Student Experience Blog

Figure Drawing with Garth Claassen

Last year, I took a figure drawing art class with Garth Claassen during fall semester. We met on Tuesdays and Thursdays for an hour-and-a-half, as well as Wednesday nights for three hours. We studied a variety of artists, from the late, great Picasso, all the way to modern artists like the amazing professor Claassen. We studied figure drawings in charcoal, pencil, markers, water color ink and graphite, and colored pencils. During class, we were permitted to play music. All in all, the environment was creative, friendly, soothing, and safe. It had to be, for both the models and the artists to explore the creative process.One night, not too deep within the semester, but far enough where the stress started to creep into your neck, we transitioned into water color pencils. And I was terrible with them.

I hate being bad at things. Some things it's a lot easier to get over-- like basketball. I'm not too great at it, but I play with my boyfriend whenever I can. I'd be lying if I said I didn't get mad every now and again because the ball keeps hitting the freaking rim rather than going into the basket. But, fair is fair, I don't really play it a lot. Art is different. I've been drawing ever since I could hold a pencil. Before I was a creative writing major, I was an art major, and even voted "most artistic" in my high school yearbook. People knew me as "the girl with the 64 crayon box, yeah the one with the crayon sharpener in the back, the fancy one" and borrowed my supplies whenever a crafting project came up. It was a confident and serious hobby, so when I couldn't handle this fairly new medium, I freaked out.

A heat rose from my elbows, up my arms and warming my chest as I struggled to get the figure correct. I shifted in my seat, I started on new pages, and I attempted multiple angles; nothing was working. All I succeeded in was filling my sketch book with pages of failure. When handing them out, Garth advised us not to tear any pages from our book. Everything we create is art--no matter how terrible we might think we are, it's still worth keeping and learning and trying.

But I hated my process at the moment. I ripped the page from my book, crumbled it between my two hands, and tossed it. Later in the class, Garth reached into the trash, and picked the paper out. I was attempting to warm up with another median, when I saw that Garth has flattened out the paper and placed it on the stool beside me. Then, in the most gentle, encouraging manner, he said: "It's okay. Don't rip it out anymore." He walked away, and I left class.

I'm not sure when the weight of what he said hit me, but the kindness and support was felt instantly. I brought the page home with me, and hung it up above my desk. I decided to set aside half an hour to practice the water color ink and graphite median, until I was as comfortable with it as charcoal. When it was time to turn in our sketch books for the final, I taped in the page.

I am going to miss the wonderful professors and friends that I have met and learned from over my four years at The College of Idaho. Professor Garth Claassen is an incredible individual with wonderful talent and heart. He wants his students to grow and succeed, and I thank him for his patience and knowledge.

Kat Lizarraga is a senior creative writing major from Los Angeles, California.