Drawing as a Way of Knowing - A&S 095 

A&S O95;   Wed: 03:30 PM - 07:30 PM, ANGELL B203


Professor Michael Strauss

531  Cook

Ph: 865 2329 (home)

Ph: 656 2594 (secretary in Chemistry) 

email: Michael.Strauss@uvm.edu

web:  http://www.mjstrauss.com

    “There is something that’s very intense about the experience of sitting down and having to look at something in the way that you do in order to make a drawing or a painting of it.  By the time you’ve done that, you feel that you’ve really understood what you were looking at.... and somehow it becomes a method of possessing the experience in a unique way.“

 - Robert Bechtle -    

    Drawing is visual reasoning--it involves decisions about mark making, evaluating and reevaluating these marks, and ultimately, taking action to create in a particular way. The images made on paper during drawing form a partial record of  thinking.  Preliminary sketches - early ideas - are easily done with a pencil on paper.  In this way, they are easily revised and redone. This is one of the quickest and most direct means of creating visual representations of ideas. Free hand drawing and redrawing allow multiple interpretations and reinterpretations, and thus a constant production of alternatives. The process may be exploratory, expressive, or inspir-ational. It can scrutinize, map, record, exemplify, explain, symbolize or objectify.  It is a way of discovering and ultimately, a powerful and important way of knowing.   

    Drawing is a discipline in its own right, but it is also foundational for all the visual arts and sciences.  It is seen by some as the art form closest to pure thought.  At its best it is very precise in its meaning, and yet it is infinitely discursive.  It is one of the most ancient human traditions, but is in a state of continual renewal in both technique and content, from ancient cave drawings of animals to CHEM3D Pro images of molecular structures .

    In this course you will be creating images in the process of learning how to draw, and you will be writing about this process and recording in language what you have experienced.   You will learn to draw better, and come to understand drawing as a way of knowing about a subject.  

Drawing as a Way of Knowing

    As students, you know that images help you better understand concepts.   Lectures, web sites and textbooks are filled with them.  Of equal importance however, but often ignored, are your own formative, rough drawn images and diagrams, expressing your understanding of content in biology, botany, chemistry, physics, mathematics, etc..  In these drawings, ideas often only become fully “real”  in your mind when you do them in your own hand.  This allows more complete comprehension, and extended revision and exploratory alternatives are possible.  Examples of the importance of drawing to learn  in this way are documented in thousands of notebooks, logs, and  journals kept by scientists, engineers, mathematicians, musicians and artists who create, discover and explore using drawing.  In this class we will, in part, consider informal drawing as a tool for learning across the disciplines.

    Concurrent with our artistic work we may read and discuss a few essays from some of the following texts:  Arnheim ("Visual Thinking"), Tufte ("Visual Explanations"), Stevens ("Patterns in Nature"),  Hoffman (“Visual Intelligence”),  Livingstone (“Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing”) and Solso (“Cognition and the Visual Arts”).

    During the semester you will also write one 10 page paper (5 pages of text and 5 of drawings) which elaborates your experience and progress in this class.   In it, you will describe your own personal feelings about your drawing and the process of doing it, your progress, what is difficult for you, what becomes easier, and what you have learned during the semester.   You will also give an oral presentation of this paper where you will talk about the drawings you have done, why you did them, and what you feel about them and the process you went through to make them.   Details about both the paper and the presentation will be discussed in class.  

    Xerox copies of drafts (there will be at least three drafts of your paper) will be peer reviewed (i.e., you will be reading each other's papers) and eventually reviewed by me.  Final copies of artwork/images to accompany the text will also be submitted for review prior to incorporation into your paper.   Some may choose to incorporate images into the text of the essays rather than have separate sections for text and images.  

     As noted above, your final papers (only) should be about five pages in length (of text), single spaced, with margins as will be noted in class.  An additional five pages should be devoted to art/images.  The latter may be inserted into the text if you wish (vide supra.)  All drafts prior to the final manuscript should be double spaced.  This makes reviewing and corrections easier.  The font should be Times No. 14,  justified on the left (as in this syllabus) with centered titles. If you have any references, they should be in parenthesis and on line like this: (1), and tabulated numerically at the end of the paper without parentheses under the title "References." A standard format will be discussed during class time so the papers are uniform in appearance.  

    The formal oral presentation of your paper should elaborate the text and the visual images of your artistic work.   Under no circumstances should you read your paper in front of the class.  Your images may be presented via overhead projection, slides, computer projection via the ELMO, Power Point,  or in any other appropriate way.  They should be visible to the whole class.  In your talk you should verbally express the meaning of each image and the process you went through to create it.

Grades (approximate distribution):

    * ATTENDANCE and knowledgeable participation in class:    20%


    * ORAL PRESENTATION                                                        10%

    * PAPER AND IMAGES IN PAPER                                        30%



    Class attendance is absolutely critical and will be a significant part of your grade. We meet only once per week (only about 14 times during the semester), and missing class is detrimental to the whole group because we will be working together on many aspects of the course. It is also detrimental to the individual student.  Missing one class is equivalent to missing a full week of the course.   Missing two classes is equivalent to missing a half month of the course.   Missing more than two classes (with an approved excuse) will result in a grade of incomplete.   Without an excuse you will fail the course.  Each of our four hour classes will be very busy.  Come prepared.  And be on time.  Late comers will be duly noted.  


