how to teach: this is a question

The first thing to know when you begin to draw is


what you love. And since different people love different things, how does one teach?  If I teach my taste to someone who cares about something else, how am I helping that person to reach his goals?  The person who loves Mary Cassatt above, may not care as much for the Rohan Master below.


Both are master artists. To understand their ideas through your own drawing would take considerable skill.  In certain ways the Rohan Master is more difficult because of the exaggeration of the forms. How do you learn how to do that? What degree of exaggeration is right?  He has kindred spirits among moderns.  And yet some artists that we associate with mannerism had very realistic skills. Take Gustav Klimt’s drawing below.

klimt gustave drawing of sister

In the history of art there are so many models to choose from to guide one’s study. But there are modern artists of considerable skill as well. For a student, the prize might be Walt Disney or Andrew Loomis.


Andrew Loomis

Andrew Loomis is not so far afield from one of my favorite artists Pierre Bonnard (above), whose smallish drawings led toward the making of sometimes enormous paintings.


I’m going to ask my students what they like, and what they love, because I believe that artistic skill is driven by longing.  You work harder for the things you love.  And the history of art is filled with so many different ways of seeing, thinking and feeling.  The Master of the Osservanza (above) is very different from Pierre Renoir of the famous Boating Party (below).


They are both pretty different from Pieter Brueghel. His battle of the angels was one of my favorites works of art around the time I began college.


What is the thought process behind such a work?  How did the artist invent his monsters? Once created how did he manage the amazing tonality of this image above?  The transitions of light around these invented creatures is astounding. The image is cinemagraphic.

What a contrast to the lightness of Domenico Tiepolo’s Punchinellos!


Some art is severe, as in Albrecht Durer’s copy after Andrea Mantegna.

Durer bacchanal-after-mantegna

There’s some beautiful and lyrical severity too in J.A.D. Ingres’s portrait of Mme. Moitessier (whose figure is borrowed from a Roman fresco).


So I am somewhat at a loss for finding the beginning.  Artists need to discover what they love so that they’ll have a destination, letting their longing take them along the path.

Whether the destination is simple or complex, you need to know where you want to go. And you make the best progress when the choice is your own.








drawing is a way of thinking

I draw all the time now.

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I have notebooks of every size. There’s always some kind of notebook in my purse, but if somehow my notebook has escaped from the purse, there’s always something else to draw on — a calendar or a scrap of paper.  I didn’t used to draw as much and as freely as I do now. I regret that lost time since I get so much enjoyment from drawing, and the only reason I didn’t pursue it constantly in the past was inhibition.

The sooner you rid yourself of that inhibition, the better.

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Notebooks are for thinking. The thoughts can be careful. Or they can be spur of the moment, stream of consciousness, blurry, furtive, haphazard, tentative, carefree, rapid, or exuberant.

Some of my favorite drawings are hidden inside notebooks.


A lot of wonderful memories are hidden there too.


Head seen through color

With a very specific goal in mind, I began

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attending a drawing group a couple weeks ago, and I set myself the task of drawing heads. They will be always larger than life size and always in pastel. Moreover, my idea is to use color to understand the forms — even arbitrary color.

I got the idea when my daughter was attending a portrait drawing workshop taught by Teresa Oaxaca. Whether it was by instruction or happenstance, all the participants produced charcoal drawings that were either life size or larger — many were larger. Their method if I understand it correctly (I only saw the drawings during their breaks and wasn’t privy to the conversations that took place) was to conceive the head in terms of light and dark. The model was strongly lit from one side so that many of the heads had a cast shadow of the chin raking across the shoulders.

Looking at the several drawings, an idea popped into my head: “what if the shadow, instead of being dark, was pale violet?” And in my mind I could see a kind of pale violet such as you often find in Bonnard’s palette.

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Influenced by Fauvisme, I decided to use color somewhat arbitrarily in the ways that Matisse, Bonnard, Diebenkorn and others used color.  Thus I make these images fairly rapidly and instinctively.  There’s much information to process. I see many things I want to record so I just point and shoot. The goal is not to produce a likeness, but to capture as accurately as I can some of the visual incident that catches my notice — however, I am also running the ideas through this mental lens of exaggerated color.  See something, draw it in the manner that you think about it.  So my pictures begin in odd ways and follow no logic per se except that of my attention.  Whatever I notice first, I begin drawing first.

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I discovered afterwards, though, that some priorities govern my choices.  The first priority is color. I choose the colors to relate to something I’m seeing, though the relationship is not literal — not local color.  Sometimes the warmth or coolness of the color relates it to formal aspects of the figure, to whether something comes forward or recedes in space. Sometimes the color relates tonally, but not chromatically to what I’m seeing.

Sometimes the color is a whim, a feeling, a hunch. On the whole, I choose color over tone. Next in priority is line when something linear strikes me as especially intriguing and lastly tone for the sake of the form — in that order.  More or less.

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I have no idea where it will go.  And I like that too. When I’m there, actually drawing, I do very little evaluation of the image. Mostly I react to what I see.  And thoughts about the resulting images are something I leave for later on — for some future meditative moment.

Yesterday the session was all short poses so I never made a large pastel.

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These short drawings are on small sheets or in a notebook. The sheets are about as large as regular photo copier paper.

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This last drawing is a rapid sketch using oil pastel.