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Professor Robert Hawkes, TCC’s Visual Arts Center

Whether you love to draw or cringe at the idea, Robert Hawkes promises you can learn from the drawing classes he teaches at the Visual Arts Center.

Hawkes has taught Drawing I, II, III and IV at the college since 1988.

“It was fated for me to go into the arts,” he says. “My mom was a folk artist, and my dad was a psychologist.”

Rembrandt remains his mentor. The 15th century Dutch painter and etcher conveys a humanness with his work that fascinates Hawkes, who stresses he doesn’t want to be Rembrandt, he wants to learn from him.

“We’ve been looking at Rembrandt’s work for 300 years, and we’re not finished yet,” he says while leafing through a book of the artist’s work that includes drawings of a girl getting her hair done and a boy learning how to walk. “There’s something so appealing about his humanity that comes through in these drawings.”

Rob Hawkes Spirit, Glass and Water Iron gall ink | 2013 | 7 x 5 inchesFascinated by the ink Rembrandt used, Hawkes began making his own following instructions from a 1597 volume titled “Book of Secrets.” He is particularly fond of the formula for an ink that requires crushing iron galls from an oak tree, mixing in cabernet sauvignon and adding other preservatives.

While its aroma is wonderful, its qualities are even better. “Iron gall makes extremely thin lines,” Hawkes says. “I’m doing all my work this year with that ink to show in the faculty art show this fall.”

Hawkes’ students, meanwhile, benefit from learning how to draw with everything from pencil to charcoal to pastels to ink. No prior experience is necessary for Drawing I; “We cater to the smiley-faced stick figure person,” he says. “Drawing is not genetic. You can learn to draw. We don’t assume expertise.”

By the time students have completed all four drawing classes offered at the VAC, they have a body of work with a theme preparing them for the self-directed art world.

Over the years, Hawkes has had to change his approach given the evolving technology. Despite so much work being created on computers, drawing still has its place, Hawkes says. “Students who are strong in drawing and computer graphics have it made. Computer programs can be taught, but companies are looking for strong drawers because that’s a skill that takes longer to develop.”

Robert Hawkes in front of a Drawing I class

Hawkes works hand in hand with faculty and administration at the VAC who take a team approach to preparing students for their futures. “A lot of egos are involved in arts, and in art schools there are often terrible personality clashes,” he says. “Here everybody seems to have the attitude if we work as a team, we can make a difference.”

Hawkes earned his bachelor’s in fine arts from Virginia Commonwealth University and his master’s in fine arts from Ohio University. He taught at both schools prior to coming to TCC.

He enjoys working with community college students whether they are preparing for careers in animation, fashion design or traditional painting. “Often the students who come here are unaware of the arts, and it’s not their fault. They haven’t been exposed to it,” he says. “It would be my fault if they left here that way. It’s my responsibility to make sure I fill in those gaps.”

Hawkes and his wife, Pam, reside in Williamsburg. In addition to drawing, he enjoys playing guitar while Pam sings at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church. They have one son, Ian, who is a student at James Madison University.

“Drawing has become a much more integral part of my life,” he says. “The more you draw, the more it’s about your life.”