    I also would like to meet with each of you individually throughout the semester to discuss your progress, your paper project and your art work.   For many of you, I am your advisor here at UVM and I will expect to see you in my office when you have questions or concerns about your academic work, administrative issues, or other problems associated with your first year on campus.   We will also talk about such things in class as a group as the semester proceeds.   If you have chosen a major and have an advisor in another department, I will still be happy to provide additional advising if you wish.   My phone numbers and email address are at the top of this syllabus.   My office hours will be announced in class.  Usually they are on Wed. afternoons before class, but I can meet at other times convenient for you as well, including after class.   

Here are the materials you must purchase for this course (have the items shown in red with you at our first class if possible, but at our second class for sure.)   There may be an additional $20 worth of materials needed in addition to those listed below. 

Text: Bert Dodson’s “Keys to Drawing”  (in the bookstore downstairs at the Davis Center)

8”x 11” or 9" x 11" journal for small sketches, notes, journal entries, free writes,  and some homework.   Get one that has rings and opens flat for easy xeroxing.   It may contain lined paper if you prefer it.  The 9" x 11" size is best.  As noted above, please bring this, and the larger sketchbook noted below to our first class. 

14”x 17” sketchbook for drawings.  This book will be in stock in the bookstore, (Davis Center.)  The brand name is called "Windpower."  When you get your textbook, you will see a note appended to the course card description,  describing this sketchbook.  It will be kept upstairs in the supply section of the bookstore behind the counter.   It is very important that you get this particular sketchbook as it fits the easel/chair setup we have in the classroom.   It has rings and opens flat so it can be placed on an easel and on the blackboard tray for class critiques of your drawing.   Please purchase this Windpower, 14" by 17" sketchbook and avoid other odd sizes. 

ONE 18 x 24” tablet of newsprint (very inexpensive)

Three ring binder for handouts and articles provided in class. 

Drawing materials: (bring the ones in red to our first class.) 

pencil set with pencils of various hardness

kneaded erasers (gray) 

ink pens with water soluble black ink  (Tombo pens sold at Bouteliers downtown)

charcoal sticks (vine and square).  Get “soft” and “medium”, not “hard”

charcoal blenders

box of tissues

masking tape, scotch tape

drawing board, ca. 18 x 25” with clips. 

portable pencil sharpeners (get the kind that collect the shavings)


a carry portfolio large enough to hold your 18 x 24” tablet and drawing board, as well as your other materials.  (You can make one out of cardboard and duct tape if you wish, but relatively inexpensive ones are available in the bookstore.) 

a small table easel (these cost about $10.00 online or downtown or at Artist’s Mediums in Williston.)   See me if you have questions about the easel.  You may be able to get by without one, but I recommend you have one for your work outside of class.  I may bring them for you to use in our class work.

Main Activities, Projects and Goals for each student (i.e., items you will be working on each week in class and at home): 

Readings from text and handouts  (homework)

Paper preparation (in class and at home)

Homework drawing exercises (Dodson) 

In class drawing exercises

In class critiques of in class drawing exercises

In class critiques of homework drawing exercises

Your Class Presentation (towards the end of the course)


During class time we will mainly be involved with four activities: 

1) Informal presentations and discussions about technique and method. 

2) Class critiques of your homework - you will put your homework drawings up and we will all look at these and comment upon them.  This will often, but not always, happen near the beginning of each class. 

3) Drawing exercises ( you will draw about 3 hours during each class.) 

4) Class critiques of your in class drawing work, usually at the end of class if there is time.   

You should plan on a minimum of 9 hours of drawing and writing work outside of class per week.  THE MORE DRAWING YOU DO, THE BETTER YOU WILL DO IN A&S 95

Some topics we may be discussing and working on in class (not necessarily in the order listed): 

Visualization in education

Drawing to Learn

Materials used in drawing

Learning to see

Learning about graphite

Learning about charcoal

Learning about inks

Perspective, an Introduction (one point and two point) 

Mechanical Aids to Perception

Vertical and horizontal alignments


What you “know” and what you see

Movement of the eye and the hand. 

Eye-hand coordination


The contour line

The variety of line

Lost and found edges


Defining form with light



Perspective, part II.  picture plane, ground line, horizon line, vanishing point, 3-point Aerial perspective

Figure drawing





Approximate sequence of “milestone” events during the semester, from first to last (exact dates will be announced in class:) 


    Hand in xerox copies of 10 best drawings/journal entries.


    Hand in first draft of project paper and images.

    Hand in 2nd draft of project paper and images

            Sign up for a presentation date.


    Hand in xerox copies of  next 10 best drawings/journal entries from your  portfolio


    Bring draft 3 of your project paper/images for in-class peer review.

    Hand in Final Draft of project paper/images .


    Presentations begin.

    Hand in your drawing portfolio for final review.

    Presentations  end. 

    If you need to you may call me at home (865 2329) prior to 8 p.m. in the evening.   In an emergency only, you may call my cell phone number (802-522 9978) I would prefer you send email to make appointments.  Also, please feel to stop by my office any time. If I am not busy I will be happy to see you.  I have a mailbox on the 2nd floor of Cook outside the main Chemistry office.   You may leave messages or anything else there you wish except homework, paper drafts, etc..  It is a small mailbox, so don’t leave drawings.