IMG_6936The following comments are from students in the Fall 2014, Art 160 Visual Thinking class. I have selected passages that touch on my teaching goals in an introductory course that emphasize what I value–mainly: process over product, personal authenticity, hard-work and the (often unanticipated) intellectual nature of the creative experience. The student’s original process logs are linked to the observations. Mostly these quotes are responses to a request about their overall learning in the semester. Kudos to all of the students in the course for the integrity of their approach and engagement in the projects and the community as a whole. It’s the approach that makes it happen–the meaning that comes from the collaboration between students, experimenting with materials and embracing the project goals. Right on.

Coming into this class with absolutely no artistic experience felt like a huge disadvantage at the beginning of the semester, but now I realize that having a completely blank slate gave me total freedom to explore, learn, and grow, even though I was often reluctant to do so. I learned so much about shapes, line, proportion, value, and materials, and I realized how much consideration and planning go into a single project. I loved getting to know the other students in the class and seeing their personal styles develop and show in their own projects. I think the most important thing I learned in this class is how to start allowing myself to explore possibilities, without judgment.

IMG_5707I loved coming to class each time because it was a chance to learn something new about life and by now we should all know, art does not imitate life, it is, in fact, the other way around. Life imitates art. As I watched myself and all my fellow classmates create and re-create concepts and ideas that were beyond our normal realms of thinking and engaging with the world around us, I was genuinely moved and inspired with each new project adventure

My main takeaway from this semester is one that I understood already at midterms: you don’t have to produce great art to be an artist; you have to be an artist to produce great art.

I only produced a couple things this semester I think are good enough to show off. Mostly, it wasn’t about what I made, but how I made it. I have better tools now, and I feel much less pressure. The combination is incredibly empowering and uplifting.

IMG_5713Originally I took this course because i thought it would be interesting and really cause i needed the credits. But as the semester went by I enjoyed coming to class because I discovered that I had been lying to myself by saying that I was not an artist and that I had no artistic talent. I realize that art is more that just being able to draw or paint something. I also learned not to be so critical of myself. Art is something where everything is up to interpretation and there is no set right or wrong.

Another thing I learn is that I  need to stop asking weather my art is right or not because I am the artist and because I am the artist only I would know when my art work is done or right,…

This course was much more of a struggle for me than I thought it would be, however it challenged me in great way. It forced me to think outside of the box, realize that mistakes are IMG_6159beautiful, and that there is no right way of doing something. I noticed that everything is a process. It’s not always important to have a finished product that appears to be perfect, but it’s the in-between that is the most meaningful. This course taught me that there is a constant battle in our brains between how we perceive things to look as compared to what your eye is looking at. This class really showed me how to look at an object or image. Our perceptions can become distorted when looking at images because we are trained to think about things in a certain way.

Coming to Art 160 twice a week was a really nice mental break from my week, not because I didn’t have to use my head but because I had to use my head in a different way then I do in my other classes. The drawings we did of the chair, the boxes and finally our self portraits were difficult for me because I almost never draw but I really appreciated the projects once we were finished because they taught me the importance of value, proportion and honesty drawing with the eye. IMG_6533Aside from the projects themselves, I really enjoyed getting to see everyone’s individual approach to the projects and the finished product. I feel each one of us brought a piece of ourselves to each project and gave it our own personal touch. I remember during our value box critique someone said the boxes turned out so well because each one was unique to the artist and how they hope to see aesthetics develop over our time in the course. I feel that each one of us has found a skill or technique of our own just in these past few months and I think that’s really cool. This course has been so valuable because it has taken all of us, those with experience and those without, and has taught each one of us something new not necessarily about the art we make but ourselves in our process of making it.

I took this class as a distributional requirement, and it was much more difficult than I could’ve IMG_6904ever imagined. It took way much more time and effort to complete all the assignments with my best given effort, but it was definitely worth it. I am proud of the hard work and time I put into this class, and I do not regret taking it. I learned new art concepts, how to use new materials, and that its ok to make mistakes. All of the assignments were basically new to me and they were all different and diverse.

One thing that I have repeated over and over and remains true right now is that I have learned to trust and focus on the process, not the product. All the woulda-coulda-shoulda’s do not always matter, especially in art. I have produced some work that I am quite proud of in this class. I have been graced by the exposure of my classmates’ wonderful work as well. Some of us my have had experience in an art class before, others may not have. I don’t entirely think it matters because I believe all of us have learned a lot about themselves as people and artists.



