A Lesson in Art and Humility

I joined this class without any previous knowledge of architecture, design, and without any skill in drawing or sketching. Understandably, you might be asking yourself why I would ever decide to take an environmental design class. The answer, despite its lack of logic, is simple : I wanted to learn about something that I had no prior knowledge of. In my opinion, one of the best things about being at a liberal arts school is that you can take a class that has absolutely nothing to do with your major and have it change the way you look at the world.

During the second week of our class we headed up to our Catamount campus in the mountains. The campus itself is located at almost 10,000 feet of elevation and has a stunning view of Pike’s Peak. We had the fortune of staying at the cabins during a week when Colorado’s beautiful aspens were beginning to shed their leaves. The crisp air and the yellowing scenery left us all in awe of our surroundings.

Naturally, Marie asked us to depict some of the scenery in our sketchbooks. After a brief lesson on values, we all went off in our own directions on a quest to capture all of the beauty in our notebooks. Now, I’ll be honest, I was trying my hardest to understand what in the world Marie was referring to when she was talking about values. To me, values are something that people try to possess, or a numerical worth that we assign to inanimate objects. I had absolutely no idea what Marie meant when she said that the trained human eye can see up to forty values, but the average person sees nine or ten.

Regardless, one of my mottos in life is, ‘when in doubt, GO FOR IT’, so I was not too deterred with my lack of understanding of my first ever drawing lesson. Off I sauntered to the edge of a lake and decided I was going to draw the landscape before me – using values, of course. I put my pencil to the white paper, took a deep breath, and channeled my inner Michelangelo.
I shaded a little bit darker where my eyes saw darker colors, and I let up on the pencil when the colors seemed lighter. It was simple really, this drawing business, heck if even I could do it after just one lesson, then what was all the fuss about? After less than a minute, I decided my landscape was just about done. I lifted my pencil from the paper and surveyed my work. Horror ensued immediately.

photo 1

I kid you not, I briefly questioned if someone, most likely a small child, had stolen my pencil and decided to play a trick on me. As my eyes scanned the travesty before me, the truth of my situation hit me hard. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I knew nothing about architecture or drawing or designing – liberal arts hoopla aside, what in the world had possessed me to take this class??

A little while later, I worked up the courage to humbly ask Marie for some personal help. I sidled up to her and flashed her a brief glimpse of the disaster that had occurred in my sketchbook earlier. I expected her to laugh, I mean, the sketch is nothing if not laughable, but she instead brought me outside and gave me a private drawing lesson.

Honestly, I’m not quite sure what changed from the first lesson to the next, but suddenly values began to take on a different form. You don’t need a yellow color to depict aspen leaves, you simply need to assign it a certain value. After watching Marie draw an aspen, not based off of precision, but with a focus on shape and form, I began to see the scene before me in a different way. I’m not exactly sure what changed or why, but for the first time in my life, I drew something that looked like it was done by someone who knows how to draw. I was ecstatic. It took me until my junior year of college to learn to draw. But hey, better late than never.photo 2