Advanced Drawing and Composition 2016 week 8

The eighth and final session of the Advanced Drawing and Composition class for Winter 2016 was held on Wednesday, March 2. We finished up our study of composition by sharing our final assignment: ‘Compose a Sketch’, and spent most of the class on a long and thorough critique. The variety of results was a testament to how uniquely we each see the world, with diverse areas of focus and interpretation. We also enjoyed a poetry reading from a surprise visitor who shared with us a very special homage to our teacher! Please read the full post to see the images, hear the audio portion of class, and join us as we wrap up an exciting and challenging session of Advanced Drawing and Composition.

Class recap – some key ideas

Steve Goldstein’s poem, Il Papa dell’Arte • Il Papa da Poli Poli

Class started off with a surprise visitor, Steve Goldstein, a longtime friend and former student. Steve had a poem he had written for Dick, which he shared with us to much laughter and delight.

Richard, Il Papa dell’Arte • Il Papa da Poli Poli

When Dick Nelson looks in his mirror each morn,
He says to himself, I’m so pleased I was born.
To rule an Art world so broad, so far reaching,
Not only from paintings, but also from teaching.

I studied with Albers while at Yale on sabbatical,
His influence on me was revolutionary, radical.
I pushed beyond homage, I advanced beyond square,
I shook up the Art world, that was so unaware.

By using three colors, cyan, magenta and yellow,
Plus black proved me a visionary fellow.
I overlapped these colors in various hues,
And discovered limitless colors, this was big Art world news!

My Tri-hue breakthrough inspired my own pieces,
Illusion of veils, luminosity, Jesus!
My visual grammar expanded a lot,
But this is not the end of my story plot.

I’ve had success in galleries, more than one one man show.
I’ve taught Art history on Maui and before that Punahou.
When students demanded of me “Just what is Art?”
I said “You’ll know the answer when you do your part.”

So they listened and studied and learned as they should,
And the answer they came to was true and was good.
After struggling and questioning and making a fuss,
They understood what Art is …Art is us. 

Human passion for Art is in our DNA,
From the caves of Lascaux to this very day.
Seeing through artist’s eyes is what makes you and me,
Different from all other creatures that will ever be.

Art is the language within you and me,
With the power to make sense of the world that we see.
I hope that this drawing class has well demonstrated,
That Art is the best gift that God has created. 

My paintings are in collections from New York to Rome,
In museums and board rooms abroad and at home.
With so many Art honors and pats on the back?
What am I missing? What do I lack?

I’d really like a title that suits my life’s story,
A name that resonates with my fame and glory.
A platform on which to stand and pontificate,
Like Emperor of Color, that might be great.

Lord Nelson the Painter has a nice royal ring,
The Wizard of Tri-hue might be just the thing.
But I’d like a name with near religious zeal,
A powerful name with bravura you can feel. 

A name with the heart and the soul of a stallion,
An international name, perhaps in Italian.
I’ve got it! I’ll crown myself the Pope of Art. Holy Moly!
Richard, Il Papa dell’Arte, Il Papa da Poli Poli.

By Steve Goldstein, for my friend Dick Nelson 2/6/16

Be sure to listen to Steve’s spirited reading in the audio files available below! If you enjoyed this homage, you may also enjoy his poem “Two Nudes, by Two Dudes” from the recent Art is Us art history class.

Critique – Compose a sketch

We moved on to the final critique, which showcased some of the interesting challenges inherent to working with sketches. What is the line between a drawing and a sketch? How much information do you need to capture the essentials? Each person had their own answers to these questions, and as with many of our assignments, we have only touched on the tip of the iceberg. These assignments have only shown us the possibilities, and it will be up to us to further investigate how we can use them in our creative work.

Students shared their work one at a time, and over the course of the critique, Dick reminded us:

  • Watch out for your ‘givens’ and preconceptions: what aspects do you take for granted?
  • Find your Theme, pick a Subject, and decide on your Interpretation: these choices will dictate the formal qualities.
  • Remember that everything comes back to relationships!

Lists of options and considerations

There were really two parts to this assignment: one, to write out lists of options to go with each aspect of a work; and two, to compose and draw a sketch consistent with specific choices from those lists. For example, writing down all the possible ways you could handle color will show you how many options you have to choose from, and ultimately will give you more control over the visual message you are sending.

The issues to answer first are the ones on Theme, Subject, and Interpretation. Theme usually signifies a universal issue or concept that all humans can relate to, while Subject becomes the form or the scene to illustrate that issue. Subject and Theme are quite closely related, so they may take turns being the guiding force of the project, but usually one of them will be the starting point for a new work of art. A Theme may be compelling enough to guide a whole body of work, or inspire your work for years.

Once Theme and Subject have been decided on, then Interpretation becomes a question, and this goes back to something Dick has said many times: “What are you trying to say?” You can have any Subject in the world, but you have to match your Interpretation of it to something that resonates with both your Theme and yourself. As Dick has said before, “If it’s not authentically you …”, then the result will be a confusing visual message.

He asked me to share photos of the lists I made when thinking of my options:

Using our lists to remind us of all the options available to us as visual artists will help answer both technical and aesthetic issues. It will also help us to see some of the options that we take for granted, and possibly help us avoid any ‘ruts’ or artistic ‘autopilot’ that we may fall into. These lists help us continue to use and benefit from the 6 phases of creative problem solving. You can keep adding options to the lists, and refer to them periodically for ideas or to check whether there might be new or better ways to communicate your message.


As mentioned before, we have covered an incredible amount of information in the last 8 weeks! With such a condensed program, there is not enough time to allow all these concepts to come to fruition during class. Instead, Dick has given us the raw materials, and it is up to us as independent artists to make this information our own. He encourages you to review our class posts, listen to the audio files, and watch the demonstrations (thank you again Valérie!). It is very important to spend time going over the exercises and practicing your new skills so as not to forget them. Even Dick still needs to practice every day! And the more you do it, the more these concepts will become second nature, and you will find yourself viewing the world, and the world of art, with greater comprehension and enjoyment.

Thank you to everyone for such a wonderful and engaging class – what a ride! Mahalo nui!