“Flexible” describes Atallia Burke’s Saturday morning drawing course for 8- to 12-year-olds. Although she has projects prepared for each class, she will make changes on the fly if her students want to take a different approach or if they express interest in a different subject. Her teaching philosophy: Art has no parameters. When she presents a project she prefers not to give too much direction, recognizing that young students will enjoy an art activity more if they can add their own details, background or colour.
Atallia is in her fourth year of teaching art to children at the KSOA. She usually begins her first class with a new group by asking students what kind of art they like, and then she asks them to draw it. Her purpose is twofold—to discover what interests them and to determine their skill level.
Last Saturday morning, while Atallia’s students were warming up doing pencil drawings on large pieces of newsprint, they told me what they liked about the course and what they had learned. Cameron, a thoughtful 11-year-old who also attended summer art camp, learned how to add detail to his drawings. Sragvi, age 8, who was delightedly showing me a teeny-tiny drawing of herself (recognizable because of the boots), liked that she could use materials different from those offered at her school. Ethan, 11, a fan of digital art creation, learned about perspective and said he had especially enjoyed the class in which he drew a chair with pillows and draped fabric. Molly, also 11, liked the student-teacher ratio (4 to 1 in this course). She learned to draw what she sees, and not what she thinks a thing looks like. She also learned that if she is looser in her movements, drawing is easier. And, finally, she learned to take more time.
The class began as Atallia had her students choose a donkey or an easel in the back room of the school in preparation for the morning’s life drawing activity. She then became the (clothed) model while the young artists used pencil to draw stick figures on newsprint, paying attention to the tilt of shoulders and hips. “What direction is my body moving?” she asked. And later, as she circulated to look at the students’ work: “Great lean!” Then it was my turn to model for a few minutes while Atallia provided individual help. Next, each member of the class took a turn at posing. “It’s a good way to make them conscious of the dynamism of a movement,” Atallia told me. To the students she said, “Draw just the outline of the body. Pay attention to all the bumps. Don’t look at your paper!” The result: Overlapping blind contours in crayon and oil pastel. And all the while students were rotating from donkeys to standing easel in order to get the feel of working at both. Finally, Atallia handed out large sheets of yellow paper. She mounted the dais again, positioned a light source and found a comfortable pose that she held for 10 minutes. Now students could add detail and shadows. Cameron was the last model of the morning. “If you were drawing small, draw big,” Atallia then suggested.
Although there is repetition from course to course in the projects Atallia does, each new set of students approaches them with excitement. She likes nothing better than when her young artists surprise her by going beyond expectations. And she has witnessed growth, in Sragvi, for example, who is taking the course for a second time.
As the class cleaned up before going home, Atallia reminded them, “Make sure you sign your drawings.”
Youth Drawing With Atallia starts up again in the new year on January 19.