT”S Gorilla Skull


Angie’s Pitcher Study


Vicki’s Teapot


Popay’s Still-Life


Mariah’s Gorilla Skeletal Study

IMG_5456 IMG_5457

….. over and out. Keep up the practice! I yell as they exit the studio.


textile pattern design equals a charcoal value study

When I put this still life together I was deliberate in the fabric and its layout. I combine stiff white cotton, furry faux zebra, mint satin, shiny red and white stripes, matte red and white pin stripes,  velvet-black with even blacker glitter circular designs, textured sofa fabric and even a shiny cheep-polyester spider web pattern – maybe the latter is a cruel option or maybe a challenging one for the right person. I let students decide. Anyway…that’s just a few of the complicated patters and surfaces.

This is student’s first charcoal composition. It’s intimidating to say the least. By this point the class is wanting to move on to a new medium, so they jump in – head first, to the deep end. I am pleased with progress and result. Most important, so are they. Charcoal is all about working a rich surface, putting down black blacks and lifting out white whites…and working all the values in between.

Ana goes right to the spider web and works on it slow and steady for 2 class days. The light hits some spots and a few lines are a bright shiny silver. She notes the highlight with white Conte.  She wears her spider web blouse in honor of the work. I am impressed with the patience she’s developed this semester. This is her strong charcoal drawing  below.


Ana’s Pitch Black

Ashley (below) works almost her entire composition with her one pencil eraser. I make other suggestions but she sticks to her game plane. She’s so focused and appears to enjoy the delicate work, she doesn’t take a break. She finishes and decides to use white Conte for the zebra patterned white’s she’d already completed. I wish I’d caught her before she’d gone in that direction. We talk a little about why I think she should have kept her original carefully developed whites. After-all her erased marks were so rich and sensitive. She tones it all down using her finger tips and eraser, and pulls it together beautifully.


Ashley’s Knotted Zebra


Satin Charcoal by Lela

Lela (above ) notes very quickly why I ask them to use soft compressed charcoal. And why I suggest they be careful with the white Conte. She re-works the striped area many times until she is completely satisfied. I let her borrow my somewhat pricey, white soft-pastel. The folds in the cloth are accurate, – consequently believable.

Tanya (below) never relaxed with the marker, though she’s calm and happy with charcoal.  I comment on how her whole body appears at ease as she develops a beautiful and dimensional knot. She finishes the composition with some complex pattern on either side of that knot. She expresses her emotions with humor,  in the title.


Knot Tense by Tanya


In Between by Adrianna

Finally Adriana, above, who began the assignment so nervous she said she felt like someone who had never even picked up a pencil. And then she completed this incredible knot. I think her confidence is back.

Manny (below), one of my Drawing 2 students, kicks up dust with color pastels. I tell him to be careful. He shouldn’t be inhaling pigments. He works by the open front door and direct the dust out of the classroom. I’m amused by how he draws, its physical for him. He has taken two semesters with me. His whole style has developed. I want him to continue in the fine arts, but Manny will do what is best for him. He’s now a graphic design student.

He freely helps the other students who are struggling with the various challenges of working with charcoal and Conti. I listen and watch the way he supports others and their  work. They take to him well. I also think he could teach.


Manny’s Colorful Knot – Pastel on BFK

I let them go an extra day even though we don’t have very much time left in the semester,  because as a whole, the group is working the materials so well The surfaces are rich and well-developed, not bad for their first charcoal assignment.

What will we do with the last week of drawing …

over and out

It’s easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.
Leonardo da Vinci

If I say to you that by the time this last assignment rolls around, the class as a whole, is completely committed to the process, I could be telling you the truth.

In this final round of assignments I have some students working on still life and others doing a Master reproduction.

Still life
The assignment includes a variety of subject and various light sources. Value (lights and darks, including shadows) is only part of the challenge in the last charcoal drawing of the semester. They also have to pay close attention to form and surface. They have to distinguish between the various materials in the still life: wood, rope, ceramic, plastic, bone, metal, and glass (both translucent and opaque).











Master Reproduction
Other students reproduce a master work.  This assignment is always a great challenge. I continue to remind them it’s not about the result, it’s about the process.  And really it is, but when you have a copy of the master work in front of you, it’s hard to keep that in mind. Students come away with a whole new appreciation for whatever skill and technique they copy and learn.  It’s exciting to see the work progress.

Erica's completed 20th c O'keefe

Joey's reproduction of a 19thc Deville

Julieta's reproduction of 19c Courbet

I know everyone has learned much this semester. I’m happy to hear some important things come up this last week…

Erica comments after completing her master work, I want to go back and do the charcoal studies all over again. Why? I ask. Because I get it now, It all makes sense!  Full circle.

Yeda’s frustration… I see so much, there’s no way I can get it all down within this short amount of time!  They leave my class with different eyes. They have more seeing ability than they came in with.  If you ask me, with this one skill alone, life may never be boring.

And one student gave himself fully to this assignment’s process…something he’d resisted all the way through the semester. Why? What’s going on? I ask, not really expecting an answer. The response comes simple and honest… because, I made the decision to do it. Yes, you did.


more seeing

When it comes to value, that’s when we find out why most paintings are boring and others will knock your socks off. Harley Brown

This assignment is not just a Value study, it’s also the student’s first complete Charcoal (or color Pastel) drawing. They work at controlling a medium that is not easy to control, in relation to the marker they just left behind. They can move this medium, pick it up, and put more of it down. They pay attention to the surface. They learn to develop edges. This is about the time many students stop taking breaks, and the classroom gets very quiet. They focus. I particularly enjoy the intensity of class at this point.

