Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cartooning Class: Drawn While You Watch

Today I'm preparing for the first substantive lesson this year in the cartooning class I teach. The first class, which was last week, is a get acquainted class, and I introduce the idea of drawing faces on circles as an activity. This week we start working on technique. I start with drawing eyes.

Each year, I'm tempted to bring in pre-printed sheets with examples of different artists' eyes on them. But each year, I end up discarding the idea, for the same reason. It'd be convenient to have specific examples from cartoons the kids recognize (and some they don't, yet) right in front of them as they work. Plus, even with my notes there's always something I miss covering (though I usually pick it up in review the following lesson.)

But I don't.

Watch the Cartoonist Draw, and Fumble

I think it's important, especially early in the class, to give the students confidence. Part of that is letting them watch me actually draw my examples on the board for the class. Aside from the fact that they get to see how I perform the strokes of the drawing, they also get to see my mistakes. They also get to see me hesitate as I prepare myself to shift from one style to another, and think through the details that define the new style (I do it verbally, so they can hear me think it through.)

I try to open up the process of drawing to them, so that they can be assured that it's not magic.

Some of them miss that point on the first pass. But I can point to the drawings on the board and ask questions like "did I get that one right the first time?" to make the point that I'm not perfect, even though I've been drawing these things since I was their age. I also tell them stories of how I learned these things the first time, and how pathetic my first attempts were. I often re-create these on the board or do them extra bad for a bit of humor.

The point, of course, is that the process itself isn't magic. But the results are. And the magic happens almost no matter what our skill level. We can scribble down a few lines on paper that have an emotional impact. At best, that impact hits the artist when they sit back and look at the drawing. But even when there's no impact there, it can hit others. So we pass our drawings around. There's nothing that does more for a worried student than to have a fellow student they barely know look at their drawing and say

"Whoa! That is so cool!"

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