I had the day's sketching lesson all planned out. We were going to do the third (and final) in a series of coffee mug drawings, this time adding color as I had just introduced watercolor pencils the week prior. However, walking into the school, it was impossible to ignore the gorgeous garden, flowers everywhere, swaying gently in a light breeze that softened the heat of a brilliant sunny day. On the spot, I decided the kids would be drawing en plein air, out in the world for their first "live on location" journaling session.
We've been at this observational sketching thing for nearly two months now and the kids are progressing by leaps and bounds. There have been, of course, a few hiccups along the way due to the usual self-doubt that arises when you ask students to stretch outside of their comfort zone. In addition to a basic survey of drawing principles, we've been practicing letting go of perfectionism. Each sketching session is approached as an exercise in relaxation, mindfulness, and truly seeing. Up until this point, we have strictly focused on drawing objects set up in the classroom so I wasn't sure how this new assignment would be received. In the very least, I thought the kids would embrace the chance to get outside as any time away from "studies" is always greeted with enthusiasm.
After a brief discussion of composition, journaling, and the history behind plein air work, I sent the kids out into the garden armed with pens and paper. I thought maybe that they would be a bit restless but they settled in almost immediately, each in his or her own space, positioned in front of a flower or tree, silently drawing. The intensity was astonishing and after observing how focused the students were, my principal effectively cancelled the balance of afternoon classes so the kids could keep working (something that a charter school environment makes possible.) Some kids worked on their pages for nearly two hours, first inking their sketch, journaling, and then coloring with watercolor pencils. I listened to detailed conversations about the qualities of various pen nibs, the finer points of shading rocks, and color-mixing ideas to create the perfect shade of green for leaves dappled in light. I heard students complimenting the work of their peers and, more importantly, praising their own work.
"In the garden I sat and observed the things all around me and just took it all in. The sun shining on the plant. Beautiful."The writing was just as insightful. The gardening teacher/garden manager was especially moved by the students' renderings and writings. He told me that he always hoped that students would "see the beauty in the garden" he was working so hard to create. These pages are a testament to both the garden's simple elegance and the students' appreciation of the natural world.
"I saw this flower and fell in love with it. It looked like this inside like it couldn't show how beautiful it really was. I felt like [I] could see [its] inner beauty."This page in particular makes me teary-eyed every time I read it. I don't feel comfortable hinting at the the backstory of this student - even anonymously - so my emotions surrounding this piece probably won't make complete sense. Let's just say that I want to whisper in this student's ear" "Honey...that flower is you."
I am so honored to be these kids' art teacher. To my delight, they are absorbing the lessons, pushing for more, relaxing into their power to capture a moment with both delicacy and impact. Each student is finding his or her own style, even in the short time we've been at this. Questions are flying about art supplies, urban sketching, and travel journaling. "Can we do more drawing?" That question in particular is music to my ears.