I’ve seen a lot of panic over the years about the week 6 final drawing project for Classical Conversations communities. I’ve seen some tutors go to great lengths to find or create a project that combines all previous lessons: looking for basic shapes, doing a mirror image, drawing upside-down, abstraction and using perspective. I’ve been amazed some people actually found or created such a thing! It is a feat–really. I didn’t really think it was possible. But, in all honesty, not all are good ideas. And usually because they sometimes miss or misunderstand the purpose of individual lessons or the purpose of the final project, in my opinion.
What the goal is for this final project? I will share my take on it and what I do. (Others may see the goal differntly than I do. But if you find this helpful, I am shainrg my take on it.) I see the first five weeks as teaching skills to help students approach drawing. The goal for the final project is to give students a chance to approach a drawing on their own now, but armed with the five tools taught in the previous weeks. As I interpret them, for Journeymen and Masters students, the skills are:
- Finding the basic shapes in the form or drawing (week 1)
- Measuring the size of those shapes and the spaces between those shapes to achieve symmetry or replication, NOT that the student must draw a mirror image. Mirror-images are simply a great tool for practicing this skill, not the skill itself. (week 2)
- Flipping a drawing to another angle to help trick your brain to see the lines and shapes as they ARE, not as we THINK they are (week 3)
- Breaking an image down to its essential parts, and then put them back together differently or in an exaggerated or simplistic way, and/or using color to convey emotion, not reality (week 4)
- Observing how the perspective of an object changes shapes and lines to convey distance; using shading to make images reveal their depth when light hits them (Week 5)
Every year, I like to take the last week of the unit as an opportunity to give students a lot more freedom. I typically bring in multiple choices for them. Because I’m not demonstrating anything for them this week, or taking the class through a process step-by-step, there is no longer any benefit to having the entire class do the same project. I’d like the students to pic things that interest them. Hopefully, because I know my students better by week 6, I can bring pictures of things they do like. This year, I’m sticking with the medieval theme, but even within that, I am bringing historical figures, both male and female that I KNOW are of interest to the students I know, as well as a falcon, since I have both a student wild about birds of prey and falconry was a medieval sport.
Here are some things I’m considering offering as choices, links below:
Queen Elizabth I:
Sir Walter Raleigh:
Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Walter Raleigh are all found on this fantastic page of The National Portrait Gallery, Tudor page.
The falcon I found here.
I have not yet had week 1 with my own class yet, so my ideas of what choices to bring them may evolve. The week 6 history sentence is about people of the Renaissance, of which Shakespeare is one. (Others are Copernicus, Michelangelo , and Da Vinci) In history camp this summer, in which I taught some of my current students, we got in-depth about Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare and I know of one who fell in love with the bard. Depending on conversations, it’s in the back of my mind to find drawings of the characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream which some of my students acted in, not once, but twice this summer!
Note: As mentioned in my week 1 plan, I will start my year with my students by doing a base-line drawing, an idea I got from Drawing Demystified. All the pictures I will bring in for this baseline drawing will be the same that I bring in for week 6. On week 1, before I teach a nanosecond on the OiLs, I will just let them choose a drawing and draw it, no coaching. I will then collect them and promise to return them after our drawing unit. (This will be short; I will teach the actual OiLs lesson afterward.) Then on Week 6, students will get the same orignal drawing and have a chance to draw it again–but now, armed with the lessons they got in the previous 5 weeks. At the end of class, I will give them back their week 1 attempt and they can see what they learned!
Whichever drawings they choose, the process is the same.
First I remind my students of the skills we learned (my list above) and how each is a tool they can use to complete this final project. I will list them on the board, reminding them to apply them to their drawing as needed. Then I will let them choose their drawing.
Many students will just take off from here with nary a reminder. But others may need me to verbally coach them, “Ok, let’s start by looking for the basic shapes. Trace them on your paper.”
Now, not all skills can be applied in the same way. The trick of drawing upside-down is something students can employ at the very beginning, if they find it a help, or at any point in the process if it could help them focus on the lines.
Similarly, abstraction cannot be applied the way the others are. Abstraction is a style choice. I never have before, but this year, I will tell my students they may choose do to an abstraction of one of the choices: that would entail finding the basic shapes and then deciding what to do with them. Because they will have been exposed to my mash-up project, they may choose to do that or to exaggerate as another way to arrive at abstraction.
