Monday, October 3, 2016

Assessing Student Ability: You're Assessing Me Too!

Whenever I have a new student join my class, I start off with very basic exercises.

Step 1: Get to know your pencils.

Step 2: Values chart.

Step 3: Draw a simple 3D shape.

These activities are important for me because they help me gauge your level of experience, get a feel for your natural style, and quickly assess what your biggest challenges might be. It also helps you, the student, get a better idea of what my drawing class is like and if this is something you really want.

Let's break these things down. First off: what I'm looking for when I meet a new student. When I gauge a new student's level of experience, it doesn't matter if you've drawn in the past or not. I work under the assumption that you know how to write, and therefore, you know how to draw a line. I don't even care if the line you draw is straight or "good". The moment you put pencil to paper I'm learning a lot: if you push down on your paper and draw bold lines or have a feather light touch; if you draw in long strokes or short, sketchy ones; if you draw things the same size they actually are, if you enlarge them, or if you shrink them; your level of confidence or how afraid you are of doing something wrong; and most importantly, if you're listening. Being able to watch you work - even if you're timid because you've never drawn before - helps me sift through the tools and vocabulary I have to find what will work best for you.

Student working on water droplets.
Secondly, going through these exercises together allows you to decide if this class is right for you. I won't mince words: I have a lot of students bail after only one or two classes because (I'm guessing) it's not at all what they thought it would be like. As any of my long term students will tell you, you can spend a great deal of time in class just looking. You look at your reference image for a minute. You look at your paper and draw a single line or shade in a small area. You stop to look at what you just did. You look again at your reference image. You make an adjustment to the line. You shade a little darker. You shave off a bit of shading with your eraser. You look. You look again. We spend a lot of time just looking and studying and thinking. If you were doing this as a painter, you'd at least have the advantage of a paintbrush covering more in one stroke than a pencil. Drawing takes a long time, and the more you draw the more you end up working in layers, which means even more hours. Our class meets once a week for 3 hours, and it can take months for a student to complete one drawing.

You might wonder why on earth we are so dedicated when one drawing takes so many hours. We're just passionate. The students who stay are the ones who want to master drawing the world around them. It takes a lot of work, even more patience, and willingness to unlearn what you think you know and learn what I've got to offer. I promise that having an open mind and unwavering dedication will reward you in skills you didn't think you had and an appreciation of the world around you that you hadn't noticed before.