Making drawing exciting for non-artists
November 1, 2005 11:52 AM   Subscribe

New to Teaching Art (Intro Drawing at Junior College): Help!

So, I’m half-way through my first semester with my drawing students, most of whom are not considering an art major, or a professional artistic career... or even taking my class because they like to draw (it’s an “easy” way to get a humanities credit). Some, of course, do like drawing, everybody’s making some progress, and a few actually seem to have discovered that maybe they ARE “creative” after all, but I’m still feeling more and more at my wit’s end about how to keep these folks interested and maybe even generate some ambition/self-motivation. I’ve been asking them to bring in found drawings from any sources that seem cool to them, and am encouraging them to create their own projects, but can’t seem to get them to go beyond simply repeating whatever tried-and-true drawing practices they may already have, or to grok the idea of a self-determined series of drawings focused on something they could do better, or on something they haven’t thought to do before.

Would wildly appreciate any comments, suggestions, links, and especially ideas for interesting drawing subjects or projects from anybody who’s either done this before, or maybe remembers something cool from an art class they took...?
TIA! (Done all the Drawing on the RHBrain stuff, btw... seemed amazingly ineffective with this bunch...)
posted by dpcoffin to Education (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've taught this type of class before and have a few suggestions. First, start the class with exercises that loosen them up.

For example, give them two minutes to do a contour or blind contour drawing of a mechanical object. After two minutes everyone passes the object to the person on the left. Repeat 5 times. Or do the same exercise, but this time after two minutes the person moves one place to the left and the drawing stays to be continued by the next student. You could also project a slide upside down and out of focus on the wall of the studio. Have them continue to draw it while you (take 15 minutes or so) bring it more and more into focus.

Once they've loosened up, they might be more open to trying new things for the longer exercises. Big hits with my students have included:

Animal skulls. Always popular (with the young and old!) and great practice for line, tone and shading. Have them work with felt tip pen if they are too attached to the pencil, or charcoal if they are too attached to the pen, or ink if they're too attached to the charcoal or...

Introducing colour. After a few weeks of black and white they'll be begging for it anyway. I have a fun first project I do - email me if you want more details.

Drawing a model with charcoal taped to the end of a long stick - or ink and brush at the end of a long stick.

Giving them a week with an open ended project before they start it. I've done stuff working with maps, simple shapes, leaves, doesn't really matter as long as they have time to mull it over and come up with something that is theirs. I always write down guidelines for these projects so they can have it with them to think about for a while.

If all else fails and they're really tight and you want to shake them up a bit, have them all punch holes in their paper before they begin to draw. If the work is already "destroyed" they'll feel more willing to experiment.

I'm sure you already know this but I really can't emphasize enough that your attitude is paramount - if you are enthusiastic (and not just pretending to be enthusiastic) it will make a big difference.
posted by Cuke at 12:38 PM on November 1, 2005

dpcoffin, since your students are non-majors, I might suggest taking a more academic / historic approach and spend some time in class making the case for drawing's relevancy. You could show drawings from da Vinci or Michelangelo to show drawing's role in science perhaps juxtaposed with modern biomedical illustration. I imagine other scientists (Newton comes to mind but maybe also Benjamin Franklin) kept notebooks of drawings for their work, also. You could show drawings of cars and cell phones by industrial designers to show the use of drawing for modern product design. You could show architectural renderings. In other words, you could explore drawing as a way of generating ideas, rather than as a strictly aesthetic process (which is what I favor it for, but these are non-majors).

Interesting drawing happening now would be The Royal Art Lodge, which students of mine seem to like, Marcel Dzama (part of same), Matthew Ritchie, Julie Mehretu, Blab! by Fantagraphics, Chris Ware (also popular with my students). There's a lot to be said for comics, too, but that can be a tricky thing to bring up in a drawing class.

The Art 21 series seems very interesting. I've only seen the bit on Kiki Smith, but it was well done. Here's a link to Art 21. Oh, and if you can risk it, depending on the climate at the school you're at, students seem to respond to parts of "Crumb", the biopic on R. Crumb. Some parts are quite controversial, so if you haven't seen it, you should screen it before class.

And one more thing - I have one assignment idea. As people love to talk about themselves, they also love to draw themselves. Another instructor did an assignment wherein students drew themselves from 1) a photograph (this is what most students think they are supposed to draw from) 2) a mirror, or from life and 3) from memory. The three drawings are put together as a series and reveal interesting strengths and weaknesses of the process (although I almost always liked the drawings from memory best). Good luck! I've only ever taught recalcitrant art majors, so I don't know what I'd do with reluctant non-majors!
posted by Slothrop at 12:52 PM on November 1, 2005

i had a very difficult time in my drawing courses because I, like tons and tons of adults, believed I "couldn't" draw.

This, of course, wasn't true.

I couldn't *render* -- that's for sure; I couldn't look at something and draw a reasonably proportionate illustration of it, but I could *draw* -- I mean, anyone who can hold a pencil should be able to draw.

I started enjoying my mandatory drawing class a hell of a lot more when the teacher gave me some leeway to do the sorts of projects *I* was interested in, and encouraged the style that I naturally drew with. I didn't learn how to render in that class, despite the excercises, but imho that sort of thing is better left to the architecture department. I ended up doing "drawings" that were pretty similar to what Chuck Close does -- I got large pieces of graph paper (3' x 2') and used four different weights of pencil to color in the squares. The pieces came out looking reasonably finished and interesting, and I was invested enough to spend several weeks on each drawing because I did not get as frustrated with the fact that what I was drawing did not come out like I had intentioned.

That said, if someone was supposed to teach me how to render, I would think that I would be most interested in short exercises that would permit me to feel like i'd successfuly grasped a concept. You don't teach a musical instrument by starting someone out with a complex tune -- that's just going to lead to frustration. Pick a project that everyone can do (a classic example is two-point perspective, or whatever it's called) and then build on that, so that after two classes I feel like I can draw something that I couldn't before and am able to build confidence.
posted by fishfucker at 12:59 PM on November 1, 2005

Ban wooden pencils in your class! Make them use charcoal, vine charcoal, conte or even brush and ink, anything to separate them from life long mark-making habits. All of these materials are cheap too. I had a professor in art school who enforced this rule and the benfits were evident even during the first class. Good luck!
posted by Scoo at 1:09 PM on November 1, 2005

I think self-portrait assignments are always cool- I had one class where a self portrait was the first, and then the last, project. It was a fun way for everyone to see how they had progressed in seeing/rendering.
Flip books are simple and cool; I've made them just by using a fat binder clip and somewhat stiff paper. They're a good assignment because the simplest ones usually turn out best, which is a great confidence builder for beginning students. It's also a great way to work in a drawing for animation angle. Morphing letters into images (An "A" becomes an image of an aardvark in five stages, for example) is another fun project that works for people of all ability levels. Scratchboard assignments are a nice twist on black and white rendering. Drawing from photographs, mapping imaginary places, illustrating a chapter from a favorite book, magnified images of textures, these were all projects I had in various art classes.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:39 PM on November 1, 2005

Definitely try different media, techniques, and colors. Go through art history to get ideas. How about the collage techniques of Braque and Picasso, the pointillism of Seurat, the surrealism of de Chirico or Magritte, and maybe a little smattering of Escher? If they try Escher, make sure they have a full understanding of the intricacies of perspective. It seems to me that a good working study of perspective could take a few weeks in itself.
posted by JJ86 at 12:27 AM on November 2, 2005

Response by poster: Excellent; just what I needed; many thanks to all!
posted by dpcoffin at 11:31 AM on November 2, 2005

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