Here I’ll show you my steps for my two examples, the falcon and Queen Elizabeth I:
Step 1: Trace the basic shapes (the OiLs) on the original drawing, as well as the geometric shapes that OiLs form: trianlges, rectangles, etc. For detials on this, if this is new ot you, see Basics of Drawing: Fine Arts, Week 1 for Classical Conversations. (I’m sorry I have not retained this step for Elizabeth.)
(Here is where a student may choose to turn the drawing upside-down or at another angle, if he/she finds it helpful: Medieval-themed Upside-down Drawing: Week 3, Classical Conversations. Likewise, if abstraction is the student’s goal, then the steps may deviate somewhat: Cubist Queen Mash-Up Art Lesson, Monarch Mash-Up: Abstract Art Lesson, Week 4)
Step 2: Draw the basic shapes on a bank page, using the skill of measuring to help keep things in proportion. (For details on this, see Mirror Image Lion Drawing: Week Two, Classical Conversations.) Below are my step 2 pages for Elizabeth and the falcon. (Note: to print any of my steps, simply right-click on the image. In that menu, choose “copy.” Then open a Word document and paste (holding down “ctrl” and “v” buttons simultaneously.)
The skill of noting what perspective does to what we expect to see as the basic shapes (Castle Perspective Lesson, Week 5) may come in at this point. Perspective changes the expected shape of a nose, the contours of a face or a hand, and where on the face Elizabet’s features sit. Another great example is that falcon wing–that wonderful curving wing in which we can see both the front and the back of it in this one shot. That is why I chose this particular falcon. It is challenging looking, but I’d love to walk some studnets through how to approach it–and see that some may not even need my coaching to do so.
Step 3: Using the basic shapes as guides, refine your lines, carefully observing the lines in the original. Below is my falcon, but my Elizabeth wasn’t as much work and steps 3-4 kind of blended.
Step 4: Erase the remnants of the basic shapes you used as guides. Complete all the details. Here is where the perspective skill of shading could come in a project though neither of these examples really call for much of that.
You will see in my finished falcon below that I had to redraw the bird’s head and body smaller; some faint erasure marks remain.
Last step: Before class is over, if you do a baseline drawing in week 1, this is the time to hand them their attempt of the same drawing 6 weeks earlier. I’ve never done this before and will be excited to see what this will be like for my class.
Post-class reflection: I confess that as I approached this last class, I was a bit concerned about how to properly motivate the class. I felt liek I wasn’t getting through because so amny sutndets were still not actually getting down the basic shapes of transferring the entire image onto the page before moving to details. I even considered offering prizes for students hwo showed me their basic-shapes drawing rather than trying to ignore that step. But I rethought that. But I did re-set the goal for students: get the basic shapes image on the page–the whoel thing! I showed them my basic shapes drawing of the queen and falcon, and asked them if they were done and amazing. I said, no, they weren’t, but THIS is the goal! I refused to even show them my final drawings becase I wanted the focus to be on getting the early steps down.
Good news: the students did splendidly and really knocked it out! Each accomplished the goal–getting down the basic shapes before moving on!
The real shcoker was what I saw in my hands as I went through tiher week 1 attempts of this final project at the end of class. I’d planned to simply hand them back at the end of class so each could copmare. But–as I watched them so studiously work on their drawings in class this week as we listened to history sentence songs–I saw SUCH BIG gains comparing their first approach to the final! I asked the sutndets’ persmission to hold up both their attempts to the class so I could point out the growth. Each student obliged, and it was truly awesome to see. If I’d not saved the first week’s attempt, I honestly would not have been able to recognize all the growth. Most of the first attempts had problems with proportion or scale and the bird’s wings could not fit on the page. But the final for each student showed the full bird, on the page, with great improvements in shape, size and proportion! For the couple who chose a person, those too were imrpoved by better proportions. I WILL be doing this again–thanks Drawing Demystified for the idea to do this comparison!
I hope this drawing unit has equipped you and your students with some tools for drawing so that when you see somthing to draw, you don’t feel the need to panic. Instead, you can analyze it for what it is: lines, curves, dots, circular shapes–just arrangeed and rearranged in varying sizes. The mind of a good drawer is not imbued with a magicl power; it is merely accutomed to/in the habit of breaking down complex images into its smaller components. This IS teachable and learnable. I hope these projects have helped you believe that.
Mimicry is the greatest flattery, so I hope you can enjoy the craft of replicating things God has created on a page. To me, it has been a form of praise and worship to study, observe and really see the beauty God has made and then to attempt to transfer it to paper with my hand. May developing the skills to draw lead you closer to truth and beauty. Happy drawing!