- I took a $75 virtual drawing class taught by college professors.
- The class made me long for my college years, but some elements of the undergraduate experience were missing, which made me thankful I finished school before the pandemic.
- I missed meeting my classmates and professors in the same space, and I think I would have learned the concepts quicker if my professors were watching over my shoulder.
- Learning to draw with other people, even virtually, made me feel less alone during the coronavirus pandemic, which has been socially isolating, and gave me one more activity to do at home.
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I always thought of drawing as something other people do. Sure, I've doodled through classes in college, but I never thought of drawing as a way to spend my free time.
When I was stuck at home waiting out the coronavirus pandemic, a flyer for a virtual drawing class made me think otherwise. I've been turning to music, video games, and journaling to fill up my free time while staying in, so why not try something new?
The Art Local is a drawing school run by two college art professors, Renee Lai and Sarah Fagan, in Austin, Texas.
Lai and Fagan teach both art majors and non-majors at the University of Texas, Austin, and St. Edward's University.
Fagan and Lai came up with the idea while teaching art for non-major students. These classes typically fill up quickly with students who are excited by art and eager to learn, Lai said.
So the duo decided to create shortened versions of their classes with optional homework. While the original plan was to hold these classes in-person, Lai and Fagan launched the courses online in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Here's what it's like to take a drawing class over Zoom.
I saw a flyer for the art class in my Austin neighborhood while walking my dog. Intrigued, I went to the website listed and signed up for "Intro to Drawing."
Sarah Fagan said that this course is made for people who are interested in art but haven't pursued it. "It's just a little taste of what it could have been like" to be an art major, she added.
The class took place on Thursday evenings at 8 p.m. through the month of June. The supply list included basic art supplies, like pencils, erasers, and a sketchbook.
I also had to get some line charcoal for the class, which was easy to find at my local art supply store.
Line charcoal is exactly what it sounds like — it's a cylindrical strip of charcoal can you hold in your hand. It's messy, but mistakes rub away easily with a swipe of your hand.
At first, I was intimidated by line charcoal, but by the end of the course, I was using it for fun.
In total, the class cost about $99 — $75 to attend and the rest on supplies.
Each class began with a warm-up activity, like drawing for five minutes without looking at your paper.
Just putting the pencil to paper for a few minutes helped me get into the mindset to draw before learning any new concepts. This helped me loosen up for the rest of the class.
After warming up, we moved into a lecture. Each class taught us a different element or two to consider while drawing, like line, scale, and light.
Renee Lai and Fagan used slideshows to help illustrate the concepts.
Lai said that it's harder to tell whether or not her students are engaged while teaching online.
"When I present in person, I am facing the sea of faces, so I can see who's paying attention, who's sitting up, and who is taking notes," she told Business Insider. "But when I'm sharing my screen, I feel like I'm talking to myself."
To combat this, Lai pauses her lectures periodically to ask if anyone has questions.
There were about seven students in each class I attended.
The slideshows illustrated concepts and shared examples of related works of art.
Fagan said it can take a lot longer to communicate information online than it does in person.
In a classroom setting, Fagan speaks as she draws when introducing new concepts.
I found the examples in the slideshows to be just as crucial as the concepts they represented in helping me fully grasp the material. They also inspired me when it was time to create my own drawings.
After each lecture, we spent the rest of the class drawing with a focus on the concept we learned about that day.
Lai said she misses face-to-face interactions with students while teaching over Zoom. In the classroom, Lai would normally stand behind her students to help correct any mistakes.
"Sometimes just my presence alone gets them to snap to attention and remember certain things that I've told them," Lai told Business Insider.
While practicing new concepts, the professors helped me with any issues I was having, like where to start and how to troubleshoot common mistakes.
Over Zoom, we held up our drawings to share our progress and get feedback.
Each week, Fagan and Lai gave us drawing assignments to complete by the next class meeting.
We submitted our assignments online by taking photos of our drawings and uploading them to a class folder. Lai and Fagan commented on our uploads to share helpful feedback and names of artists our work reminded them of.
These assignments kept me thinking about drawing throughout the week.
The goal of our homework was to practice the skills we learned in class that day.
The assignments challenged me to be patient with myself. Drawing for an hour seemed like a long time when the class began, but now, I can easily fill up an afternoon with just my sketchbook because I am being more intentional in what I draw.
By the end of the class, I had made drawing a part of my personal life, which is exactly what I hoped to get out of it.
I wouldn't say I'm necessarily better at drawing than I was before I took this class, but I'm certainly drawing a lot more because I have a better sense of how to approach a drawing.
Now I draw during my free time to de-stress, using the concepts I learned during the course.
Although I would have preferred to take this class in-person, Lai and Fagan said there are some upsides to hosting the Art Local classes over Zoom, like reaching a wider audience and having a more intimate environment.
Fagan said that she can reach students outside of Austin over Zoom and some students talk more over Zoom than they would in person.
"A lot of art students are known for being pretty shy and introverted," Fagan told Business Insider. "They have told me that they are much more comfortable talking when it's a Zoom setting."
Fagan and Sarah said they enjoy the intimacy of classes conducted over Zoom.
"We're all in each other's houses at the same time, which is weird and special and that's life right now," Fagan added. "We're a little bit more real than we might be out in the world."
Regardless, this class made me certain I wouldn't want to attend college online, even though I'd take it again.
I'm glad I took this class because it gave me a new skill to work on in my free time, but only because I am doing it for fun. If I were to seriously pursue art in college, this class convinced me that a virtual environment would not cut it.
This is primarily because you can't see all the details of a work of art through a screen. You miss out on textures, scale, and sometimes light and color.
I wouldn't want to attend college online after taking this course. I found that my schooling from home would be, above all else, lonely.
In college, I learned how to communicate and collaborate with other people. While that can still be done online, there's a limit. There's nothing quite like looking your professor in the eye as they teach, knowing you could be called on at any moment to speak on the subject. Asking a tough question to someone's face takes courage. A year after graduating, those are the moments that have stuck with me.
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