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Student Perspective: Certificate Student Jennifer Levine on the Virtual Marathon

I discovered the New York Studio School during my final semester of an MFA program in the fall of 2023. I came to the visual arts late in life. I always gravitated toward art making and artists, and found ways to integrate it into my life. I worked in Jewish education as a teacher and a principal. During that time, I attended the San Francisco School of Circus Arts where I trained as a puppeteer and worked as both a freelance puppeteer and an educator. After decades of making puppets and sets, I realized I enjoyed the making aspect more than performing and began to focus solely on painting.

During the pandemic after my teaching jobs had vanished, I began a painting MFA program at another school with the intention of learning to paint, and while I did learn quite a bit in graduate school, it was not what I expected or felt I needed. The program focused primarily on art history, methodology, and the politics of art making. When I asked the department chair how I could learn to paint she said, “you should have learned that in undergrad, we don’t teach that here.” I tried again with my painting studio professor. I asked if she could teach me how to paint. And to that she said she never painted a figure in her life and her only suggestion was not to use black. “Use Payne’s Gray” she said.

Everything shifted for me during a studio visit with the artist Will Cotton. He looked at my work and suggested I learn to draw. With that, I insisted on permission to take an introductory undergraduate drawing class and spent the summer taking drawing classes at The Art Students League online until I graduated with my MFA degree.

After my first conversation with the Director of Admissions at the Studio School, I felt NYSS was the right fit for me and a unique and wonderful place. She sent me a seminal article written by NYSS founder Mercedes Matter critiquing art education at the time (1960s) and her approach to teaching art – every word resonated with me – and even decades later, her take on MFA programs was as relevant as the day she wrote it.

This is the setting into which I began the Spring 2024 Virtual Drawing Marathon with NYSS Dean Graham Nickson, and Instructors Charity Baker and Fran O’Neill. Reflecting now on what I learned, it feels right to break it down into components: the practical, formal, communal, and spiritual.

On a practical level, I was stunned to see how powerful it was to draw from a live model on zoom! After a semester of in-person classes at NYSS, I was a bit dubious that this was going to work but it did quite easily. I gained tools like how to grid large paintings with string; how to use the app free form; which paper was best; and how to rig up my studio to work large.

On a formal level, through class discussions and crits, ideas about drawing; such as edges, negative space, and line quality; were reinforced and deepened. I also learned new processes, for example, drawing over drawing using medium to seal the first layer.

I experienced drawing BIG for the first time. Prior to this, I had put drawing in the “small artwork: category and painting in the “large artwork” category. But I realized that painting is not the driving force, it’s working large that generates powerful presence. Working large is a full body experience and the energetic lifeforce that excites me about creativity. The invitation to draw large shifted my perspective and helped me appreciate where one can take drawing.

Another technical skill I learned during the marathon, was the inventive use of transcription. Simultaneously shifting between working from masterworks and live models to create our own work opened new and exciting compositional pathways for me.

On a communal level, the rigor, focus, and commitment of the teachers and the students inspired and propelled me to arrive at each session fully present. Through the power of intention (and technology) I felt supported and uplifted by the combined efforts of the group. This energy radiated from the computer out into my studio space, through my body, my pencil, and onto the canvas.

I am grateful to all of those whose efforts support NYSS’s mission and look forward to a great next semester!

Snapshots From NYSS

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