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.

14 thoughts on “Book learning”

  1. Wow, what a wonderful education these kids are getting, when art is left out of most schools now all together! How fortunate these boys are! I would have loved to be able to peek in some of those journals. Might they help the kids publish?


  2. This is awesome Danny! These kids must be delighted to have a sketching program in their high school. From my experience, it’s hard to find a sketching program at any level—including state universities and art schools. Charcoal on newsprint seems to be the de facto way of teaching. While this is a great way to learn to draw for painting, it doesn’t help as much with modern design, illustration, and animation professions. The personal development and creative enrichment that a person gets from sketchbooking is unmatched!


  3. This is such an encouraging post! I’m a big advocate of sketchbook journalling – although I don’t practice it enough myself. Danny, it was your books and sharing that started me on it. Since then, over the years I’ve seen how powerful a tool it can be for helping folks in so many different aspects of their physical, emotional and spiritual lives. I’ve shared my experiences and your work with family, friends, at retreats, with various leadership and youth groups and people have been surprised and pleased by what they can do and what it brings to their lives. I’ve seen people develop confidence that has carried over in unexpected ways to other parts of their lives. Thank you again for sharing and promoting this medium!


  4. Thanks a bunch for sharing this program and Bob Fisher’s resource list. If only such a program had been in the schools when I was young – or even now across the country!


  5. Thats so good to hear
    great to see a teacher creating such discipline in their students, must be a passionate educator – developing that level of scholarship in them takes guts and ongoing effort. But wow, great results! Dont we all wish we had that kind of encouragement as kids? Thats exciting. That daily practice bears fruit by the sounds of it!


  6. This is so inspiring , Danny, thanks for sharing. I LOVE that he bases their grades on a commitment to the process, because you know that good stuff will inevitably come from that!
    Since having “The Illustrated Life” , I have been committed to daily illustrated journaling, and I have really grown through the last few years of that process. Thank you, for all of your encouragement.


  7. Danny — I tried to post earlier but I think my comment didn’t take, so sorry if this is redundant.

    First, thank you so much for coming to the presentation and for the kind words. Greg and I were deeply gratified that you came and we are glad you enjoyed it.

    We were inspired to be with so many dedicated art educators who understand the importance of sketchbooks in the development of young artists.


  8. I envy these kids so much! I never had art in high school or college and I’m so grateful that I’ve discovered Danny Gregory and others who are sketch artists. What an opportunity they have to take classes like this!


  9. I graduated from Archbishop Moeller High School in 2010, and say with absolute certainty that Greg’s sketchbook policy is by-and-large the greatest reason behind my development as an artist.

    And what’s been said about the upkeep of sketchbooks even at higher levels is true. I’ve now been attending the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design for two years, and know numerous students who simply do not use one at all. Not only that, but the school has dropped observational drawing courses to the absolute bare minimum, only one semester being required to graduate, though such drawing should be the foundation of all programs.

    It’s quite frustrating to see the disparity in the quality of work between those who do draw regularly (i.e. sketchbook users), and those who do not. I can only say that I’m thankful I was lucky enough to be taught by Greg (and to be visited twice by Bob). It’s been hugely influential on my growth.


  10. wow, can you imagine if we’d done a sketchbook page everyday in high school? wow. what we would have learned about ourselves. How we would have stretched and honed our creativity..those kids are very lucky.


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