Saturday, May 16, 2009

Masterful drawing

As my students were quietly working away the other day, I sat down and whipped out a drawing myself. I had been meaning to experiment with oil pastels, which we have in abundance at the Danforth Museum School for kids classes to use. I had no preconceived notions of how to use these pastels because I've never really used them before. So I just played around with marks and layers to see what happened.

One of the students observed my drawing and said, "That's what we want to learn to do -- to be able to just sit down and dash off a terrific-looking drawing like that!"

I was very flattered by what he said, but it occurred to me when I got home (when all perfect answers come to me, long after the situation is over and once I am back home!) that there were three specific things that made my drawing successful, and all of them are completely within my beginning students' grasp.

First is PRACTICE. I have been drawing for a long, long time. My students have more likely been drawing for less time. But learning to draw well (like learning to do anything else well) takes years and years and years of practice, practice, practice.

Second is CONFIDENCE. I have a lot of confidence when I draw. I like to go for the gusto -- bold, broad marks that "take no prisoners," really explore and examine what I am drawing. And the reason I have confidence is because ...

Three, MISTAKES ARE OK. I make it a point to do what I think most students don't do. That is, if I think a drawing sucks, I can either keep working on it, save it to remember what I don't want to do again next time, or throw it out. This is no reflection on my ability. Maybe I am using the wrong materials, maybe the planets are out of alignment, whatever. There can be a million reasons why a drawing doesn't seem to be working. But none of this means you are no good or that you should stop drawing.

Students tend to think of each individual drawing as a weight on their shoulders. They HAVE to finish it, it HAS to look exactly like what they first envisioned, and it HAS to impress everyone who sees it with how beautiful it is and how brilliant its creator is.

NO. A drawing is an end product of a moment of exploration, expression and fun. If it's great-looking and ends up on a wall behind a frame, great. If not, still great. You enjoyed yourself and learned something.

Why put such pressure on yourself, to make a "perfect" drawing? There are plenty of unpleasant pressures in life that we can't avoid. (Death and taxes are the first two that come to mind.) Why bring unnecessary pressure into the studio (or the art classroom)? The studio should be a place to experiment, play, learn and grow, not a place of judgment, criticism or anguish.

If students would be willing to put in the time, feel confident or at least pretend that they do, and not expect every drawing to be a masterpiece, they would be much better artists.

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