Skip navigation

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

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

From here, earn your BFA at Old Dominion seamlessly

Tidewater Community College arts students can now benefit from a new transfer agreement with Old Dominion University.

TCC students who have completed an Associate of Applied Arts in Studio Arts will receive junior class standing at Old Dominion University, where all their credits will be accepted toward a Bachelor of Fine Arts.

TCC’s studio arts program offers students the ability to learn in a collaborative arts environment at its Visual Arts Center with specializations in pre-art therapy, glass and photography.

TCC’s studio arts associate degree is a 64-credit program. For questions about enrollment, call 757-822-1111.

Best in Show winner from Stockley Gardens graduating with two degrees from TCC

Brandon Umberger enrolled at Tidewater Community College to get a handful of basic college credits out of the way. 

Then his art teacher recommended he check out the Visual Arts Center

“Amazing,” is how Umberger describes the Olde Towne, Portsmouth space renowned for its faculty of working professionals and dynamic, innovative curriculum. 

“I liked it so much I stayed for four years,” said Umberger, who will graduate on Dec. 16 with associate degrees in studio arts and photography

Umberger’s award-winning art from the 2019 Stockley Gardens Fall Art Show.

He’s found early success with animals and landscapes, his two favorite subjects. Umberger won the Best in Show Futures Award at the Stockley Gardens Fall Art Show. His pieces include a watercolor of a distinguished rooster, a portrait of a lion done in vibrant infused watercolor and a third watercolor of Blue City Alley in Morocco. 

“This piece is special from it being my first watercolor and soft pastel painting and my first architectural piece,” Umberger said. The Visual Arts Center student awards recognized that painting earlier this year for its use of color. 

Umberger became serious about art at age 16 after realizing how well it calmed his mind. His initial work, a soft pastel master copy of Monet’s “Poppies,” caught the eye of his art teacher. When she let him work with her soft set of pastel colors – all 800 of them – his eyes grew big. 

“It took me 30 minutes just to pick colors,” he said. 

Umberger added to his skill set at the VAC, where he’s enjoyed all the classes, particularly Printmaking and Drawing IV. After wanting better references for his artwork, he decided to hone his photography skills and realized with just five more classes, he could earn a second associate degree. 

He learns from the critiques at the VAC and the collaboration that comes from engaging with the creative minds there whose specialties range from glassblowing to graphic design. 

A peer of his is adept at drawing zentangles, structured patterned designs that combine spots, lines and simple curves. Umberger enjoys layering and plans to experiment with a watercolor over her zentangle. 

“There’s all kinds of ways to get inspired here,” he said. 

Blue City Alley won the VAC student award for use of color.

After graduation, Umberger will study under local artist Tom Barnes. His plan is to be a studio artist who supplements his income with photography. One day, he’d like to teach. 

Student Art and Design Exhibition opens March 24 at TCC’s Visual Arts Center

Tidewater Community College’s Visual Arts Center (VAC) will host the 47th Annual Student Art and Design Exhibition from March 24 through April 19. The event features more than 150 works, including studio arts, photography, graphic design, ceramics and glassblowing, created by students for art classes since last March.

“Fine Tuned with Patience” by Alexandra Brannon

The exhibition’s awards presentation is March 31 at 11 a.m. at the Commodore Theatre, 421 High St., in Portsmouth. The opening reception will follow at noon at the VAC at 340 High St.

Events are free and open to the public.

Robert Sites, artist and painting instructor at the Governor’s School for the Arts, is this year’s judge. During the event, Sites will present $3,285 in awards recognizing artistic excellence.

“Space Fabric” by Taylor Harvey-Thornton

Programming for the exhibition includes illustrated lectures by a visiting artist and a visiting art historian. On April 3, Alison Stinely, assistant professor of painting at Old Dominion University, will present “Gilded Splinters and Other Works.”

On April 11, Kimberli Gant, McKinnon curator of modern and contemporary art at the Chrysler Museum, will present “Legacy of a Curator.” Both programs begin at 12:30 p.m. at the VAC in room 208.

For information, call Shelley Brooks at 757-822-1878.