The year 2020 has ended and not soon enough. For me, one ‘frame’ through which I can look back at the year is that it created a lot trauma. The news cycle hijacked my emotions, induced a lot of stress and often left me baffled.
How we as a society connect strategies to deal with this stress is very important to the health of our nation. How do we align our capacity for strategy and long term goals with will and our emotional selves to ward off more reactive and reactionary states of being?
In the fall of 2020, I was teaching a drawing class at Baldwin Wallace University. I found that representation and identity became central topics in our class as we also teased out the nuance of our craft. The following are a series of emails I sent to students. Together, I think they become a record of a most remarkable time in US history.
I do not know any of you so I want to introduce myself. My name is Adrian Eisenhower. I am an artist, educator, father and husband. Outside of the arts, I still have a few climbing goals in Yosemite and would like to have a more consistent serve in tennis. I generally love to explore new places and to find adventure near and far.
Ok, enough about me.
Is it fair to say that we are going into a semester like no other? Covid, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, an election cycle. What am I missing? Many of us feel pushed into turbulent seas of mental and physical discomfort, compounded by personal and social scrutiny and waves of historical analysis. What roles do we play in this unfolding drama? What roles can we play?
For one thing, the cultural and historical significance of visual representation has been clearly demonstrated amidst all of this duress. It is for good reason that as a nation we are reevaluating the meaning of Confederate monuments and considering their removal or relocation – the visual arts are a powerful form of storytelling, and stories have power. It is clear that imagery can be weaponized and project bias.
For another thing, this context of uncertainty presents immense opportunity as well as great challenges.
First, the positive stuff –
It is worth pausing to appreciate how destabilizing forces can bring about new and exciting development. Watch Naomi Kleins TedTalk, called How Shocking Events Can Spark Positive Change, for inspiration – https://www.ted.com/talks/naomi_klein_how_shocking_events_can_spark_positive_change?language=en. 100 year events like these awaken our senses and expose new possibility.
I believe that your generation will find purpose that previous generations either lacked or squandered.
This speaks to the goal of our class and, I believe, of education – to experience transformation in thinking and being that improves the quality of our lives.
Now, the very serious roadblocks we can expect to encounter – fear, fatigue, anxiety, sense of being overwhelmed, lack of motivation. You know, the classics.
I can also anticipate facing technological hiccups and the frustrations that come with working in a remote fashion. What have I missed?
While Drawing III will address strategies for visual representation, we will just as much discuss creative strategies to meet and overcome these expected hurdles. The project we are working on is you, the maker, not what is on paper or canvas.
I don’t want to come across as life-coachy but I know from personal experience, and plenty of failure, the importance of training habits and thought patterns to achieve any desired result.
I do want to reiterate that your safety and well-being are paramount. If you have any questions or concerns please do not hesitate to bring them up to me. We need to feel comfortable and secure in order to make the work we want to see made.
A heads up on the format of the term. You can expect more on this in the syllabus.
We are going to borrow from the structure used by the Royal Academy – https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/online-life-drawing-class-lifedrawinglive. We will rotate through life drawing on Thursdays, one group per evening. Every class will be streamed live. We can all expect to draw from the figure on Thursdays, even if we do so remotely.
Every week is going to be considered an independent module. We will have a drawing assignment due by Friday at midnight of each week. You can expect a new module with instruction every Monday.
For class on Thursday, the 27th – let’s meet in 2 sections of an hour and a half. Groups 1 and 2 will meet at 6:15. Groups 3 and 4 at 7:45. We will live stream all of the class for those studying entirely remotely.
I do not want to overwhelm you and your inbox with lots of stuff but expect more from me soon. I will upload the syllabus within the next few days as well as more classroom content.
I look forward to meeting you all and to the start of this semester.
Before we get deep into the term, and all the busy-ness that it brings, let’s do a little housekeeping –
First, we will want to find or create a space that is comfortable to work in. Do your best to reduce distractions when working on your art. It is best to turn off things that ding and whistle. Try also to reduce friction in your environment by keeping materials out and on hand. We will also want to make an ‘art kit’ that is ready to go when we are. This might look like a bag with a sketchbook, pencils etc.
