Category Archives: School

Santa Cruz High Schoolers Take Doodling During Class Very Seriously

Doodling is very much a part of life in school. Students the world over indulge in this meditative activity, often during class. As a drawing coach in high schools, I encourage doodling as a way to explore spontaneous expression and creative problem solving.

This year I encountered Corey Chrysler and Arastas Duran, two students who are crazy serious about doodling. I wanted to see what would happen if I nudged them both toward creating abstract and surrealistic compositions. In the image shown above, what started as a lesson in drawing realistic proportions of a skull ended in a brilliant abstract riff by Corey. Below, the two 17 year-old sketchers share their thoughts and “random nothings”.

Corey Chrysler

Age: 17  Hometown: Santa Cruz  City of Birth: Santa Cruz  Interests: Music, skateboarding  Favorite Artists: Alex Grey, Vincent Van Gogh  Favorite Music: Misfits, Suicidal Tendencies, Atmosphere, A Perfect Circle  Pets: Bobo the cat, Bully the bull dog, Cali the king snake

Corey is a mild-mannered teenager who takes time to ponder his next drawing. Then with iPod earplugs locked in position and playlist selected, he drops into the doodle zone. Musical rhythm can be seen in a lot of his highly imaginative drawings. A strong influence in his work comes from close to home. “My dad has drawn around me all my life, so I’ve always been drawing off and on.”

Other than our Drawing Lab lessons at Louden Nelson Community School, Corey is pretty much self-taught. Even with this year’s burst of surrealistic and abstract drawing he remains humble. When asked if he considers himself an artist Corey simply replies, “Artistic yes. But artist, no.”

Drawing is a creative outlet for Corey. “It makes school worth showing up on time for. Art helps me express myself on a daily basis. I don’t think I could go long without starting some kind of art project.” And when asked how drawing improves his world he replies, “Drawing gives me the chance of surprising myself and that can make my day!”

Corey pays attention. He watches the news and listens to a lot of music for the inspirational triggers that get his work going. When taking time to study Corey’s pencil and charcoal drawings you begin to see images of topics that interest him, ranging from world peace to “random nothings and sometimes trees.”

Corey Chrysler knows the challenges of learning to draw and offers words of wisdom to those viewing student work, “Art is subjective so never tell anyone that they can’t draw something great.”

Draw on, man.

Corey’s Drawing Gallery:

corey-DSCN0791 corey-DSCN0770 corey-DSCN0793 corey-DSCN0771



Arastas Duran

Age: 17  Hometown: Santa Cruz  City of Birth: Santa Cruz  Interests: Doodling (of course!), meditation, gardening, psychology, philosophy  Favorite Artists: Hasn’t been able to choose, doesn’t think he ever will.  Favorite Music: Jazz  Pets: Cares for 3 rabbits: Lionel, Biscuit, and Bananacakes; 2 cats: Ophelia and Pheobe

Arastas Duran’s earliest memories of doodling date back to his early years in elementary school. When the classroom lesson wasn’t interesting Arastas says, “I’d draw to focus myself so I wouldn’t disrupt classmates.”

Ever since his childhood desire to doodle, Arastas has been able to channel his drawing into a form of meditation and problem solving. “I find that drawing, done correctly, can help me think about things and process them more smoothly. I find myself doodling at times when working on a math problem or writing an essay. Yet, if I’m not careful I can begin to draw an essay.”

During the past few years he has taken his drawing more seriously. An avid sketchbook drawer, lately Arastas has devoted his efforts to drawing on his iPhone and digital tablet. Inspired by nature and his love of music, his intricate labyrinths of intense line work reveal his spontaneous drawing method. He says, “I can have a sort of flash or glow of an image or a movie-like process in my mind’s eye. I sometimes guide the image to create a pre-structure to base the drawing off of, like a formula.”

Arastas’ Drawing Gallery:

arastas1 arastas2  arastas4

This meditative process then triggers deep emotions that are translated by his drawing. “I think I usually get inspired by feelings, not so much as what causes the feelings, but the interpretation/processing of the feelings. Drawing seems to be the best translator I can operate with ease.” He adds that, “When I draw from imagination, anything goes. I like to try and sync my movements with feelings, the environment, thoughts, and music.”

Pages from Arastas’ sketchbooks:


Arastas Duran knows he will always draw but doesn’t see it as his main occupation in life. “I have the itch to help those in need, those who suffer from harmful governments in society. I have no idea what the future holds, so I don’t presume.”

In closing, when asked how drawing improves his world, Arastas Duran replies, “I think it helps me learn how to express myself and it’s like a muse to me. I constantly find myself in awe when I draw, especially when others draw. I have time and time again been reminded that improvement is infinite.”

To view more of Arastas Duran’s work on Deviant Art click here.

Sketcher Spotlight: Juan Arroyo

Originally posted 4/10:

Age: 17
Hometown: Salinas, California
City of Birth: Michoacan, Mexico
Favorite Music: Mexican
Pets: Dog

Although he doesn’t consider himself an artist, if you ask his classmates who the ‘artist’ at school is, they’d probably name Juan Arroyo. Juan attends Rancho Cielo Youth Campus in Salinas, California and is passionate about drawing. “Drawing is important for me because I love to draw what I have inside of me and what I imagine,” says the soft-spoken senior.

