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Live! Inside the classroom — Drawing I at the Visual Arts Center

Amiyah Fields

In this series, we provide a closer look at hands-on learning during COVID-19.

While COVID-19 means online learning for most Tidewater Community College students, some are back in the classroom for hands-on training. In fact, more than 400 sections of classes in interior design, automotive, health professions, welding, veterinary technology, culinary arts, visual arts, electronics technology and other programs have on-campus components. 

A peek inside two drawing classes

Professors Nancy Mansfield and John Runner hold Drawing I classes at the same time at the Visual Arts Center (VAC). Step into either classroom held at opposite ends on the third floor, and suddenly the outside world seems miles away. Student artists, some with headphones, others enjoying the tranquil solitude, are in the early stages of learning to draw, using just pencil and paper.

“This is their haven,” Mansfield said. “For two hours and 20 minutes, they get to sit down and just work. No distractions.”

Student Jack Johnson

The assignment, a trio of volumetric bottles in Runner’s class and brown paper bags in Mansfield’s section, calls for drawing what you see. Wouldn’t we all love to see the fine details studio arts major Valentina Halilaj (her work is below) can find in simple lunch bags?

What if I can’t draw?

Most of us haven’t been formally taught how to draw. When we take pencil, pen or marker to paper, we’re winging it. Drawing I class teaches you technique. “Everyone can draw,” stressed instructor John Runner. “It takes practice to do it well. Don’t worry about how long it takes you to master it. Learning to enjoy it is a much better takeaway.”

Mansfield assures that drawing is a process “with lots of adjustments and looking at things differently.” She adds, “How well you can draw depends on the desire, and like many skills, practice.”

Students later learn about value, perspective and shading and benefit from the feedback from their peers through critiques.

The final project

Students evolve from pencil to charcoal. They conclude the class by completing a self-portrait. By creating their own likeness, they can work on it as much as they like outside of class. Mansfield notes, “All you need is a mirror!”

About the professors

Mansfield has taught drawing at the VAC for nearly 20 years. In addition to Drawing I, she teaches II, III and IV. The University of Florida graduate also teaches in the community, including classes at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art.

Adjunct professor Runner gives special attention to each student and works to understand individual habits and style. “Empathy is an important part of teaching,” he said.

Runner earned his master’s in Visual Studies at Old Dominion University. His portfolio includes multiple works from the VAC’s Art Faculty Exhibition. He also teaches Printmaking I.

What the students say

“I like the feedback (Professor Runner) gives. It’s fun to be in a drawing class. It’s nice to be able to get out of the house.” — Allison Shaw, undecided major

Student Alexzander Powers

“Honestly, I enjoy everything. It’s teaching me a lot,” — Alyssa Odom, graphic design major

“I like that I can get feedback right away.” — Deannah Myers, studio arts major

“I’m better with computer design, but I like this. It’s peaceful in here.” — Jack Johnson, graphic arts major

“It’s nice to get back to basics,” — Nyasia Evans, graphic design major

Sign up!

Drawing I and II will both be offered in the spring semester. For information on registering for classes at the VAC, contact