We have to keep anxiety and cortisol levels down. If you have the time and inclination the book, Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland offers insight into ‘the perils and rewards of artmaking.’ Pausing for a moment to practice a breathing exercise has immense benefits. This exercise can look like taking 10 deep breaths, focusing on the breath and counting each one as you exhale. Another is box breathing – you complete the box by inhaling for 5 seconds, holding for 5 seconds, exhaling for 5 seconds and then holding again for 5. Repeat. Feel free to change duration also.
On motivation. Hold onto the reasons for why you are doing what you are doing. The ‘why’ will keep you going when work feels odious or improvements feel slight. We also have to help each other. Check this talk out by Sabine Doebels https://www.ted.com/talks/sabine_doebel_how_your_brain_s_executive_function_works_and_how_to_improve_it. She specifically discusses how the Executive Function works and the role others play in our decision making.
Remember to maintain a growth mindset. We are not fixed. Research in brain development is proving this more and more.
I will post our first module later today. Stay tuned.
I am looking forward to life drawing tonight. Here are just a few things to keep in mind –
Group 2 is meeting tonight. The rest of us will work remotely.
We are going through gestures again tonight. These are about the action, motion and rhythm of the figure and are intended to show the movement between things. We may be tempted to draw detail. Gesture drawing will keep us from doing so. We simply won’t have the time.
We want to observe and analyze the movement and to train ourselves to see rhythm in everything around us. We are not just drawing contours. A few important concepts to think about are to look for the longest axis and to draw the length of the form. Keep lines simple with C curves, S lines and straights. Do your best not to backpedal and to reenforce lines that you have just made. This will look hesitant and will disrupt the flow of the drawing. Instead, look for relaxed and tense curves. Hit these with a variety of line weights.
Use these exercises to see the asymmetry in the body. We are not creating stiff stick figures. The body has internal rhythms that make it look dynamic. Let’s find and draw these.
As the evening progresses the poses will get a little longer. We will start to design information to complement the gesture instead of randomly copying detail.
Tonight, we are also going to introduce another concept called Structure. Structure has to do with the dimension and volume of each form. The structure of the rib cage, for instance, can be simplified into an egg or box shape. Structure can be thought of as simple geometric shapes.
By the end of the drawing session we will want our drawings to have gesture and structure.
A note on the discussion topic – motivation. I recently came across this quote by Robert Pirsig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I think it is a good reminder of how important motivation is. He calls it Gumption.
“Gumption is the psychic gasoline that keeps the whole thing going. If you haven’t got it there’s no way the motorcycle can possibly be fixed. But if you have got it and know how to keep it there’s absolutely no way in the whole world that the motorcycle can keep from getting fixed. It’s bound to happen. Therefore the thing that must be monitored at all times and preserved before anything else is gumption.”
I hope you get the idea. I think we all know the difference of working on something when we are inspired and when we are not. I much prefer to be inspired.
We are missing a lot of in person time together. The discussion boards are a chance to be heard and to hear others. Let’s keep these active. After the discussions are submitted on Friday, be sure to respond to everyone in you group.
Our weekly assignment of five block-in drawings is due tomorrow at 11:59 pm. We are drawing the Bargue plates that I gave you. You will also want to have these printed out. I look forward to seeing what you do.
Good work on the first module and the first week of gestures! We are off and running.
Our first module was meant to push us. I hope you found it both challenging and rewarding. Exercises with repetition in drawing lend themselves to familiarity with our materials and with ways of seeing. These are areas where we can expect to improve over the course of the semester.
Before we go on, a quick note on burn out and exhaustion. We are bound to come up against these hangups if we are not careful, especially as we ramp up the semester. Let’s help ourselves by getting sleep. Work done at King’s College London, John Hopkins, and UC Berkeley found that sleep deprivation causes issues ranging from pre-diabetic blood sugar levels to handicapped cognition. This definitely will not help us make great artwork.
Week 2 Discussion Board
For this weeks group discussion, first listen to this talk by Sabine Doebel, if you have not already – https://www.npr.org/transcripts/747337851
Discuss three habits that you believe get in the way of your motivation and three habits you would like to instill to get you closer to your goals. Discussions should be wrapped up by Friday. In order to receive full credit for your participation in the discussion board, you also have to respond to the peers within your group. As you will learn from the talk, groups have a lot to do with staying motivated.
