Welcome to Part II of the interview with CTNSI art instructor, Jan Prentice. This interview focuses on her classes at the Connecticut Natural Science Illustrators. Part I of the interview with Jan with more personal about her love of painting birds.
The interview was conducted by A. Pirozzoli
(AP) What current courses will you be teaching?
(JP) Drawing Basics in the Fall
(AP) Purpose of the course?
(JP) Drawing Basics is the very first drawing class many of our students take. Natural Science Illustration requires a specific type of drawing, one that emphasizes accuracy and realism. Sometimes students come to us with some drawing and painting experience from their pasts but often we recommend that they take this class in spite of prior art experience. The particular skills taught in this class are often abbreviated in a more general art class. The purpose of this class is to focus sharply on those skills that give accurate results perhaps sacrificing artist expression.
(AP) Course subject matter?
(JP) I assume that students arrive with absolutely no experience whatsoever so they are perhaps a little nervous. I don’t like to overwhelm new students with too much information all at once so I design each class around one new skill which is identified and practiced. I start with an easy introduction to materials we will be using in the class: pencils, paper, erasers. I ask students to begin their investigation of what each pencil is capable of doing with a series of exercises. Understanding that the range of light and darkness from any given pencil varies with the hardness or softness of the lead, how sharp the point is kept on the pencil, how the pencil is held, and how the graphite is applied to the paper. Exercises follow in one- and two-point perspective and line drawings of basic shapes (cube, sphere, cone, cylinder). Students then practice how to shade/tone these basic shapes to make them appear three-dimensional. I don’t expect students to have mastered any of these skills but after these first few weeks they have a good foundation to begin drawing “real” objects. They design and draw a still life composed of a few basic shapes, learning to pay attention to perspective, cast shadows and overlapping objects. From there I design exercises that will enlarge students existing knowledge. For example, one project was for students to draw a still life of a green pepper and a lemon cut in half. This is an interesting problem for a beginner. The pepper is a very dark object with a light highlight. The lemon is a very light object. The idea here is for students to get accustomed to working both very light and very dark and to convince me, visually, that the pepper is much darker than the lemon. I tend to be very deliberate in setting up specific drawing problems that students work out with their newly acquired skill set.
(AP) What do students gain from this course?
(JP) Students gain a familiarity the fundamental drawing skills they will need to face the challenges posed by more difficult subject matter. The lessons in this class encourage students to analyze the drawing problem and apply specific solutions. In doing so, students gain confidence to move on to more challenging material.
(AP) What is the greatest obstacle the student will overcome in this course?
(JP) Students often arrive with preconceived notions that are just not true! They think that only gifted people are born with the ability to draw. They do not understand that drawing is a skill. We, as infants, were not born knowing how to walk or talk or read or write. And yet we all can do those things because we were taught. Drawing is a skill like reading or writing. Like we always say at CNTSI, anyone can learn to draw! And they can!
(AP) What media will the student be working with?
(JP) In Drawing Basics, students work with graphite only.
(AP) What areas of difficulty will the student need to deal with when using these materials?
(JP) How to hold the pencil and apply the graphite in controlled, light layers takes some time getting used to. Knowing what pencil is appropriate in any given circumstance (do I use a 2H or a 2B?) also requires some experience.
(AP) What is the personal interaction between the instructor and student?
(JP) I keep the atmosphere light and collegial. I stay close at hand so that students don’t get too off-track or overly frustrating. I often make corrections right on a student’s work, especially a beginner. Students have told me that they find watching me make corrections to their work to be helpful learning experiences for them.
(AP) What do you find the most effective way to encourage a student who is struggling?
(JP) Drawing Basics can be tough because students don’t have enough drawing mileage to understand that it takes time and they get frustrated easily. Often I reassure them that I once experienced exactly what they are experiencing in that moment and understand their frustration. I have sometimes brought in work from my own student days so they can see that my early work was much like their early work. I also tell them that when they have completed 200 similar drawings we will evaluate whether or not they have any aptitude. This is something one of my professors told me years ago that I found reassuring. Then we go about analyzing what the specific problem is and address it accordingly.
(AP) After completing this course, what will the student be prepared to learn next?
(JP) After completing Drawing Basics, students are well prepared to follow their interests!
This concludes Part II of the interview with Jan Prentice. You can read more about Jan and painting birds in Part I.