Whenever Juan wants to pass some time in school or at home he picks up a pencil and draws, and draws, and draws. His consistency all year long in drawing class is amazing. After finishing his daily lesson he effortlessly jumps into a drawing of his own, often straight from his imagination or from reference pictures. When asked what inspires him he simply replies, “Silence is the inspiration for me, sometimes music.”

The size of Juan Arroyo’s pencil and graphite drawings shown range from 8.5 x 11 to 18 x 24 inches. Click on images to enlarge for viewing.

Juan remembers drawing cars as a 9-year-old and it’s been non-stop sketching ever since. Equally adept at drawing from observation or from his imagination, his pictures depict historical scenes, symbolic stories, or surrealist compositions. One can see the strong influences of his Mexican heritage and the local street art scene in his work. As a sketcher, Juan is largely self-taught and enjoys experimenting with a variety of drawing media. His latest work with 4B and 6B graphite pencils on large-format paper captures the viewer with bold strokes and powerfully shaded tones.

Whatever Juan Arroyo is planning for his future after graduating from school, we can rest assured that his enjoyment of drawing will be a part of it. Before getting back to the elaborate drawing on his desk he quietly says, “I just draw for fun and because I like it.”

I Can’t Draw

Originally posted 9/09:
It’s that time again–back to school! Today I’m planning drawing lessons for schools in Santa Cruz and Monterey, California. I’m also preparing for the inevitable group of students who will lay down the gauntlet at the very first moment of class, proclaiming outright, “I! Can’t! Draw!”

Indeed, I faced the first defiant outcry even before the first day of school. Last week, while discussing the drawing course with teachers at a small alternative education school, a student overheard her name added to the course roster. A look of horror crossed her face as she blurted out, “No way! I can’t draw.”

As she spoke I leaned over to look at the papers on her desk. I noticed she was doodling with a pen on a folder. It was a wonderful abstract doodle, composed of intricately woven lines and delicate shapes. “Perfect start. I’ll see you in class next week,” I replied.

Driving home, I remembered one particularly defiant high school drawing student last year. From the moment pencil hit paper Alex let me know, in no small way, that he didn’t know how to look at things then draw them. Each time he gasped in frustration, my return volley was firm encouragement. “Compare what you’ve drawn to what you’re looking at, keep looking for accurate proportions.”

Alex’s drawings

That was pretty much how it went as we continued drawing through the lessons, from simple cartoon characters to natural forms.

Then one day during class, while drawing from a picture by the muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, Alex glared up at me and quietly said, “I hate you Rob, and I hate drawing.”

I replied, “Yeah I know, but look at this amazing sketch you’re doing.” He smiled slightly and continued shading the background behind the figure of the woman.

And so it goes. This week, every drawing teacher across the land will rise to the challenge. Elementary and middle school teachers, drawing instructors such as Mona Brookes, and university professors such as Dr. Betty Edwards will step into their classrooms and hear the familiar ring of those three fateful words: “I can’t draw.”

Smiling patiently, they will say to themselves, “Ah, but you can.”

3 Ways Drawing Can Help You in School

Originally posted 10/08:

Years ago, when I was in elementary and middle school, other kids sometimes called me “weird” because I was really involved in my drawing. But they also called me “the artist”, and that made me feel cool and gave me self-confidence in other school subjects besides just art class. In high school the label of artist became official when I started drawing cartoons for the school newspaper. Quite honestly, my drawing skills helped me get through school.


Even if you don’t think you’re an artist, drawing can help you make friends, impress your teachers, and get better grades. Here’s how:


1. Make Friends

People are curious about drawing. Whether it’s a doodle on a notebook, or a picture for a school assignment, your drawings will catch people’s interest.

Let’s say, you take the time to finish a drawing of a super hero, and put it up on the bulletin board for everyone to see. Maybe some students will think it’s weird, others might think it’s cool. But the fact is, they’re TALKING about YOUR drawing. They’ve noticed your unique drawing skills. It’s up to you to take it from there.

You don’t have to be an artist to talk about drawing with other students. Remember, most students enjoyed making drawings when they were young kids. They’ll be interested in talking with you about it. The conversation could be an open door to starting a friendship. Who knows, maybe you’ll inspire them to start drawing again!

Having a common interest is important when making new friends at school. Drawing is a pastime that many people enjoy. If you meet other students who really like to draw, consider organizing an art club. You can do creative stuff together such as visual art projects for school events, or making comic books to share with friends.

And don’t forget, friends are always thrilled to receive their portrait, hand-drawn and signed by you. A great way to make friends is to draw your Valentines cards instead of buying them.

2. Impress Your Teachers

Your teacher may or may not be impressed with your sketch of the race car that everyone is passing around during science studies. But chances are good she’ll be very impressed with your drawing of a dragonfly to share during a class discussion of insects.

