NEW YORK—When Sean Witucki was a child surveying the landscape of the Berkshires, where he grew up, he would ask himself: Why is a mountain where it is? Why does a stream flow the way it does? Why do trees grow the way they do? Eventually, he realized that by drawing and painting those mountains, streams, and trees, he would pay more attention. Time would slow down. He would see more, understand more, and feel he was part of nature rather than just an observer.
As much as Witucki loves the outdoors, every year this landscape painter and art teacher at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts (BAVPA) takes a group of his high school students on a three-day field trip to the big city. Besides seeing some main attractions (like Times Square, Chinatown, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art), the itinerary centers around a drawing workshop given by Edward Minoff at Grand Central Atelier (GCA).
“There’s nothing quite like this in Buffalo,” Witucki said, bright-eyed. GCA provides rigorous training for adults in the fundamentals of drawing, painting, and sculpting from life in the academic tradition. As far as high school art education goes, apart from a few cases, such as the classes Witucki teaches at BAVPA and a “Boot Camp for Teens” workshop that GCA provides every summer, this training is still lacking for most teenagers across the country.
Witucki doesn’t remember exactly when he transitioned from wanting to understand nature to wanting to represent it by drawing and painting. But he does remember when he was himself in high school and a teacher inadvertently tried to discourage him from taking up a career as an art teacher because she thought he was not artistically talented enough.
“Some people have this misconception that you have to be touched on the shoulder by God to be able to create works like this,” he said, while his students were drawing at the workshop with Minoff in GCA. “It can be learned.”
Occasionally, Witucki shares his own high school story with his students to remind them that it takes more than talent to make it as an artist. “I always say that I would rather have a student who struggles and works hard than a student who is naturally gifted and thinks they are great but doesn’t put in the effort,” he said.
“It takes dedication and drive to excel in the representational art world. I hope that what I am able to pass on to students, they take and pass on as well.”
Drawing From Life
Minoff began the workshop by demonstrating how to start drawing a portrait. The model Tenzing Wangchuk remained as still as a statue throughout each session of the three-hour workshop.
“When you are working from life, you are seeing lots of different things. Every shadow shape you happen to commit to is a choice, maybe based on what appeals to you. … All those kinds of decisions, I think, makes working from life much more interesting than the alternative,” Minoff said, while the students observed and listened attentively.
“As the drawing is progressing and I’m starting to commit to the placement of things, the proportions are maybe starting to come together in some way. … Now it’s probably time to do a little bit more measuring,” Minoff continued explaining.
After Minoff’s first session demonstrating, the students began making their own choices with each mark they made in their drawings. Once in a while, they would stop drawing to measure and then continue drawing, making choices from what they would see. During the breaks, Minoff went around giving feedback to each student.
It was Calbe Sanchez’s first year participating in the field trip and drawing from life. “I try to create the shapes of the shadows instead of making lines because that’s what makes it look more realistic. He [Minoff] taught us to draw what we see, not what we think we see,” Sanchez said. “I don’t really like how my drawing looks right now, but I’m pretty sure that the way I am learning is going to help me become a lot better at drawing.”
Commenting on how well the students were progressing, Minoff said, “It’s amazing, right? Isn’t it fun to see?” The students’ portrait drawings were progressing steadily at various stages. “If they get the basic major concepts, then they can do whatever they want with it. It opens a lot of possibilities,” Minoff said. Learning how to draw academically can become a super-transferable skill, not only in concentrating well but also in problem-solving.
At the end of the last session, the timer went off and Minoff announced, “And pencils down!” You could hear a collective sigh rippling through the studio. One of the students announced more loudly, “Can I stay here for another two hours?”
While looking at her drawing, another student, Kylie Spink, said, “I thought it [the workshop] was good. [My drawing] kind of came together at the end. For a while, I was struggling, but it was cool. The first time I came here, I felt super-intimidated. I was not confident at all, but now it’s cool. It was fun.”
Preparing for ‘The Real World’
Witucki also took his students to some galleries, including Rehs Galleries, where they received a warm welcome. The owner, Howard Rehs, and his son Lance Rehs didn’t have all the answers to the students’ questions, of course, but they gave them a basic understanding of how to market themselves, how to price artwork, and other aspects professional artists need to understand when dealing with clients.
“To become a well-known artist, do you have to get commissions from high-end people?” Sydney Sobczyk, one of the students, asked. “I wish there was an easy answer,” Lance Rehs replied. The students chuckled. “There are plenty of artists who do it on their own and become very successful. I think it’s partially the way they do things and partially sort of a perfect storm of events—where they get lucky and get seen by the right people, and the right things happen for them in their lives,” Rehs said. “I would say that most artists that make it big are probably represented by a gallery,” Howard Rehs chimed in. “When you are running your own business operation, it is time taken away from painting on the easel and creating your work,” Lance Rehs added.
The Draw of New York City
For some of Witucki’s students, it was the first time they had left Buffalo. Their visit to New York can be an awakening for them to realize that the world is full of possibilities. And after taking part in the New York City field trips, many of them decide New York is the place for them.
“We have had students go on to schools such as the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), the School of Visual Arts (SVA), Pratt Institute, [and] The City College of New York to study architecture, photography, fashion design, business for the arts, painting, and art history,” Witucki said.
But it may not be for everybody. After his second year of participating, Naija Boles said, “I love the trip, but I don’t think I would like to live in the city. It’s pretty hectic. I like it more quiet, but I really do enjoy the experience. It makes me see things that I would never see in Buffalo.”
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