Week 2 Module : The Block-In
As we get into longer drawings, I want us to find ways to correct our proportions. I will attach two pdfs. One I wrote about drawing strategies. Please look it over. It will offer a road map of drawing from beginning to end.
The second is a pdf with pictures of five Bargue plates. These images are from a 19th Century drawing book by Charles Bargue. You can find more information about them online, if interested.
First, print out the Bargue plates. We are going to be working on this method for at least the next 3 weeks and we will want to have our drawing materials on hand. I imagine some of us will have difficulty printing them out. Do your best to have them printed by this Friday.
Also due by Friday, 11:59 pm – make 5 block-in drawings of each of the Bargue plates. You can make these drawings off of the computer screen this week if need be. Each plate shows an example of the block-in. The pdf on drawing strategies will offer a thorough explanation of this stage of drawing as well.
Remember that a block-in does not have shading. It is an accurate line drawing. We will discuss drawing strategies further next week.
A note about submissions from here on out. Compile your images as one document and save them as a pdf. Be sure to include your last name in the title.
Send questions as they arise.
Great job so far! We have already created a high volume of work. This is the mileage we need to increase our fluency with the figure, and with representation in general. Volume, ie. practice, increases an action potential of a neuron (the synapsis that fire together, wire together) by generating an insulating sheath around nerve fibers called myelin. This sheathing reducing energy loss and lends itself to an increase in the duration of flow. (*If you want to learn more about flow and the science behind it, check out Steven Kotler’s research).
You can find feedback for your drawings in the comment box below your blog submissions.
Moving forward, I recommend that we work a little bit everyday. Art is not something we cram for. We do not test out and move on. I think the analogy is more like laying down tracks. Our synapses require time and repetition to be wired in a durable fashion. This is a more methodical discipline with short-term struggle but long-term benefits. Try to draw daily.
Discussion: This is Water
I have really enjoyed seeing the discussions take off within some groups. A theme I see that keeps recurring is that this is an especially difficult semester, made more so because of Covid and our isolation. I believe that we can still create a sense of togetherness in our class and this is happening in some of the discussions. Keep it up. If you haven’t responded to everyone in your group already, please do so.
Our discussions so far have largely been about habits. Instilling habits will be the heavy lifting of our education at BW. We may burrowing into a discipline such as drawing but we are also setting ourselves up to continue to learn and grow beyond the academic experience.
I want to linger on the topic of mindfulness just a little longer before addressing issues such as creativity and aesthetics.
Check out David Foster Wallace’s 2001 Kenyon College commencement speech, This is Water, on youtube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eC7xzavzEKY. David Foster Wallace (DFW) points to the importance of choosing to think. How do we avoid returning to an autopilot operation that suggests we are the center of the universe and everyone else just gets in our way? How do we avoid the paralysis of being told what to buy, what to value or what to fear by advertisement, social media etc? Habits and mindfulness help us along the way.
Watch the video and tell us what you think. Tell us it is pointless and does not relate to art or preferably, tease out a lesson or two that draw DFW’s message more sharply into focus. Try to make connections between his speech and your life, even to your art. Discussions are due Friday but preferably started sooner so we can all respond.
Module 3:Sight Size
The block-ins from last week looked really good. This time we are going to take one to completion. By now we should all have printed out the Bargue plates. This week we are going to work on at least one of them.
Let’s take one Bargue plate to completion using a sight-size method. This video explains the process pretty thoroughly – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLMwtXFLo70
The idea behind sight-size is that we create an image that is the same size as the image we are representing. This is easiest when done from a 2D picture but the method can be translated to drawing from life as well. We can make and use a plum line if we like. This is not necessary, however.
For Friday, please submit 1) an image of your set-up, that is, the Bargue plate taped next to your drawing paper and 2)an image of your final copy of the Bargue plate. Each submission should have two images, submitted as a pdf. Do your best. I look forward to seeing what you make.
Fire away with questions.
