Chappaquiddick-based artist Elizabeth Whelan believes that anyone can draw, and that everyone should — at least for fun. For that reason, she’ll be leading a free, online 20-week instructional course called “Summer of Drawing” that is open to anyone from professionals to those whose drawing days ended with grade school. “I think a lot of people are curious, but for many of them, they’re not quite sure what they’re going to do with drawing,” says Whelan. “I try to encourage the idea that you can do a beautiful drawing or keep it at a sketchbook level.”
Whelan sees drawing as a means of recordkeeping as well as a fun pastime. “We’re coming out of a very interesting historical epoch,” she says. “It’s important for people to examine what’s going on in our lives right now. I think people have a desire to make some sort of record of what it was like.”
The course will be hosted by the Vineyard Haven library. Last year, Whelan presented a workshop titled “Summer of Art,” which incorporated lessons in art history and art collecting with instruction. That course attracted around 40 participants, many of whom will be returning for the upcoming course.
Whelan is a big advocate for the art of drawing. She began her artistic life as an illustrator, before pursuing painting (currently her focus is on portraiture). The multitalented artist and educator is currently sponsoring the second annual Martha’s Vineyard Drawing Contest, with submissions open through Sept. 27.
Although she welcomes all levels of experience to the summer Zoom course, Whelan really encourages newcomers to jump on board. She says that anyone can participate using whatever they may have on hand — pencil and paper are fine, and can be used from start to finish. Those interested in specific media can graduate to one of the many techniques that she will cover throughout the summer, but Whelan believes that the lessons she provides on media like pen and ink, charcoal, and even the Old Masters technique of silverpoint, can be applied to any mode of drawing.
According to a press release for the event, “Although Elizabeth will be demonstrating with a variety of drawing media, it is possible to attend the classes and try the exercises with just pencils and paper. The various techniques can be shared from one medium to the next.”
Each one-hour class will be partly informational and partly instructional, with occasional guest artists dropping in for brief interviews and viewings of their work. Whelan notes that although each class will be self-contained, she encourages students to attend the entire course. “Each session will build on the previous ones,” she says.
“It’s a mixture of presentation styles,” she adds. “There will be some description, where I’ll show examples of other artists’ work and do a little video demonstration. Then I’ll stop and have attendees draw along with me. In each class there will be two or three opportunities to draw along.”
Whelan stresses that “no one has to show their work, so there’s no need to stress about your current skill level. That can intimidate people. I’d rather that people just mess around and have a good time.”
The individual classes will be recorded and available for viewing any time, for those who may miss a class or find the time inconvenient.
Whelan has discovered that the restrictions imposed over the past year or so have actually opened up doors for new ways of learning. “The pandemic has had people migrating to online teaching,” she says. “Which has really begun to address an imbalance that I have observed in regular education. In general, only young people are given the opportunity to learn. We have restricted it in such a way that a lot of the tasks that I think make life enjoyable — art, cooking, home improvements, gardening — are just no longer part of any type of curriculum. I see online learning as offering the ability to reach more people.”
She believes in an all-inclusive approach to teaching, which she is helping to facilitate by offering all of her classes free. “Everything doesn’t have to be monetized,” she says. “Teaching classes online has given me the opportunity to address the imbalance.”
Whelan is a big advocate for lifelong education. “Learning shouldn’t just be happening for young people,” she says. “We should be encouraging people to continue to learn. This approach is about getting people to put the phone down for a while and try something new.”
Email Elizabeth Whalen at email@example.com or contact the Vineyard Haven library at bit.ly/3mWwDPj to register and get your Zoom access code, which will be good all summer. You can attend any or all of the classes, and start any time during the summer.