COMD 1103: F15


After asking for four years, I was given the chance to teach Foundation Drawing at City Tech! This is a class originally structured as an introduction to perspective and technical drawing, very rigid in its structure. I have found over the years that my students are coming in without a lot of the hand training they had in my day, so I messed with the syllabus a bit.

I did not emphasis isometric projections, for instance. These students were so starved for basic perspective and beyond that PERMISSION TO DRAW AT ALL. There were people with a lot of anxiety around using their first pencil up, a terror of taking up too much material, space, and time. I countered this with a lot of pep talks, exhaustive handouts culled from the best sources, and by finding ways to just get them to draw until I could feel the room finally relax.

15 minutes of warm ups every class

I started each class with warm ups which also gave the class time to sharpen pencils, settle down, and unpack. These started out simply: swirls, shapes, types of shading. As the semester progressed, I tried to tune these towards helping strengthen the skills I saw most lacking overall. Tonality was still a weak spot at the end, I’ll re-tune for that.

Progress books made of low risk materials

I got this idea from reading Rob Roy Kelly’s writings on teaching design. He developed progress books as a technique for a variety of reasons. I found them to be spectacular, only most of my students could not afford all of the materials at once. My progress books are 2″ 3 ring binders with 30 sheet protectors inside. The students put all drawings in the protectors and my handouts are punched and field in order. They usually skimped on the notebook and sheet protectors, which was frustrating, I ended up spending my own money to get everyone on track which was not a problem, just indicated a flaw in my design.

Having students test lessons and give feedback

In order to start talking about the digital tools they were to encounter later in their student and professional career, I asked them to sample drawing apps. Many of them sent back work and excellent, cogent reviews, and I got this drawing and  written response to boot:


“I enjoyed using the Adobe draw app very much. It was very similar to adobe illustrator and Indesign. Except the best part is I had total control on a handheld device which made me feel even more boss. I learned how to use the app on my own although at first I had some trouble but all it took was a little getting used to. I learned fast and felt out the tools and was able to use my creativity as best as I can so far. I am very proud of being able to do so much with just my Iphone. I really felt as if I was a designer getting paid to design a self portrait of myself for some wierd but awesome reason.”

Strategically using the foundational lessons that I learned

I had to ramp this class into the lessons I learned in college because many of them did not have all the exposure to art and hand skills that I had had. They still made it to where they needed to be, meaning that they worked harder, traveled further, and trusted more. There is no excuse–if we teach well, the students will rise to the occasion.

Posted by

Libby Clarke is an artist, designer, and educator living in Maplewood, NJ. She received her BFA in Printmaking from James Madison University and her MFA in 2D Design from Cranbrook Academy of Art. Professionally, Libby has worked as an interaction art director for over 15 years for such companies as and She was an Assistant Professor at the New York College of Technology in Brooklyn, New York. She also served as the Director of the Studio School of the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey. As an artist, Libby has produced a series of multi-media conceptual products under the name Monstress Productions since 1996. She gives workshops and lectures across the United States on the intersection of art, activism, and technology, and her pieces are exhibited and collected internationally.