I hope everyone has been doing well and enjoying this beautiful weather. My daughter is home today and we plan on going to the zoo! At two years old, she is particularly excited about the cheetahs.
I am looking forward to our life drawing session tonight! We will have a new model named Beth. We will start with gestures but transition to a few 20 minute poses before break.
Be mindful of bony landmarks. Start looking at the muscle groups that help define the human figure also. Look for the obvious ones – the quads of the upper leg, calves, biceps. Try to pick out some of these muscles in your drawings tonight.
Logistically, here are a few things to keep in mind – Group 3 will meet at 6:15, a little earlier to set up. Group 4 can meet at Kleist at this time to draw in the media lab, although not necessary. At 7:35ish, we will clean our spaces and transition. Group 3 will go to the media lab (if you live close by, you can go home) and Group 4 will draw the long pose. The rest of us will draw remotely.
Post the long pose drawing as a pdf in the blog by Friday 11:59. This is how I will give you credit for attendance.
For inspiration on the 20 minute poses, and longer, check out Anthony Ryder – https://www.tonyryder.com/drawings/figure-drawings/
If you want to come to Kleist around 5:30 to draw from books, or just hang out, you are welcome to. Show me what artist you are looking at these days or the music you are listening to. I’ll be there.
Regarding our assignment – if you are having any trouble with the ambiguity of the still life try not to get hung up on the decomposition. If you can leave a hot dog or apple slices out for days, under a bowl, that will work. Or a carved pumpkin. If you cannot leave food out, leaves or cracked open acorns will do. When the objects are not changing much on their own, you can rearrange the composition yourself.
Okay, see you tonight.
I hope you were able to get outside and feel the sun recently, especially this past Friday and early Saturday. Fall in Ohio is one of the nicest times and places in the world, in my estimation.
Great job last week. The discussion board prompted some interesting conversation. I believe these discussions are at the heart of higher education.
As students, we want to develop a trade, to work toward mastery of something tangible. Beyond the mechanics of a trade, we need to engage with ideas, powerful and life altering ideas. Most of us will not go on to rock the art world like Picasso or Duchamp. Nevertheless, we can wrestle with ideas in order to better shape our lives, to feel fulfillment and find purpose. This seems to be the great antidote to lives lived in quiet desperation. It could also help us compete against a tide of automation.
Happiness seems so fundamental and unalienable that, I know, I do not reflect on what it is and how to preserved it very often. By casting a light on happiness I hope we can better understand our relationship with it, how to create and sustain it. Many of us shared really important insights on the subject. Thank you.
Next topic: What is representation? What is the place of representation in creating narrative and defining history? How can representation be weaponized in and by society? What is the meaning behind sculpting George Washington in the image of a Greek God – https://americanhistory.si.edu/press/fact-sheets/landmark-object-george-washington-statue-1841#:~:text=Greenough’s%20sculpture%20is%20enriched%20with,Apollo%20and%20an%20infant%20Hercules.
I want to hear your thoughts? Please start the dialogue by Tuesday, 11:59 pm.
We all did a good job on the ‘things are perish’ assignment. Attached is one example by Kylie. Let’s keep working hard on these projects. We will see a lot of gains in our drawing if we do.
We are going to stay on the subject of value. This time – your favorite pair of shoes with a blue pen. You can draw them lightly with pencil but then use a pen to build up your picture. We want to build them up with value and not outlines.
To reiterate – draw a 11×14 inch still life of your favorite shoes (that you are not wearing). Put the shoes into an environment with a convincing light source. A single light source is helpful. Use a blue pen. Do not use outlines. Enjoy.
Send questions. Submit by Friday, 11:59 pm.
See you on Thursday. We will continue with a split session with Groups 1 and 2. Everyone else is remote.
I hope you all have been well. I am back in Cleveland and ready to pick up where we left off.
Let’s check in. Let me know how you are doing, how class feels so far, how school is. How can we change things in class or in our routines to improve upon them?
Ohio is seeing an increase in Covid numbers. How is this effecting us?
Let me know what’s going on.
Please submit by Tuesday at 11:59. No need to comment on your peer’s comments this week.
The Muscles! Check out Proko’s introductory video. If you are not familiar with his tutorials, you may want to be.
