This past Tuesday was our final session of Drawing in Museums at the wonderful American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. We began class by filling out student evaluations, which is done at the end of all Smithsonian Associates studio arts classes. This way, the courses are constantly improving, and the opinions and feedback of the students is always taken into consideration when planning classes. Along with these evaluations, Paul personally asked all of the students in the class for comments on how they felt about the course and how he could make it better the next time around. The class (not surprisingly) had only great things to say about Paul and the course itself, commending Paul's hands-on approach to teaching and the focus on the technical side of drawing. Our class volunteer, Ana, asked Paul if he had any recommendations for us to further our drawing skills as we leave this class. Paul emphasized the amazing art opportunities in the DC area – museums, galleries, etc. – and the variety of art to inspire us. Another tip from Paul: always carry a drawing pad. If you continue drawing what you see, you’ll build your skills, and your own ability and sensibility will come through. Paul kindly thanked everyone for taking the class, then decided to take us on a short field trip to the Elaine de Kooning exhibition before we started our final drawings.
On our way to the showcase, Paul stopped us at a pair of drawings in the National Portrait Gallery by artist Don Bachardy. Most of the drawings were were rather minimalistic – for example, Bachardy rendered the subject’s arm in one of the drawings with a single line. This line was very well observed, however, and allowed the viewer to build the drawing using the implications created by this line. Bachardy’s pieces highlighted the power of suggestion in drawing, a concept reinforced by Elaine de Kooning’s paintings. When we reached this huge exhibition, Paul led the class in an exploration of the stunning works. De Kooning’s style is bold and loose, similar to that of her husband Willem de Kooning, and her confident brushstrokes are gestural yet descriptive. Paul explained the deceptive skill behind the portraits: while they may initially appear spontaneous, the paintings are very well planned. De Kooning uses the observational drawing skills that we have been learning throughout this course, carefully placing line and blocks of color to suggest depth and form. There is a lot of activity in the paintings, but because of the artist’s practiced technique, the viewer never gets lost. Inspired by this exquisite exhibition, the class followed Paul out of the galleries to start drawing.
Just outside of these galleries, an array of portrait sculptures by artist Jo Davidson is on display. Paul encouraged us to break from the group and draw a painting down the hall if we were inclined to do so, but everyone decided to stick together and tackle the challenge of drawing a sculpture. During his demo, Paul stressed the importance of drawing with your finger before using your drawing medium. Drawing, he said, is all hand-eye coordination, and using your finger to plan out how the drawing will fit on the page helps make the drawing's proportions accurate. Paul also added, “don’t stop looking, don’t stop moving,” warning against getting stuck on little parts of the drawing and ignoring the piece as a whole. This advice contributes to Paul’s process of working from the general to the specific to express the subject as truthfully as possible. After drawing for a few minutes, Paul finished his demo and the students dispersed to find a sculpture to draw.
I was first struck by my ability to view the busts in the round, giving me far more angles at which I could draw my subject. I decided on a portrait of a woman with a subtle shoulder tilt, choosing a spot behind the piece for a new and dynamic view. The process of drawing absorbed me, and the session seemed to finish in a flash. Before I knew it, the class came to an end and everyone shared their work. Here is my finished piece:
Photo credit: Claire Fuller
Paul noted that altering the line weight – the thickness and darkness of the line – helps create depth. Increasing line weight by darkening and thickening the line brings the line forward in space, and vice versa. My drawing was flattening out, so Paul helped me vary my line weight to create more space in my drawing.
It was incredible to see the astounding progression made by all the students from the first class to the last class. We all greatly improved our technical drawing skills, which is the first step in expressing artistic intent. All of the students had captured an amazing likeness of their subjects, and our marks were much more confident than they were in the first class. You can see some of the students with their work, below.
Photo credit: Claire Fuller
I feel lucky to have been given the opportunity to explore and study these two museums throughout this class. Six weeks of classes showed us only a small portion of these amazing collections, and I know I'm not alone in my desire to revisit them and continue practicing my drawing. I also want to take a moment to thank you all for reading and supporting this blog. Not only was this my final Drawing in Museums class, but my summer internship at The Smithsonian Associates has come to an end. Both the class and the internship have been wonderful learning experiences, and I hope I was able to share some of what I learned with you all. Hopefully, I’ll be able to write some more posts in the future, but for now I’m headed back to school. Remember, keep drawing and exploring your creativity in the world of art!
P.S. Our instructor, Paul Glenshaw, has written a play for the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas, Virginia called To Swing Through the Sky. It is a piece that focuses on the twin histories of jazz music and human flight, and the one-time performance will be presented on October 3rd, 2015. If you’re interested, find more information on the Hylton Performing Arts Center’s website, here.
If you're interested in signing up for Paul's next Drawing in Museums class, you can find more information on our website, here. A word of advice - the class is filling up quickly, so sign up while you can!