“Ziwen is a combination of eagle and tortoise that has not only the solid shell and short tail of a tortoise, but also the huge wings, hard beak, and strong claws of an eagle. Instead of the cold and piercing eyes of eagles, Ziwen’s eyes look warm and beautiful because it is a deity which bring people hope and save their life. With wings comparable to the eagles’, it has the fastest flying speed. Every time it finds people are tortured by the diseases, it will fly to them and carry magic flowers it planted, which could cure all the diseases, to save them. The attributes of tortoise and eagle guarantee that it can live in all kinds of hard environments and that it has a long life expectancy that enables it to live for thousands of years”

(From Xinyao’s process Blog)

Xinyao’s Superpower animal was very moving and many of you chose her animal to write about.

From Alison:

“Everyone’s animal was really interesting and well executed, but if I would have to pick my favorite one I will choose Xinyao’s animal : the tortoise/eagle hybrid.

I think he’s the most appealing to me because of the feeling that comes out of it. We can really feel the effort and care that she put to create this beautiful animal. She searched to reproduce with extreme fidelity and precision all the elements of her animal. We can even perceive the eyelashes on his face and see the feather on his legs. What’s even more impressive is that the most precise and accurate animal was actually  the smallest one. It’s just beautiful how a tiny object can have so much cultural and emotional baggages depending on the use of  colors and materials.”

From Ama:

Xin Yao’s Super Animal was so flawlessly and carefully put together, the personal significance is impossible to disregard, The fact that her animal is so small yet so detailed is an ode to her craftsmanship and  artistic precision. The wings and the white rose are my favorite parts of the piece I think they add a wonderful flair to the animal, its interesting how two small things are so subtly powerful and present. Without them, Xin Yao’s piece simply wouldn’t be the same. The entire piece has a tranquil effect on its witnesses and the materials function easily in demonstrating the animals super power, which is bringing calm and healing to sick cancer patients.

(Ama’s process log)

From Anastasia:

“Allow me to introduce Zi Wen by 欣瑶(Xin Yao). I am in love with this animal. She created the Zi Wen in order to help cure terminal illnesses like Cancer. She mentioned that this was a very important issue to her because someone in her family has cancer. The Zi Wen is a mix of an eagle and a turtle. In China, the turtle is a symbol of immortality. In ancient times, the god of Egyptian art is an eagle as well as in america it is a sign of strength. Its superpower is the ability to adapt to any situation, immortality, and can cure illnesses. She tied in the adaptability to being able to travel to different lands and be completely fine living there as well as humans who are ill can adapt to hospitals and different tests more comfortably. Also its sound is ‘fu fu fu’.

But can we just take a minute and look at this animal? Its so clear that she spent a lot of time on it. Not only the wings, but he intricacy of the face shows that every piece put on was very precisely put. The flower in its grip is that extra flair that lets us know that it promotes peace or health.”

(Anastasia’s process log)

From Anna:

“The “tortoise and eagle” by Xinyao Li is my favorite animal from the class. Every aspect of it, from symbolic form, to materials, to size, are synchronized perfectly to create a smooth and moving 3D creature. Its compact size makes it unassuming; its beautiful, outstretched, layered wings make it expansive and majestic; its soft pink body makes it warm and comforting; the flower clutched in its feet makes it active and more alive. It is a truly moving and effective piece.”

(Anna’s Process Log)

From Hannah:

“As far as other people’s animals in class go, Xinyao’s tortoise/eagle hybrid impressed me the most. The obvious meticulous care that she put into constructing it was amazing. Her use of Chinese and American folklore was awesome, and is representative of how the two cultures must affect her as a person, having moved to the U.S. for college. Her honoring her grandfather in her animal’s superpower of healing and giving hope to those who are sick was also incredibly admirable. I was so impressed.”

(Hannah’s process log)

From Katie:

“My favorite animal out of the class was defiantly the eagle tortes. Not only was the most detailed an intricate animal there, but she had so much passion and care for it! She connected it to her grandfather whom she defiantly loves abundantly! She wanted something to cure his cancer and this beautiful animal was made to do just that! By flying to the caner infected person and giving them a beautiful flower to cure their cancer. Her animal was so beautiful! To think that it was created from trash is crazy! if I hadn’t known the assignment I would never have, in a million years, guessed it was made out of garbage! the wings were so detailed! and they has the three colors to represent the three cultures mixing together. Oh, it was just so wonderful!”