Next, copy three plates from this link of anatomy drawings by Paul Richer – https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?search=Richer+-+Anatomie+artistique&title=Special:Search&go=Go&ns0=1&ns6=1&ns12=1&ns14=1&ns100=1&ns106=1
Three plates of your choice, they just have to be of muscle groups. Try to figure out the origin and insertion, as well of the function of the muscles you are drawing. 11×14 is a good size.
Please submit by Friday, 11:59
Okay, see you on Thursday. I believe that Groups 3 and 4 are still up to be in person. The rest of us are remote.
The start of another week! This week carries an unusual gravity because of the election. For me, it is the most important election of
our generation. If you can vote, please do.
Thank you for the kind words and condolences regarding my brother. I did not intend to burden you all with the news on Thursday. I hoped, instead, to remind us that nothing is promised.
I also have the feeling that the arts are a great antidote to pain we might experience. The act of creating seems an act of celebratory defiance.
Ok, what to look forward to –
Thanks for the check-in. It seems like we are all sharing similar emotions and experiences going into the winter. Let’s keep focused on our goals – on Why – and enjoy the little steps of getting there.
It is all about the journey. I know, this sounds hyperbolic but it is so important to remember. We have to accept where we are right now and work deliberately to get where we want to go.
It will be all too easy to lose focus. We will stop seeing progress at times.
We have to try to address each step of our process with patience and presence of mind.
This week, I would like to dig into the topic of contemporary representations of the human form. The atelier movement in the US and abroad are training artists in a classical manner. Here is one of them – https://grandcentralatelier.org/.
This training is happening today so it is regarded as contemporary (right?). How does it compare to other types of representations of the human form? The Young British Artists of the 1990’s for example. Or the figures found in the Contemporary wing of the Cleveland Museum of Art – https://www.clevelandart.org/art/collection/search?filter-department=Contemporary%20Art ?
This is an open ended discussion topic. I am curious to learn what you think about different types of figuration, perhaps what they say about our relationship to the past, about cognition or about the art world.
Please submit by Tuesday, 11:59 pm and reply to your peers soon after. Thanks.
Let’s focus on portraiture for a moment. Let’s copy this entire poster, including anatomical names – https://www.scientificpublishing.com/product/the-skull/
The skull really informs surface information in faces. If you want to get good at drawing faces, draw the skull repeatedly from many angles. Ideally, a real one.
Please submit by Saturday, 11:59 pm. Thanks.
All my best,
Unless I am mistaken, we will hold our class in person this week and then one more remote class on December 3rd. Hard to believe that we have two classes remaining!
Time to think about our final project but first I want to say great job on the comparative anatomy studies. I hope you found these as fascinating as I did. Many of us saw how the anatomy of quadrupeds (four legged creatures) mirror our own in many ways. The ankles tend to be higher than our own however and many animals walk only on phalanges, basically on their fingers.
The discussions board has been inspiring as well. I heard from several of us that we choose to shy away from a direct commentary on politics in our personal work. Right now, I certainly do. I am in a group show that opens this Friday and for my part, I have contributed 20 5×7 landscape paintings. Although landscape pictures can be political, I did not make these with that intent.
I will attach a flyer for those interested.
Let’s start the process of ideation for our final project. I have read that the process of creativity involves Bending, Breaking or Blending preexisting ideas. (Check out this article for more substance – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-guest-room/201710/how-your-brain-takes-good-ideas-and-makes-them-better.) With that said, I want us to take an existing animal or mechine and combine it with our own human anatomy.
Motorcycle and human? Horse and human (centaur)? It’s up to you.
The endgame are three 11×14 inked anatomical illustrations that render the 1)bones, 2)muscles and 3)surface features of our creation. But first, the process of generating ideas-
In our discussion board, let’s begin by writing out what ‘marriage’ of creatures we have in mind. What does this creature look like, why did it evolve in the way that it did? Keep in mind the expression that ‘Form follows Function.’ This is an important theme in evolution. Forms such as muscles and bones have developed to accommodate a particular functions. What are the functional traits of your creature’s anatomy, how do they accommodate the creature’s particular environment?
