As I've said, when I became responsible for the basic drawing program at the Academy, I had to articulate what it was that I was trying to communicate and what it was that would be fundamental in giving the students the tools they would need to succeed in every other art studio class they might encounter.

The school gave me no guidelines for the class, so I would have to create them for myself.

This position was definitely a challenge for me...and I was grateful for it.  I was going to learn how to learn and, at the same time, learn how to teach.  This was a fantastic opportunity as far as I was concerned.  

I had never taken such a class in my own education experience, so I was starting from scratch and without the benefit of example.  In a way, that was a blessing because I had the excitement and energy of learning as I went along.  It was fresh.  It was basic.  I wanted to create a sound foundation program that I could respect.

Thinking about the problem that faced me and my classes, I felt that my students must master two primary skills: 1) the ability to ACCURATELY SEE, and 2) the ability to ACCURATELY RECORD what they were seeing.  No matter what the students were planning to do...whether in commercial art or in fine art...these two skills would be essential.

And in addition to these two skills, there were two more: 1) seeing the world in terms of shapes rather than things, and 2) seeing the interrelationship of these shapes as a whole...a composition...where everything is an intrinsic part of everything else, and where there are no empty gaps but rather everything is like an irreplaceable piece in a puzzle.

And finally, using the quality of line and shape as expressive means.

In articulating and understanding all this, preparing the classes became a matter of creating exercises and challenges that would develop in the students these skills.  This was a wonderful opportunity for me to analyze how these things could be conveyed, and, if possible, how the process could be made interesting to the students.  The only way I could see to do this was to make the projects interesting to me.  That would give me, and hopefully the students, the energy to tackle mastering the skills.

Through trial and error...and much reflection...it took me about 2 years to fine-tune the assignments and projects to where I thought the course was fully realized.


On almost all of the basic drawing projects that follow, the students generally were working with 18" x 24" formats and sat on an art horse type of drawing bench with their drawing pads propped up vertically.  This gave them the freedom to move their whole body as they drew and make larger gestures on the page. 

To get the students comfortable with using the materials and exploring the possibilities without worrying about 'getting it right,' I started off the class first by limiting their compositions to incorporating just the letters of the alphabet in imaginative ways and combinations.  The results were often very interesting and unexpected.  I loved seeing what the students would do with such narrow, seemingly uninspiring boundaries...and was pleasantly surprised...  

Next, I had them use any number of visually evocative words like 'exciting', 'boring', 'fast', 'slow', 'angry', 'nervous', 'heavy', etc., and incorporate them into expressive compositions.  The class was encouraged to be inventive with line, texture, and design without resorting to traditional subject matter.   Below are some examples of their solutions to that challenge...


One of the first actual subjects I had my students work with was drawing their own hands.   I had them start with a drawing of a mass configuration of their hand laying down a generalized form using the side of the charcoal stick.  This became an 'armature' over which a more detailed line drawing could be overlayed...

I was inspired by my undergraduate studies with Howard Warshaw.   I loved the way he constructed his drawings; it was as if he were building a 3-dimensional form on a 2-dimensional surface.  It amazed me.  He would build what he called a 'cage volume' around an armature of mass.

I had 'built' a hand out of different colors of layered tape to create an armature to wrap a contour drawing around.  It was this feeling of 3-dimensional, sculptural construction that I wanted to convey to my students in the exercise...

The exercise I presented used the skills they had been developing with the alphabet and expressive word project.  There were some wonderful results... 

Copyright (c) Donald Archer 2020  All rights reserved.


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