(from Katie’s Process log)

Clearly an inspired and inspiring piece!

Nell Ruby:

Images from Alison! (Merci!)

Originally posted on :

Since everyone I talked to about this class project asked me about the work of others in the class, I decided to show them through pictures on the blog.

I took the photos with my DSLR camera so if some artists wants to get a high quality photo of their sculpture, feel free to do so !

I really love everyone’s animal and I think we all did a excellent job so I hope you will all feel the same way by looking at this pictures….

Enjoy !

DSC_0983DSC_0991DSC_0996DSC_1000DSC_1003DSC_1004  DSC_1016DSC_1022DSC_1030DSC_1035DSC_1043DSC_1047!!!$DSC_1050DSC_1056!!!obsolesPandove less qualityDSC_1014

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hannahwaggermanartThis is such a cool photograph! Hannah says, “This is a picture I snapped while I was driving home this week. I doubt I would have noticed how the road line in the mirror matches with the actual road before this class. As it were, I just had to stop and take it before another car showed up!”

(from Alison's Process Log): By seeing everyones chair on the wall, I realized that even if the chair is the same, the artists are different and you can really see it. You can see by the force of the lines and by the marks left on the paper that every chair reflects the personality of the artist who made it.

(from Alison’s Process Log):
By seeing everyones chair on the wall, I realized that even if the chair is the same, the artists are different and you can really see it. You can see by the force of the lines and by the marks left on the paper that every chair reflects the personality of the artist who made it.

I was struck by the following passage from Alison’s reflection:

It’s been almost two months that the Visual Thinking course started, and in this short amount of time, I feel it has brought me so many things. First the discovery of new art tools but also a better notion of space and light. But it has mostly brought me, not a better capacity to create art, but the capacity to approach art differently. By making me work on patience, on self-confidence, and on my ability to let go of my mistakes, this course has offered me the opportunity to work on myself as much, if not more, as on my art.

This work on myself that I ‘m talking to you about, can simply be reflected on the comfort of showing your creations to someone else, which is now much easier for me.

But the thing that strikes me the most about this class is being able to not feel alone anymore in the art process, we are ALL working on the same project, we are ALL confronted to the same problems while doing it, and we are ALL paying attention to others work and appreciating it.

And with that proximity and exchange with other artists, you somehow develop something that goes beyond any knowledge that the teacher, alone, will be able to give you.

I boldfaced the ideas that I especially want to acknowledge. These ideas cannot be attributed to a single “teacher” but instead result from group contributions. The student herself must be open to being open, and that only happens when the temperature of the studio is just right. She feels her peers are for her and not judging her, and so feels open to risk and to develop her capacities and approaches. This passage that Alison wrote is a tribute to the effort of the Fall 2014 Visual Thinking class –which has a level of gravitas and contentment that is yielding surprising results. Alison captures beautifully that this is “something that goes beyond any knowledge that the teacher, alone, will be able to give you”

Nell Ruby:

This artist’s post is thoughtful and well-written and even “thesis driven” in that she shares a cohesive connection to the idea of “should” in her concluding paragraph. All of her previous posts are also worth reading!

Originally posted on Sydney M. Art160 Fall 2014 ASC:

Drawing without instruction always seems like a good idea initially. You feel inspired, you’ve got all your pencils sharpened and your erasers clean and at the read. Perfect. Usually you have an idea in your head of what you want the final result to look like. Maybe you have your drawing subject put in front of you. Either way, without instruction and without a clearly defined process, you will fall short of your expectations. If you don’t then I will just admit that I do. Usually.

IMG_20140903_010150This beautiful drawing to the left is of a chair. It is far below my expectations of what my drawing of a chair should look like. I had no goal other than to draw a chair. I had no purpose other than to see the end result. I wanted my end result to look ‘correct’ and it did not. It looks similar to ‘a…

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Sometimes a teacher gets to hear something like this:

In the second portion of the class, when we chose to draw something other than our hands, I chose to draw a classmate.  While drawing her something unexpected happened. A sort of emotional transference. Through the action of simply seeing her without the expectation of reproducing anything visually pleasing, I began to truly see this individual. Not only did this task of drawing her take on an entirely new meaning, it became emotional and perhaps intimate, as though I began to see something that had been hidden and unseen by myself or  anyone…

The act of drawing someone is an intimate experience, perhaps more for the artist than the subject, because through our truly seeing the other, we begin to truly see our lack of sight, our lack of comprehension of the complex nuance of the individual experience… its wonder and incomprehensible nature.

