Like every other aspect of this academic year, Clark’s 2020–21 winter break looked considerably different, with an elongated interim period providing extra time for students to relax and prepare for the spring semester. While some students took this time off from classes, others committed to checking their email every day for a prompt that would get their creative juices flowing.
Jan Johnson, professor of practice in studio art, challenged the students in her Creative Diet course to take to their sketchbooks every day to document what they saw, remembered, and wanted to see, all the time attempting to navigate and make sense of our new normal. The resulting work comprises more than a dozen sketchbooks in a student art exhibition, “SketchPants at Home: Six Weeks of Creative Practice,” on display in the Rare Book Room, located in Goddard Library’s Archives and Special Collections. through May 29. The free exhibit, which is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., includes both original sketchbooks and facsimiles to touch.
Created remotely and outside of a “normal” drawing class, these sketchbooks tell the story of six weeks of focus from the students during the 2021 winter intersession. Using just their basic art kits and sketchbooks, the students drew, painted, collaged, cut, and stitched work based on a rotating selection of prompts. Encouraged by assignments that ranged from “illustrate a list of the people you love most” to a challenge to draw and write about a hypothetical conversation with a famous figure, each daily practice allowed students to reflect on their personal values in new and imaginative ways.
Because the course centered around creation rather than technical skills, the student artists came from a variety of majors and brought their diverse breadth of interests to their work, incorporating their own academic training and research backgrounds.
A number of art majors also participated, learning a great deal along the way. Jori Dudzikowski ’21, double majoring in studio art and art history, says keeping the daily sketchbook helped her to open up to imperfection. “I’ve kept many sketchbooks before, but always struggled to fill them,” she writes. “In the past, I felt overly attached to entries, so when I did a page I didn’t like, I felt I had to start a whole new book. This class helped me move past that pressure and preciousness I held with my pieces, and use my sketchbook as a daily workspace.”
This sense of freedom is just what Johnson hoped to encourage within her students. “Typically, sketchbooks are a catch-all for thinking out an idea visually, often with an aspect of experimentation,” Johnson explains. “With the daily prompts, it became a place to respond with some urgency to what was sent to them, presenting students with the need to act intuitively and decisively.” This approach also allows the sketchbooks to provide insight into the emotions and values of their creators.
Zac Caspersen ’21, a studio art and geography double major, says these imaginative assignments pushed him to work consistently and to throw himself into daily bouts of creation. “I enjoyed the collage prompts the most because I was able to take advantage of old prints that I made from my thesis project,” he adds. “Cutting the prints up and creating a new abstract image out of the photo-realistic prints let me see my work in a new way.”
Some of the Creative Diet students have considered forming a club or group to meet on a regular basis, which Professor Johnson supports wholeheartedly. “My goal is they continue with their practice and share that together,” she says, noting that in a time of great uncertainty, communal practices like these become even more important.
“SketchPants at Home” features the work of Zac Caspersen, Rosie Cohen, Jess Cushman, Grace DiCicco, Gaby DiPinto, Jori Dudzikowski, Madison Jenkins, Erin Lally, Bella Liss, Julia Marotto, Cassie Mayer, Maire O’Donnell, AJ Simmons, Ksenia Smart, Emma Theisen, Eva Tsimboukis.