I ask them for a different sort of seeing. Most of the students are drawing in Charcoal and have to translate a color into a value. They explore lights and darks and shadow. A few students work in color Pastel.

They’ve learned to look closely and now their seeing is so much more heightened.







knot necessarily the assignment

About this week’s critique…what might I say?

The assignment, a Value Study. The student’s first full charcoal still-life, and…it’s cloth. If you’ve studied drawing and you’ve had to draw cloth, you know the work involved.
Odd thing this semester, only a few of the students complete the assignment within the allotted time.  And only a very few, really do full range value studies. Many of them focus their attention on a knot.  And I mean focus…on a knot.  They’re so willing to see, and so willing to put down all that’s in front of them, that consequently despite being unfinished, the drawings succeed.

Below, some of the student’s knot studies, completed in charcoal.


Warren’s drawing, above. He started this composition last semester.  I can’t tell you how incredible the work is in person. Warren progresses slowly and carefully. He’s patience in motion.


Above is Diana’s beautifully subtle, white knot.  She not sure of herself at the start of the assignment. Note the detail. I can’t say how many values she’s captured in that white single shape…lots.


Manny’s crisp cotton knot. He’s easy to start most every assignment. It could be  that he was born with a pencil in his hand.  Or it could be that he works hard and always wants to get it right.  The knot itself, is pretty successful in its detail, and range of value.


Alexis was absent the first day of the assignment and when she came in the second day, she was intimidated by Warren’s black knot. She was sure she couldn’t pull off the charcoal and cloth thing. In the end, she’s pleased with her skills.

Gabriel and Noelle, below. Both advanced students who complete the full assignment, using  full range of values. About the time they think they’re finished, is when they’re instructed to really look at the very fine detail and put it in. That’s what give these pieces their intensity and depth.




Below, Max studied with me last semester.  He chooses to draw the same cloth he worked on last Spring. This time, the composition is a horizontal and it’s in color. I don’t have the photo of his first charcoal study, though he brings it to critique.  Same hand along with added element. A good lesson for the class, to see the two works.


Assignment took a slightly different course in direction. I’m not really known for my flexibility but right now, I’m impressed with what the class learned and accomplished. This may be something I add to the game plan.

last day of drawing class




Last day of class…
Quiet, except for the Baroque music that fills the room. Students are focused… ahhhh… heaven.

Drawing 1 students complete a still life using charcoal.  They utilize everything they’ve learned thus far about looking closely and putting down what they see. I remind them to pay attention to a couple of things; the value created by the light source, and the detailing of the various materials they are drawing which includes plastic, glass, wood, clay, and rope.

Working with pen they learned to work organically. They were asked to complete one shape/object before they move on to the next.  With charcoal the students learn a different approach. They lay out the general shapes of the composition  and then come back and refine. They move a bit more freely.








Diana. General shape and its value



lights and darks defined in the central form





Advanced students work on copying a masters work. Another set of rules applies to this group.  Again they have some freedom, but they have many more restrictions. They are still looking closely though as I watch them, I guess they have to look more closely than they would have imagined. They use a variety of drawing mediums, lots of color in the case of this particular group.  It’s a challenging assignment.  Some of them look weary and some of them make the whole thing look effortless.


Charles reproducing de Vinci



Lilly reproducing Degas



McKenzie reproducing Van Gogh



Tiphanie reproducing Degas



Class comes to an end and assignments are impressive.
Drawing 1 group, progress is so evident, they know it. Energy is high.
In the advanced class the work is stunning, but they still have much work to do. Homework. It’s a given. Energy is mixed… nervousness and excitement.

Looking forward to their final critique.

among other drawing things…a value study

Time to tell you a bit about my drawing classes this semester. I have a generally good group of students, who really want to learn. They follow directions, work carefully, and observe closely, and they’re curious. I don’t hear many complaints out of them, despite the various challenges they experience. We’re at the end of the semester at this point, and they are so ready to be creative. But this is still the beginning stage for most of the students. They’re still developing important skills that they can later use for their more creative endeavors. They’re very patient, I have been impressed.

Today we held critique. In critiquing work, we discuss the strength and weakness of each completed drawing. Everybody gets a turn. It’s positive, respectful and includes the understanding that everyone is learning. It’s based on specific criteria that everyone is aware of. In the beginning it can be nerve wrecking, eventually it becomes easier, and even fun. My hope is that the students develop confidence and a sense of trust, in themselves and in their peers, and in the learning process itself.

The assignment is the first full still life using charcoal. Drawing 1 students use soft charcoal (and some conte) and though I ask them to focus on local value, they can’t help but pick up on the value created by the light source. Drawing 2 and 3 students use mixed media of their choice like soft pastel, oil pastel  and graphite.  If they have studied with me before and I know their skill level they have some freedom and can play with creativity.

I like the end results of all the assignments we go through…but this one…is visually the richest and strongest in general composition. The clear contrast between dark and light areas, the variety of values in between, the shapes, the patterns, the movement, and the materials make it so.

As each student moves through the critique I always ask him or her, to pick out the strongest work, in their opinion.  They’re asked to comment on why they are attracted to the drawing. Many times it’s a challenge for them to pick one, most point out several.
Here are a few of todays class picks…

Amelec, Drawing 1, Charcoal

Maya, Drawing 1, Charcoal

Davin, Drawing 1, Charcoal

Virginia, Drawing 1, Charcoal

McKenzie, Drawing 2, Graphite

Charles, Drawing 2, Pastel