Teaching Drawing: Demo Portrait

Portrait of Tom
Graphite in Paper, 8×5″
This is Tom, a former student of mine who models for my life drawing class now. It is nearly midterm. I have recently presented to my class the anatomy of the head and shoulders. So this is what I drew while they drew. I have to stay out of their hair somehow. 
Most beginning figure drawers are terrified of hands, feet, and facial features. The only way to get over that is to draw hands, feet, and facial features early on. In knowing that practice is the route to skill, not having unrealistic expectations also makes the process less daunting. Practice for excellence, not perfection. Whatever the hell is perfection, anyway?
I always have the feeling that I am flying by the seat of my pants when I teach this course. It seems much more fluid in terms of levels of skill. I have to be prepared to revise my plans depending on skill levels and degree of progress. I find my figure students are much more skilled and, gratefully, much more dedicated than my basic drawing students. I think that is as it should be. Figure drawers/painters are usually more practiced and, as a natural consequence of that, more dedicated to developing their abilities. If someone has worked enough to have a certain degree of skill, it is evidence of an equal degree of dedication and work. Repetition is the key to learning. If a student does not have the determination to learn from a lot of failure, that student gives up in frustration. 
What I consider my favorite work is no more than 10% of my production. Another 20% might be acceptable for show. That means the remaining 70% is tucked away or culled in my annual clean out of work. (I have only so much space to store my stuff.) Some work is saved because it has a certain resonance for me in that it has a certain importance for my future work. It may never be shown but I save it as a document of my process.

T F m
February 28, 2013

A No Hovering Drawing

Clothed Model in the Classroom
Graphite on Paper, 5×8.5″

This drawing was done in the class room while my students were working. I decided to keep the model clothed because students need to be able to draw people with clothes as well as without clothes. One usually does not encounter people who just happen to be naked during the course of one’s day. It also gives a rationale for practicing drawing fabric.
That, along with hands and feet, can be challenging to draw. Beginners often avoid drawing them because they are terrified of them. I address these fears head on and very early in the semester. They must draw hands and feet and the context in which the model resides including fabric. It’s like throwing someone into the deep end of the swimming pool to teach swimming. But, no one is in danger of drowning. And no one goes without instruction.
Actually, Ican’t teach anyone how to draw. I can only offer advice on an approach that might be helpful or offer advice on an approach that is not. I do that based I upon my own experience. I offer my own discoveries and let each student determine what works best for her or him.
Observational drawing is a skill set. It is a practice in seeing and a practice in applying shapes, areas of tone, and marks in such an arrangement as to create the illusion of space on a flat surface. And in the end, each drawing is only a bit of charcoal on a piece of paper. Each of us have an infinite number of drawings in us. There is no such thing as a failed drawing or failed painting. There is only a learning experience. The learning factor is tied to how well we pay attention and how well we apply the newly acquired knowledge. That’s wisdom.

T F m
December 21, 2012

Minimal Mark Drawing for Short Hand

Figure Trio
Graphite on Paper, each approximately 6×3.5″

Since I am teaching life drawing again, I have been devising new exercises for my repeat students. I was a student at the very college where I am now teaching. I took Art 243/253 four or five times. It was my way to have a model twice a week for 16 weeks. The cost was very low; something like $5 for a three hour session. The cost now is not that much more. That’s with instruction! What a deal!
I have a very dedicated group (all women). It is a joy to have such a group. They never miss a class and they work very hard. One of the concepts I wish to get across is the idea that each mark should count with no extraneous marks added. As near beginners, the tendency is to make one stroke after another and never add new information. This leads to an overworked piece. There is a simple elegance to a work that is distilled down to its essence. (Think Matisse.) A lot of information can be left out. People are such pattern seeking beings that our brains can fill in the information quickly and unquestioningly.
So the point of the little studies is to make the fewest marks possible and still communicate a figure. In order to illustrate the concept, I had to make some minimal mark drawings as examples. These are what I came up with. All this drawing ‘minimalism’ allows one to develop a kind of personal shorthand that makes for a quick and concise communication. It’s very handy for watercolors and the more viscous painting media like oil or acrylic. A tiny mark in the right place can set up a foreshortened spatial illusion or the identifying features of a likeness. No amount of additional mark making may be required if one has placed that tiny, little mark correctly. It also forces one to think carefully about each stroke. So I allow a little more time for thinking. These are ten minute studies.
The marks are always at key land marks: joints, creases, negative spaces (the space under her arms in these three sketches). The contours of some limbs can be entirely left out as long as the right cue is there. I am sure I could have left a lot more out of these. I haven’t done this kind of drawing since grad school. At the time, I was on a quest for the most economical drawings possible. This is a return to basics that will be as good for me as for my students.

