I’ve always thought that the saying "those that can, do; those that can’t, teach" and variants thereof were bullshit, but today I sort of proved it by, er, teaching a life drawing class, and doing it in a way that was fun and interesting for the students. Or so they say. My spies within the school will confirm or deny it by this time tomorrow.
It happened like this: yesterday, Jeroen called me to Shanghai me into taking his place as a workshop teacher at a school in the southern part of Groningen, so he could
go on honeymoonpick his girlfriend up from the airport. To be quite clear on this, he didn’t literally feed me drunk so he could shove a contract under my nose and have me wake up the next morning with one leg chained to a nude woman and the other to an easel, though he’s perfectly welcome to do so the next time. Instead, he appealed to my rapacity and greedsense of collegiality. "But", I said, "I don’t know all that much about life drawing, I only do the unguided classes at the VOIC once a blue moon when not overworked, sick or amnesiac."
"Nevermind that", he said, "The students won’t know this."
And so it was that later that afternoon, I discussed the purpose and content of the workshop with Jeroen, and early today I did some web research on teaching life drawing classes, and at 13:30 I stood before a group of teenagers telling them, in a not quite focused manner, what life drawing was for and what they were going to do when the model came in (she arrived at two).
Apart from the talk at the start, which I really need to practice more if I’m going to do more teaching on the subject, the workshop went really well. The model was cooperative and good at holding her pose and the students themselves were serious and motivated. There wasn’t any of that "hur hur hur we’re gonna draw a naked woman" stuff that the websites I did my research in warned of. They knew they were there to draw and learn to get better.
I alternated between having them draw from observation any way they liked and giving them special exercises in which they had to draw just the outline of the model, start with an action line and build the drawing up through a stick figure stage, exaggerate the model’s features, or draw the model with nothing but oval shapes. Most of the time, I used ten-minute poses, but for some of the exercises, I used five-minute poses instead. Jeroen warned me that the students might complain about having so little time to do the work in, but I didn’t hear much of that; I think I had made it clear enough in advance that I was hoping for them to build up speed among other things, and in any case it was clear after the first five-minute exercise that when I asked them to draw something in five minutes, they could do it in that time. Most of them, anyway.
It was very interesting to see how some of the students progressed within one session, losing some of the hesitant, scratchy quality in favour of more assured lines. I’m sure Jeroen will be able to see, with most of the students, in what order the drawings were made. He returns to the school tomorrow, with a different model, so he’ll get to see those drawings and take the class to the next level.
In all, fun. I’d do it again, and in fact, the organiser was interested in putting together a series of evening classes with me and the model. We’ll see how that pans out. It would require for me to do some more serious study of life drawing myself, but that’s always a good thing.
For a school, this one’s a very flexible sort of organisation, so they could set this up at short notice. It was interesting to see the inner workings of another school, and hearing of the hassle of getting parental consent for their seventeen-year-old students to look at a nude model. And of course, the payment arrangement. This school only works with freelancers, which seems like an expensive way to do things, until you realise that the freelancers only get paid for actual teaching hours, with all the marking and evaluation being done by a skeleton staff. An interesting way to do things, if you can get it organised.
Another thing that was different from what I’d expected, possibly as a result of listening to former studio-mate Edmond too much in the final months he was with us, was that there was a tremendous appreciation among the students, including those who weren’t in the life drawing class itself, of good drawing. Everyone was very interested in what was produced during the class. And it does seem like there’s a bit of a resurgence of the craft of drawing going on, among all the other factors that have been making the art workshop market such a booming business recently.