Book learning

Yesterday, I ducked out of my office for a couple of hours to visit the midtown Sheraton, site of the National Art Education Association (NAEA) conference. I was the guest of Bob Fisher, a contributor to my upcoming book, An Illustrated Journey. Bob was participating in a seminar with his former teacher, Greg Stanforth, who has taught art at Cincinnati’s Archbishop Moeller High School for thirty years. Their topic, “Creating a Culture of Sketchbooks in a High School Art Program,” was close to my heart.

Greg’s school has about 1,000 students and they have three 90-minute art classes each week. He requires them to fill a page in their sketchbooks seven days  a week, and to cover it completely with color, collage and line. The boys fill at least one complete mid-sized Moleskine every semester and by the time they graduate have a tall stack of a dozen or so volumes. Greg brought a lot of these books with him and passed them around the room and then discussed how he gets these teenagers to produce so much beautiful and personal work.

FIrst of all, he insists that they consistently make pages: they work on them at home and in school and their grades are based on their consistent commitment not on any evaluation of the work itself. Nonetheless, the quality was really high and it was clear that they had spent a lot of time and thought day after day.

He also has them share their work with each other, something the students actually insisted upon. They pass their work around and boys pick out pages they like from others’ sketchbooks and discuss what they like about them. Many of the pages were surprisingly personal, discussing their reactions to parental divorce and other major issues in their lives. Greg reported that one boy even came out to his classmates, (and this is a Catholic school!)

He also brings them all sorts of inspiration, showing them established artists’ work and bringing in guests like Bob, an alumnus who went on to be a succesful illustrator and designer. But he also insists that the boys don’t copy from others but rather channel that influence through their own work, drawing always from observation, using each others as models and sketching and painting the scenes and objects around them.

Apparently Bob’s students have earned over $1 million in art scholarships, a fact that helps the program vital and cherished among the school’s administration.

Greg runs an amazing program and I’m glad to say that the room was packed with teachers sitting on the ground and eagerly asking questions after the talk. It certainly suggest that there may be many new converts to the world of sketchbooking and illustrated journaling.

At the end of the presentation, Bob distributed a list of sketchbooking resources which you can access here.