And when a teacher reads that kind of thing about a classroom situation that she set up, she gets this warm satisfied sense that she is in the right line of work, and that her work is meaningful and powerful. I have to say, it’s a really good feeling. Read the whole post. (thank you for articulating this Julia!)



largepostitpobservationsThe process log is simply a blog for documenting the process, support and insights of your visual thinking work. The log provides a venue for you to reflect on what you make in order to consider relevance and meaning for your work. Ideally through the process log you can see specific work in the context of your larger learning. In a class log, observe specific projects within the whole of the class. In multiple class logs over time, see your semester in the context of a year of learning, or the year within the four-year experience, etc. Learning and meaning emerge through reflecting on the specific experience. The process log is meant to create a mechanism for forming a habit of documenting and reflection.

The log can provide you with references and benchmarks to make visible patterns of interest that you might not otherwise notice.  These patterns can lend insight for making sophisticated choices for further study, or simply provide a vehicle for getting to know yourself better: what you like to study, what approaches you seem to prefer, and what doesn’t work for you.

Use it as a repository for annotated research (a live bibliography), and for a reference “image bank” illustrating your increasing skills. Use it to review world-wide images with live links for accessibility, annotation and to provide paths to follow for further discovery. Post as often as you like but regularly enough so that it becomes a habit. Observe the time of day/week that are most efficient and effective for you to stimulate your learning. When are you most engaged? When is the best time for you for reflective writing and thinking?

How To Begin:
Any blog software will work. This blog is created in WordPress which is flexible and versatile and provides good support. It’s also free of charge at the basic level. But any blog software will work–as long as viewers can directly comment (important: please ensure that commenting does not require any kind of password or image word translating—I have found that that inhibits free comments from your peers because it is too much trouble). You are welcome to set privacy settings so that only your classmates and instructors can see your p-log if you would rather not yet go “world-wide”. will help you get started. Google’s Blogger is an excellent choice as well, and may work more seamlessly with course content. offers tutorials for you with tips on blogging and various softwares. Using tags and categories will make for more efficient and meaningful resource mining as you expand your site.

Post daily. Use your images and screen shots of where you are in your work (this is a great way to show your work as it changes, especially as you work in PhotoShop and make significant changes to the iamge). Try to make sure images are in focus and position yourself so that the subject you are shooting is uncluttered. For examples and further reading see Links under P-Log hall of fame to the left of this post, and read Bees, Being and Blogging, a post inspired by the June 2012 Summer Visual Thinking course. You can see a more general discussion on the process log on the “about” tab in this blog.

Summer Session Art 160 final critique. Photo by Christine Baker

“Trying to create a realistic, accurate likeness of yourself is a quietly revolutionary act. To do so is to state that your own face is a valid subject for art as it is, without the sort of prettifying symbolism that the left brain traffics in.” (baker160)

Typically my class content changes every semester, simply because new projects keep me more engaged in the day-to-day process of teaching. Fresh content provides new opportunities. One major exception is the erasure self portrait project that has become iconic in my section of Visual Thinking (art 160). I think I’ve included this project every semester since the first time I taught this class over ten years ago. I don’t seem to be able to let it go, although I have tried. One major reason is student demand. The semester before last I had dropped the project from the syllabus only to be implored by the students to bring it back. I learned this semester that people enroll in the course because of the project, or at least in full anticipation of it. It’s easy to keep because is offers a great mechanism for teaching about value (the grey scale aspect of the subject–its relative degree of lightness and darkness) and about other observable truths like proportions and relationships of shape, and the manner in which light creates form.  It’s a good tool for teaching direct observation–the subject (you) is always at the ready. No worries that the model won’t show up, at least physically. As I like to remind my students: I am always there for myself. The subject of self is always of interest to the artist, although rarely liked–and this is where it gets exciting for me. One of my overarching teaching motivations is to remove the idea of judgment from work in favor of the notion of discernment. Judging implies reducing all things to a level of good and bad, whereas discernment expands definitions and repertoire. For example, “this media isn’t serving this drawing and is therefore bad and I can’t use it” might become “this media is too dark/light/whatever for this drawing so I will save it for a drawing where I wish for a dark/light/whatever outcome and now explore other media”. The result is the same (putting aside the current media), but I find the method that employs an approach of openness and non-dismissal creates a habit of expanding into creative work and promotes discovery and risk-taking. It is simply a practice of working that opens rather than limits. In the matter of a student looking at her own reflection, the idea of removing judgment is against every habit she has formed. In our world, a young woman (any woman, and increasingly men too) has typically learned that the value of how her face looks is synonymous with how well she adheres to some ideal of beauty outside of her own particular looks. (Although the ideals may vary widely.) One aspect of this assignment that I value is that the student spends 18-30 hours looking at her face in search of clues as to how to accurately portray the way light falls on her features to express accurate peaks and valleys. Success comes in comparing her drawing to her specific face, not in comparing her face with some outside ideal.

