I’ve taught hundreds and hundreds of students beginning observational drawing methods for over a decade at Mizzou. This is something I’ve been stimulated, encouraged, and challenged by. It’s wonderful to be a part of an ancient tradition.
One of the main points of the first few weeks of my Drawing: Materials and Methods course (foundations level drawing for beginning students) is the notion that line, in and of itself, doesn’t make an illusion of space (fig. A). Rather, value – the quality of light and dark – creates a perception of space (fig. B, C). To develop value we accumulate lines, adjust pressure on the tool, or blend the material with which we’re drawing (among other actions) in order to attenuate or amplify the line quality. The coalescing lines form a varied superstructure representing – in 2D form – the perception we have of 3D space (fig. D). These and many other lessons are certainly intuitive and, though they are not an exclusive method, do help novices recognize space and how to translate it. The first few drawings my students make are centered around these concepts. It was Professor William Itter’s Fundamental Studio Drawing text that I used in developing my own pacing, scope, and sequence in the teaching of Beginning Level drawing.
At Indiana University, Itter was a strong force. Having taught there for more than 35 years when he retired in 2009, Bill crafted and then honed a foundational drawing system that influenced me and many of my fellow grads. Over the years a number of the projects he either developed or adapted have been a part of my teaching. In particular, I have been inspired by his Cornice Combo and Linear Topographic Contour projects. Most of us ended up with physical copies or PDF prints of Bill’s collection of projects and syllabus materials (pictured above).
I think you can see the through-line of intention when you see Bill’s project examples and compare them to what I do in class. While I no longer directly reference Professor Itter’s text, it is a strong part of the pedagogical lineage I claim as an educator. Below you can see some of Itter’s Radial and Lateral Extensions, which were influential in my own Atmospheric Beams project.
Of all of the various projects crafted by Bill that I used back in the early days, only three are truly and deeply connected to my foundations drawing teaching today. Of primary importance is Meandering Band, as well as the aforementioned Atmospheric Beams. You can see that Professor Itter’s example images are still being reiterated through time in the work of my students.Notice how this Cornice Combo image relates to my recent students’ Meandering Band works:
Meandering Band by Hannah Westhoff. 18×24 inches, graphite on paper.
Professor Itter used many examples of gradients in his projects, and he began by asking students to conceptualize line quality through the idea of space and physical pressure upon the tool (at least that’s how I integrated his ideas into my thinking). So sample studies from Itter such as this one (which I use as a first class ice breaker project)…
My ultimate aim in carrying on a very truncated version of Bill’s foundational drawing projects is really an attempt to establish the importance of observational iteration in my classes. All of my classes are, at their deepest center, about attention and awareness. My hope is that continuing to use a few of Professor Itter’s projects my students gain an understanding of what their eyes are doing in the world. The way we amalgamate visual and material structures into meaningful ideas is part of what makes us human. Now that we are living in an age where algorithms designed to manufacture our purchasing consent drive much of our cultural events and expressions, it is so important to grow in our awareness of how we are being manipulated by these systems. This understanding begins with a knowledge of visual dynamics and the ability to take command of how our eyes operate. I think Itter knew this when he created his foundational drawing projects, and I try to bring that tradition of thoughtfulness into the 21st century.