T F m
September 20, 2012

Ongoing No Hovering

Classroom Activity
Ball Point Pen on Paper, 8.5×5″

This was done last Wednesday during my afternoon basic drawing class.  My class is in the midst of a three part drawing project. I make rounds at regular intervals to check on their progress but, I don’t want to hover. So while they are working towards its conclusion, I have to keep myself busy. I’ll check e-mail. Look to see what the news headlines are, or draw. Drawing is the best no hovering activity. Here is the result. These are two of my students working away at their drawing while I draw them.

T F m
November 13, 2011

Another Attempt

Stage of the Lyric Opera
Ball Point Pen on Paper, 5.5×8.5″


This is another drawing done at the Lyric Opera of Chicago from the lower upper balcony.  The previous drawing was of the under curtain. This is the fire curtain. I think the proportions are more accurate than my first attempt. It also reflects my high position in the balcony. The place is rich with art deco pattern so for a pattern freak like me it’s a delight.

T F m
May 3, 2011

In Class

Drawing from a Still Life
Graphite on Paper, 8.5×5.5″
I found this buried in my sketchbook. I don’t know why I hadn’t seen it. The pages weren’t stuck together. It’s one of my students from last semester drawing from a still life set up.  It’s probably from one of the first projects of the semester. They get to hate that still life. We use it a lot. It’s such an elemental activity. All the old 19th and 20th painters went to the still life to work out new ideas. Think of Cezanne, Picasso, and Matisse. Cezanne worked out his color ideas with still life which led to Picasso’s cubism. Picasso worked out cubism with still life and Matisse worked his brilliant color with still life also. They never excluded subject matter and they never eliminated the figure in their works.
Skills based art and easel painting keep getting declared dead but it keeps going on in spite of the declarations. I think human beings are too narcissistic to give up on representing themselves and their surroundings to totally abandon self imagery. We’ve been doing it for at least 40,000 years. Why should we stop now?  The beat goes on.

T F m
April 26, 2011

Spectacle Times Two

At the Ready
Graphite on Paper, 8×5″
My husband is a rabid hockey fan. It’s all my fault. I bought him a family pack of tickets to the Chicago Wolves for his birthday three years ago. (The Blackhawk tickets are just too expensive.) He took our sons and a close friend to the game. They had such a great time, all of them are now incorrigible hockey fanatics. They worship at the shrine of the Holy Hockey Puck.
My hubby will come home from a game and then watch Hockey on the Fly which includes clips of the game he had just seen. He records games for review later. He goes into mourning when the season is over. Such is the extent of his hockey addiction, he watches old games multiple times during the summer. He counts the days until the season begins again.
Now for the paradox. He’s also a committed opera fan. That came about, also, with a gifted ticket. He was given a ticket to see the final opera of Wagner’s Ring Cycle: Gotterdammerung. (Translation: God Damn Ring.) He went on his own not knowing anything about the plot or having heard anything of what came before in the preceding three operas. Well, he was swept away. He had to look into the history and summary of the plot and see those other operas in the cycle.

What makes this so extraordinary is that previous to these events, he wouldn’t have been caught dead in the same room with anything having to do with opera. He would say that he couldn’t stand that “catterwalling”. Now we have had season tickets to the Lyric Opera of Chicago for at least the last twelve seasons. We’ve even attended a complete Ring Cycle. (Four operas in five evenings) Go figure!

Our seats are in the lower upper nose bleed section but we enjoy it none the less. The following drawing was done before and between acts of the Mikado. The place is rich with art deco pattern. It has been  recently restored. My hubby was part of the electrical team running the new electrical work and lighting.
View From the Upper  Balcony,  Lyric Opera Chicago
Graphite on Paper, 8×5″

T F m
January 13, 2011

No Hovering, Continued

Clothed, Seated Man
Graphite on Paper

This another drawing of the very silent man with a fresh, but still peculiar haircut. It’s a monk’s haircut. I am still trying to figure out why this man remains so remote. I know shyness from an artists’ model who usually poses nude seems a little paradoxical but it could till be the answer.  Even though he reveals himself physically, he can still retreat behind his stoical silence. No psychologist am I but that’s my best guess. My husband says it’s an E.W.A.G.: Education Wild Ass Guess.

T F m
May 11, 2010

No Hovering, Continued

Seated Man with Still Life Props
Graphite on Paper


This is a very lean but muscular man with a very peculiar haircut. I can’t help but think of Moe of the Three Stooges. The haircut belies his rather humorless demeanor. He does not speak unless spoken to and then he answers with decided indifference. He will not do anything outside his 3-pose repertoire without being instructed with specificity. He is truly a marionette. I suppose it’s a figure artist’s dream to have a model so compliant but I sure would like to see some personality.

T F m
April 10, 2010

Goalie, Again Drawn at the Game

Graphite on Paper



This is another drawing done at a Wolves hockey game. Once again, the other guys move too fast, so, I focus on the goalie or the fans. Sometime there’s a good show in the audience. People watching is one of my past times. When the game is between periods, I draw the spectators.

T F m
March 12, 2010