Where’s my refuge?

8 December, 2015. I haven’t been able to get any personal work done recently; teaching has more than dominated my time. My drawing students are in the midst of developing a large scale chalk and charcoal self portrait on brown butcher paper to illustrate the theme of “Where’s my refuge?” I like to draw or paint along with them to model the sort of decision-making that artists engage in throughout the process of art-making.

I tell kids to begin by developing sketches that focus on composition rather than tiny details. Details can always be added in later – I like to leave some decisions for the actual drawing itself. Reference photos are appropriate, since this is a self portrait, but I urge them to avoid being totally influenced by the photography…it’s important that the artist make artistic decisions as the work reveals itself.

Hopefully I’m staying just a little ahead of my class as I work. This illustration comes after about 70 minutes of drawing. Notice that the torso (clothing) is still very sketchy, and even though it will be quite dark in the finished piece I will be looking for opportunities to bring some variation of values into the drawing. I notice that details within the ear are a little too crisply defined, and that a highlight should be added to the cheek. Something is missing around the mouth, and the direction of the marks on the upper cheek work against the modeling of the face making things look less round. It’s these sort of observations – along with an ability to be PRODUCTIVELY self critical – that give the visual learner a better chance for drawing success.

Incidentally, I really hate subjectivity when it comes to providing instruction, assessment, and feedback to artistic learners. We should be able to provide some concrete feedback instead of saying something stupid like, “well, I think you could do a little better.” The rubric above is what I use to provide specific information for improving drawings of the human figure. It’s a starting point for good conversations that can develop into more detailed examinations of one’s work. (Vine charcoal, white chalk, brown butcher paper, home made blending stub, approximately 38 inches wide.)

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