Final exam in zombies, warriors, demons, and cowboys:
Reflections on Life Drawing and Gesture Course for pre-animation students
Honoria Starbuck, Ph.D.
I encourage experimentation and fresh ideas. My Life Drawing and Gesture students came from the Anatomy and Drawing class I taught last semester. My challenge was to design Life Drawing and Gesture course totally different for students bringing expectations of the same teacher from the Anatomy course. I like to keep students on their toes and surprised. Ideas for innovation and surprise came to me suddenly while others evolved over the semester. Here are a few innovations that may be helpful to other life drawing and gesture instructors. I’d love to hear your teaching insights and innovations too!
Anticipation surprise of My Story
After reading the text, my first insight was to create a semester-long project that bridged all the chapters in the Drawing for Animation book. In the My Story project, students developed characters and stories and used them to create 2 comic or graphic novel panels per week as homework. Each week the panels incorporated the lessons from the book such as sequence drawing or landscape or character development. The instructions were that overall the story should be transmitted and dramatized through the use of strong gestures of the characters. The unfolding stories gave the class a soap opera feeling because we would come to class anxious to learn the next events in all the stories. The stories were filled with zombies, brave warriors, moody cowboys, cross-cultural references, blood, gore, intrigue and mayhem. The growing collective expectations for the stories resulted in an abundance of cliffhanger panels. The stories connected the class in a way that I’ve never seen before and developed a mutual respect and learning in our small group even as they gave a vehicle to apply the objectives of each week’s topic. Students used the stories to request poses of the models so we had zombie models, fighting models, and dying models as a result.
Water guns and props in the art studio
The model situation at the beginning of the semester was troublesome. Several models cancelled leaving the class to draw too many times from our skeleton and from each other. This problem was also an opportunity. We’d saved money when the model didn’t show so I asked our HR person to hire two models at once to be sure at least one of them arrived to pose. Our HR pro went to an agency and hired non-nude models as well as nude models from the art model list. I asked the models to bring interesting changes of clothes and props. I went to the toy store and bought squirt guns and a phaser. The phaser disappeared quickly but the squirt guns remained part of the class arsenal. A particularly good and reliable male model brought a big soaker gun and martial arts weapons and the models would have mock fights in the classroom, a big hit for the animation students and the models were inspired to more dramatic gestural poses that fit right in with the objectives of the course.
The fun, narrative thrills and drawing skills built with increasingly looser and more dramatic drawings that climaxed in the final exam.
My end-of-semester final consisted of a show of the best 3 in-class drawings, the whole My Story sequence, an artist statement delivered to the class, and a final exam.
Editorial consultation on the artist statement
It is my experience that most art students both hate to write and hate to present, or so they say. After a few semesters of hearing students’ tepid and impersonal artist statements, I created a “how to write and artist statement, it’s more fun than it sounds” quiz/workshop for the week before final. This workshop combined with a 5-minute individual editorial consultation succeeded beyond my dreams. After researching several “how to write artist statements” tutorials I developed 4 sets of questions on Vision, Philosophy, Techniques, and Future steps. I put the 4 sets of questions on 4 slides. I used the timer and had students write as fast as they could to answer the questions on 4 different pages of notebook paper. I structured the writing as a quiz spending 5 minutes on each set of questions. Between each set of questions I gave students 2 minutes to draw an illustration such as an eye for Vision. This drawing interlude rested them and let their right brain take over between bouts of writing. After the 4 sets were done I started the model in long poses and throughout the class called one student at a time for a personal editorial consultation. In the consultation I pointed out the strongest concepts in the 4 pages of notes for a dramatic opening and for a provocative ending. In addition I identified the supporting information and suggest what to leave out. I marked on the pages suggested phrases and ideas for opening sentence and the closing and middle from the text they’d written. Students walked away with a great draft of their artist statement that they could type up and present. The results were the most spontaneous and real artist statements I’ve ever seen and the students expressed more confidence in their ability to write.
I was surprised after the final exam one student said I should give more tests and I think she’s right because not only did the class have much fun in the final the drawings were by far the best work of the semester. The model commented that it was the best exam he’d ever seen.
Life Drawing and Gesture Final Exam
3. Interpretive critique
Essay Questions: Use the back of this paper:
1. Write one paragraph about one way in which your experience in this class has affected the way you approach drawing. (Reflections on the past and present)
2. Write one paragraph on the most important thing you learned in this class and how you will use it in your chosen creative career. (Looking to the future)
• Poses 1 – 3: Draw the sequence of 3 poses and mark and label the line(s) of action, and center of gravity in each pose.
• Pose 4: Draw from the model 15 minutes and label as much anatomy as you can 10 minutes.
• Pose 5: Draw an anthroporphized version of the pose. Draw the animal hybrid of this character.
• Pose 6: Draw the model as a stereotype and describe the character and story in 1-3 sentences.
• Pose 7: Draw an exaggerated version of the pose and model and write a sentence explaining possible uses for the exaggeration.
I'm going to miss this group of evolving artists.
What are your favorite memories of the last semester?