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Drawing the egg: In the classroom with Grace Burney

A typical drawing class revolves around the use of line. Vital as a tool for personal expression, line facilitates thinking, adds movement, and delineates shape and structure. So why–by my second class–are the students drawing without line? Simply put, if the intention is to create illusion, there is no line. To make an object appear real on the paper (almost touchable), the focus needs to be on the surface of the object–primarily where the light is hitting it. Invariably, a line can be a distraction.

A white egg, is a deceivingly simple form to draw. I place one on a white sheet of paper, shine a spotlight on it, and we study the variations of light and shadow. Then the students mold its form–with a slow buildup of values–using a woodless pencil. Much is gained in the process. The student, who is heavy-handed, becomes conscious of their grip, along with the pressure they exert on the paper. While the student, who seeks instant gratification, learns patience. As important as it is to be expressive, with line, it is equally important, for each student, to explore the quiet, softer side of their own personality. Most often, this revelation is set in motion, early in the semester–when drawing the shadows on an egg.

Joseph Whang

Hobin Lee

While at the MOMA, I came across the following drawings. Take note that Juan Gris was not limited to one method–he worked with values and with line; Ed Ruscha manipulated his still-life vocabulary, without a single visible line; and Salvador Dali captured the subtleness of a nude, with his gentle touch.

Juan Gris. Still Life. 1916

Still life, by Juan Gris, 1916. Pencil on paper, 15 x 11 1/8," James Thrall Soby Bequest 1979. © 2012 Artists Rights (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Juan Gris. Portrait of Max Jacob. 1919

Portrait of Max Jacob, by Juan Gris, 1919. Pencil on paper, 14 3/8 x 10 1/2" Gift of James Thrall Soby 1958. © 2012 Artists Rights (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Edward Ruscha. Wax. 1967

Wax, by Edward Ruscha, 1967. Gunpowder and pencil on paper, 14 1/2 x 23" The Joan and lester Avnet Collection. © 2012 Edward Ruscha

Salvador Dalí. Studies of a Nude. 1935

Studies of a Nude, by Salvador Dali, 1935. Pencil on paper, 6 7/8 x 5 1/2". James Thrall Soby Bequest. © 2012 Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / Artists Rights Society, New York


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