The method of “erasing” ones face from a toned drawing is confusing at first. The artist must reconcile the mechanical variation of erasing the form into existence. The time necessary to work this out, helps to subvert any automatic or “encoded” symbolic drawing. The artist can’t draw like she usually does, simply because she doesn’t know how.

“and so, the final project begins. I have yet to get comfortable with the method, which is quite counter-intuitive for someone coming from a very sketch-based drawing background. whereas I am used to plotting out my work beforehand, then building layer after layer upon a firm foundation. instead, this project takes a different approach that involves basically everything that it has been engrained in me not to do – extensive erasing and focusing entirely on one piece of the drawing, finishing it completely before moving on to the next bit.

like all of the other projects we have done thus far, this assignment has really shoved me outside of my “comfort zone”, even more so than the others. however frustrating it may be, I feel as though I have already learned more from this project than any others – hyper focus, awareness, erasing symbolism, and more than all, patience.”

emerging form: Ruby Kett

It is typically frustrating at first for the simple mechanics involved in erasing into light instead of making a dark mark. And then the thought of not composing or sketching a map of the face, but instead making it whole from the center (no value can be added unless it touches the previously completed shape, and until the previous shape is finished) releases the artist from “known” thinking (this is how I make a face) and enables her to remove herself from seeing her own reflection judgmentally, because she needs to look at her face as a reference, in order to study the intricacies of light working across this complex surface.

“I got lost, in a good way. I had a dialogue with the light hitting my face, the shapes and the value. It was like I was in a space of discovering truth. Even though the project requires us to not think of symbolized versions of facial features, there were moments where I caught myself wanting to make it look like something different. Whenever I would try that, the drawing would disconnect with me. For example, I started to think of drawing shadows. That’s when I got stumped. I was focused on the mechanics of making a good shadow, instead of focusing on the changes in value on my face.” iscoloringatalent

It’s an intentionally subversive way of framing re-seeing. A quiet revolution seeds itself: the stalwart presence of these planes of light, their solidity and strength cemented through black charcoal and hours of time spent respecting and expressing their accuracy deliver the message. There’s no denying it, here we are. baker160 has eloquently written about the experience in her blog (follow the link to a beautiful article on the topic)

“Generally, when a woman is sitting in front of a mirror for hours on end trying to perfect something, she’s not striving for her face to look exactly as it does. There’s a cultural beauty ideal in place that bears no relationship to what anyone actually looks like, though woe betide you if you try to ignore it. Flipping the script such that the ideal you’re striving to replicate is already on your face—it is your face—is a necessary component of drawing a likeness.”

Process log comment excerpt:

Nell: wow do I love this:

“I have as well been having trouble this week with my other classes and this project has helped to calm me, and to realize that imperfection can make a more significant mark than pure perfection ever can.”

I didn’t learn that ‘til age 50!
 How much more interesting is your (imperfect) take on the matter than anything authoritarian and perfect? How much more inclined am I to participate and relate if it is not perfect? How much more curious I am and accessible you are in the imperfect expression?!

What about redefining perfect as having the perfect experience rather than the perfect product. So, for example if the experience leads to discovery it’s perfect. When you abandon the notion of a specific result, it’s a perfect experience.

Celeste: So life is perfect, no matter what happens, just because we are living

Nell: yes. Like.

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