Drawing Class – Week 1

Tonight was the first session of my first-ever drawing class, ART 40166 at UCSD Extension. The course title is Drawing: Focus on Perception (Beginning) and the instructor is Pia Stern.

(Actually, I’m writing this after the end of the course, but I chose this journal format to string the narrative together.)

The class was completely full. There were about 22 registered students there, plus several who were not registered. When everybody who had registered actually showed up, Pia sent the standby students home. There just wasn’t enough room in the studio for any more people (with each person at a drawing table). As it was, Pia was worried about how she’d be able to teach such a large group.

Aside from the usual overhead (course mechanics, no credit options, finding out everybody’s name) the main focus was on positive and negative space. We started with white Conte crayon on black construction paper. Pia arranged a number of objects on a central table, and we were to pick a grouping of several objects and fill in white wherever the objects were not.


Each student taped their drawing to the wall and we discussed them, a pattern that would be repeated throughout the course. Pia took this opportunity to start talking about dynamic composition. She set the ground rule that we’d be trying for dynamic compositions in this course, basically because they’re harder. Static compositions come naturally, but the eye for dynamic composition usually has to be trained.

This is familiar terminology, but with a specialized meaning. Dynamic refers to power (originally) or to motion or change (more commonly). Neither meaning is literally applicable here, but either one can be interpreted rather easily as a metaphor. As a semantic opposition, dynamic and static seem to refer to motion and stillness, but here we mean something only indirectly related. That something is not very precisely defined. Asked to give a definition of dynamic composition, one might be tempted to quote Justice Potter Stewart and reply, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it….”

We were sent back to the drawing boards (!) to do basically the same exercise again, this time with an eye toward composition.


And once again, this time with charcoal on newsprint.


The class wrapped up early, and the homework assignment was to do two drawings. One white on black, and the other black on white. In each case, we were to fill in the negative spaces, without including any detail in the subject, which was to be “irregular and/or organic”. I chose plants from my backyard landscaping for both drawings.


Homework 1 Drawing 1. Grade: A. Pia’s comment: Nice work!


Homework 1 Drawing 2. Grade: B+. Pia’s comment: A little less dynamic, but still, nice.

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