Your teacher enjoys reading science reports that are well-written and interesting to look at. When your teacher enjoys your report, your chances of getting a better grade are greatly improved. Carefully planned drawings make information easy to understand and enjoyable to read.

Although drawing doesn’t take the place of writing skills, it can show your teacher you understand a subject. When it’s difficult to think of words to write, a drawing can make your ideas visible. Drawing is a form of visual language that helps express your thoughts to your teacher. Effective communication with your teacher improves your understanding of a subject and helps you to become a successful student.

Okay, all this sounds wonderful. But the burning question that’s on your mind is, “How can drawing help improve my grades?”

3. How Drawing Can Help You Get Better Grades









Show What You Know
An accurate, neatly drawn diagram is one of the surest ways to nail down a stellar grade. It shows what you’ve learned about a subject and adds interest to your presentation. A diagram of a flower shows a sixth-grader’s knowledge of photosynthesis.

Drawing and Writing
Often teachers assign a weekly journal for part of your grade. If “a picture is worth a thousand words” then drawing is money in the bank when it comes to journaling. Expressing yourself through drawing opens a direct line of communication with your teacher. Honest communication leads to getting help in difficult school subjects, which can lead to receiving better grades.

If you enjoy drawing, add it to your writing assignments whenever possible. It can be as simple as gaining extra-credit points for adding an illustration of the Spirit of St. Louis to your report on aviation, or as elaborate as creating a graphic novel for your next English literature grade.

Think With Your Pencil
The doodles you draw while talking with classmates on the phone can lead to valuable ideas. Much of your thinking and problem solving happens deep down in your brain. Doodling with a pencil or pen gets your thinking process onto paper. A random doodle can become the solution to a frustrating geometry problem. A swirling scribble can turn into an abstract design for Friday’s art assignment.









Visual Notes
Sometimes your teacher simply talks too fast! To keep up with the lecture, try drawing visual notes along with your written notes. Don’t worry about details. Quick lines and shapes can describe how a steam engine works, or show the structure of a plant cell or a dinosaur.

Visual notes are very useful when studying for tests. You’ll form a memory of where France is located in Europe because you sketched it on paper and in your mind. With practice, visual note-taking will become a code of symbols and pictures–your very own visual language.






Thumbnail Sketches
Organize your notes into multi-page reports by drawing thumbnail sketches. Thumbnail sketches are small, loosely drawn rectangles showing where words, pictures, and charts will go on the pages of a report.

Quickly-drawn lines show positioning of text and give you an idea of how many words to write. Simple pictures show images that need to be created and how big to make them. Use thumbnail sketches to plan all of your school assignments, from power point presentations to designing a poster for a school event.

Draw Better Math, History, and Geography Grades
Bring a smile to your teacher’s face! During math, take time to neatly and accurately draw your geometry lessons, number lines for integers, and shapes for fractions. This helps your teacher to clarify your method and answers. It also shows your interest in learning math, which opens the door to better understanding and better grades. The formula is easy: Teacher Smile + Understanding = Better Grade.

Whenever you can, apply your drawing skills to history and geography assignments. Adding illustrations, such as a drawing of a U.S. president adds grade points to your history report. Taking time to draw interesting details on a map of the Middle East can improve your grade in geography. Whether you draw with a pencil or computer, your oral report on the Civil Rights Act will be more engaging if you include charts and graphs.

Art and Science: A Winning Combination
Letting your passion for drawing flourish in art classes for a better grade is a no-brainer. You’ll find countless ways to put drawing to work for you, such as sketching ideas for a ceramics project or drawing pencil outlines for a watercolor painting. Excelling in art class could be the edge you need toward raising your GPA.

Albert Einstein famously said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Channeling your creative mind into your science studies can help you understand complex scientific concepts and theories. Visual notes on how atoms form molecules are very helpful when studying for the next physical science exam. Your hand-drawn observations showing the metamorphosis of a butterfly can become illustrations for your biology report.

Extra Credit and Extra Curricular Activities
Straight-up: Doing projects for extra credit can mean the difference between lower and higher grades. Ask your teacher how you can use your drawing skills to earn extra credit. Then get to work! Use your imagination and your love of drawing to push your grades up to the next level, and beyond!

Of course, drawing in school is not only about getting better grades. It can also be about helping your school and having fun while you’re at it. Apply your skills towards creating a program to be handed out at the next school play. Let your imagination run wild when drawing posters for school dances and assemblies.

When it comes to the number of ways drawing can help you in school, the sky’s the limit! I’ve shared only some of the possibilities to get you started. If you have ideas on how to use drawing in school, please share them with us. We’d love to hear from you!

More Drawing Ideas and Info:

Drawing Ideas: >Dinosaurs (beginning/intermediate) >Dinosaurs (intermediate/advanced) >Flowers and Trees (beginner/intermediate) >Things in Nature (intermediate/advanced)

Graphic Novels in the Classroom: >Can the X-Men Make You Smarter? >Graphic Novels for (Really) Young Readers >Scholastic: Graphic Novels as Literature (.pdf) >Graphic Novels in the Classroom >Comics in the Classroom