Let’s flush out a creative and imaginative story. Have fun with this and let your mind wonder. You can be unreserved in your description.
This does not have to be a fully developed idea. Put your thoughts down with the expectation of receiving feedback. This is a critical part of the creative process, however vulnerable it may feel. We will help one another develop our figures.
Please submit by Tuesday, 11:59 and offer feedback by Friday 11:59. Thanks. I look forward to reading what you all dream up!
On a piece of paper, draw out 6 rectangles. These thumbnails are your chance to design your creature. Within each rectangle draw your figure in various ways. What features are human, what features are other? These are a chance to see different combinations of anatomy at work.
If you have trouble conjuring up imagery, you may like to put random squiggles down first or even stain your paper with tea or coffee. Out of these squiggles or stains, your mind might be able to tease out more imagery specific to your animal.
Please submit by Saturday, 11:59. Thanks!
The Lion Man (see attachment), from the Stadel Cave in Germany, is thought to be among the first known examples of ‘art.’ It is something like 40,000 years old. It is probably a devotional piece, perhaps a depiction of a spirit guardian.
The Lion Man is currently housed in the British Museum. You can visit here for more information – https://blog.britishmuseum.org/the-lion-man-an-ice-age-masterpiece/. I highly recommend looking into it. It is fascinating.
The Lion Man is thought to be a depiction of the supernatural, that is, a force beyond what is seen in the natural world. It visualizes something that does not exist to the eye. As such, it can also be thought of as an example of human’s capacity to synthesize disparate ideas into a novel fiction. In other words, the Lion Man is an example of human imagination.
Okay, pretty obvious so far. It does get more interesting.
According to Yuval Noah Harari, the ability to speak about fictions is the most unique feature of Homo Sapien’s language (Sapiens p24). Many animals use language to communicate. Humans, however, have the ability to communicate about a subjective, invented reality. We don’t just talk about mountains and streams. We can also talk about nations, money and 401Ks.
Discussing an invented reality is not lying. Those of us who accept certain fictive constructs do so because of the benefits they confer upon us. Beyond giving each of us a sense of identity (not to be sneezed at), they allow us to organize large groups of people around common causes. When we share certain mythologies, we share an imagined reality. We are more inclined to pay into this reality, whether it be through taxes or our lives.
How the Lion Man embodied an idea, or what idea(s) this sculpture represented, is not entirely known. One can conjecture that it helped to facilitate the organization of a group of people.
Much of what we have discussed this semester relates to the creation of mythologies. We have addressed topics such as representations of beauty and the place of confederate monuments. These are examples of particular mythologies and how we gather around certain expectations. Myth making also extends to the construction of nations, religions, money, etc.
Artists are powerful makers of mythology. We visually construct the cultural glue that binds people together. We can and have created both gods and monsters. What a terrible power we have. How will we use it??
Okay, everyone, have a great and well-earned break. Enjoy the time off. Above all, stay safe.
When we get back next week, we will begin taking the final steps toward our final project. In the meantime, let your hybrid concepts stir subconsciously.
All my best,
P.S. Also attached is an example of Rembrandt light. Ok, my best.
I hope you all had a good, safe and restful break.
We are rapidly approaching the end of the semester (as you are no doubt aware). Our class has covered a lot of ground, with a little left to go. Lets finish strong!
We have two Thursday night classes left (I misspoke in a previous email when I wrote that we have one remaining). I will do my best to make these remote sessions less glitchy than last one.
We will not have a discussion this week. Let’s focus our attention on the final project. The thumbnails that you sent me were, by and large, fantastic. Very creative, some scary and some, whimsical. Now is the time to settle in on one and develop it to completion.
Again, we are looking for three anatomical plates – one descriptive of the bones, another the muscles and lastly, the superficial features of our hybrid creatures.
Regarding the degree of specificity – the figures have to work. By that I mean that the bones and muscles that you include have to allow for adequate mobility. You want your creature to survive natural selection!
We do have an assignment due this Saturday. 8x10ish sketches of your three anatomical plates. These can be pretty sketchy but they have to show that you have selected a composite and that you are undertaking an inquiry into the forms and subforms of its anatomy. The final projects are due on the 11th of December.
See you on Thursday!