Monday, September 10, 2012

First year of graduate school at the Academy of Art

As I head back to my my second year of graduate school at the Academy of Art, I figure I better make good on the promise I've been making to friends and family for the past year and post some of my school work for them to see.

A year ago at this time, I had just driven from Colorado to California, my Subaru packed to the gills, to live in a city I had visited just once or twice in a house with people I had never met. I had never taken an art class before, never lived anywhere except for Boulder, and never done so many other things I was about to do. The newness and change of it all was overwhelming- but so very exciting at the same time.

The first semester was a complete emotional roller-coaster as I adjusted to the demands of art school, slowly figuring out that I couldn't make every assignment perfect, that I could only do my best and try my hardest. Oftentimes, I felt like that wasn't enough, and I constantly compared myself and my work to that of my peers, many of which have been studying art devoutly since high school or younger. My pride and ego swung between feeling very affirmed and on the right track at times, then completely out of place and inferior at other times. I learned so much that semester, not only academically, but also personally. The biggest lesson that I took away was just to stay true to my own artistic impulse, to not question it, try to filter it or reshape it to fit what I think others are expecting or wanting. Anytime I strayed from this, my work suffered and came out tepid and lifeless. Whenever I followed my inner vision, the work stood on its own and spoke for itself.

Here are some photos from Semester 1, from my Chiaroscuro class and my Concept, Technique and Illustration class.
Charcoal on paper, Chiaroscuro class.
Drapery study for Chiaroscuro class.
Study of a plaster cast torso for Chiaroscuro class.
My teacher, Jun's, drawing. Charcoal on paper.
Still life study for Chiaroscuro class.
This is what the teacher's notes on chalkboards look like at art school. Chiaroscuro class- all about light and shadow.
Figure drawing in Chiaroscuro.
Jun's sketch of the model, which took under ten minutes.
One of Jun's paintings. The instructors at the Academy are all phenomenal artists.
Children's book illustration, "Night." For Concept, Technique and Illustration class.
Children's book illustration, "Day" For Concept, Technique and Illustration class.
In progress...
"Eclipse," for Concept, Technique and Illustration.
After a much needed month in the desert of Las Vegas over my winter break, I returned to California to take on my second semester. While it was still very challenging, the intense ups and downs of the previous semester had mostly mellowed out, and I got to spend more of that energy on practicing my skills and trying to improve. It became somewhat of an obsession, and many nights I found myself dreaming of drawing or painting, or walking through vast halls of art museums, looking at master paintings that don't exist in real life. During this semester I also started to notice a direct improvement in my art, and it became very evident that this pursuit of going to school was incredibly worthwhile and exactly where I needed to be. I stopped doubting whether or not I would ever achieve the level of mastery that I so badly desire; instead I just committed fully to the endless hours of work and practice that it will take me to reach that place. My doubt in myself was replaced with resolve. Now I feel like it's just a question of hard work, patience, diligence, discipline, and dedication. I have a lifetime of learning to do, but I'm excited to do it.

Here's some of my work from the second semester, from Sustained Figurative Concepts class and Head Drawing class.

Sustained Figurative Concepts Class, pastel.
Sustained Figurative Concepts Class, pastel.
My teacher, Bill Maughn's, drawing.
My teacher, Bill Maughn's, drawing.
Skull study for Head Drawing class, charcoal on paper.
Skull study for Head Drawing class, charcoal on paper.
Skull study for Head Drawing class, charcoal on paper.
Ears and eyes studies for Head Drawing class, charcoal on paper.

Nose and mouth studies for Head Drawing class, charcoal on paper.
In class oil study of a model. Head Drawing class.
Oil painting of my classmate for Head Drawing class.
Self portrait in progress. 

Self portrait, charcoal on paper. Head Drawing Class.
During last year, I also had the opportunity to show my work in several group shows at Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco. Between the techniques I learned in class, the inspiration gained from my teachers and fellow students, and the exposure to the vibrant art scene here in the Bay Area, I had the most artistically stimulating year of my life so far.

"Eclipse" for Modern Eden Gallery's group show "Woodland"
"Thanatopsis" for Modern Eden Gallery's group show "Dark Art: A Tribute to Metal"
"Embryo," for Modern Eden Gallery's group show "Menagerie"
As my second year at school begins, I find myself incredibly motivated and aware of the extreme amount of work I have ahead of me on my path as an artist. I have so much to learn. 

To close, I'll leave you with a quote from Ira Glass which resounds heavily with this very novice artist. As always, thanks for reading.

"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone had told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential. but it's not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one piece. It's only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met. It's gonna take a while. It's normal to take awhile. You just gotta fight your way through."


  1. Your work is fantastic! I've just started at AAU graduate school too, and I haven't studied art before. I'm also working 60+ hours a week so finding it very very difficult to keep up with even one class.

    I'm studying online from San Diego and I feel like we really miss out on a lot of instruction and feedback as a result. Plus we don't get the opportunity to participate in any of the group shows.

    Anyway, just wanted to say how much your post inspired me and that your work so far is really really great!

  2. Thanks so much for your feedback Jessica- it's great to hear of other student's experiences. I can imagine that studying online is even more difficult than studying on campus. I definitely benefit a lot from having the instructors around to offer feedback/help on my work. I'd love to see some of your work- keep in touch!