Dr. Beryl Bland leads students to embrace both halves of their brains

“Go forth and draw.”

Brian Bomeisler’s words, pronounced at the conclusion of the week’s drawing class in March 2002, resonated with Beryl Bland. In the few years after completing her Ph.D. in the Department (1999), Dr. Bland was exploring anew her artistic and creative capacity (she has a MFA from New York University in Printmaking), and this class, based on Betty Edwards’ influential book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, (Brian Bomeisler is her son), proved an important catalyst. Dr. Bland went forth and drew, yes, but she also recognized the potential that art making combined with art history had for students, and developed a course, The Art of Drawing: A Left and Right Brain Experience, which has proved a popular offering in the regular, winter, and summer semesters since she first offered it in the winter semester of 2003. Dr. Bland thinks the why of the course’s popularity in part rests on the fact that students in art history “rarely get to see a lot of drawings” in a typical course, and especially any sense of artistic “development” in draughtmanship, two facets of art history on which she places great emphasis. “Van Gogh taught himself to draw,” and an examination of a series of his drawings allows students a wonderful opportunity to understand that drawing is a process of continued learning and improvement.

Students also learn this lesson in practical terms, and early on. Dr. Bland has students complete a pre-instruction self-portrait the first day of class (“the first class is the worst class”) that she holds on to until the end of the semester, when she brings out these drawings to compare to post-instruction versions. Students frequently burst out in “hysterical laughter” and will state “that’s not mine,” so profound are the transformations in the students’ ability accurately to capture the optical reality around them by the end of the course. Dr. Bland points out that people carry around a “symbolic tool kit” for ideating not only their own face but the world around them – a left side of the brain phenomenon that gets in the way of faithfully translating the optical experience to paper.

Dr. Bland also created a course on color combining practice and art history – The Art of Color: A Left and Right Brain Experience – into which she brings compelling examples of not only the Old Masters (“Velasquez and Rembrandt are perfect for earth colors”) but of contemporary artists who are trained – and train – in the academic manner. From Sharon Sprung, who claims, accurately, to be able to mix any skin tone (and often demonstrates) to a comparison of alla prima and glazing techniques in the work, respectively, of Robert Liberace and Anthony Ryder, students are exposed repeatedly to the importance of good technique and process in the creation of art, a combination that helps to “demystify” drawing and painting for students in the class. Dr. Bland also regularly invites her good friend Greg Mort and his son Jon Mort to visit the class and share with students their stories of successes (and rare failures) and their tricks of the trade.

To this impressive group Dr. Bland regularly adds her own contributions, in effect practicing what she teaches. For several years running, Dr. Bland has joined a weekly Still Life Group workshop led by Natasha Mokina, owner of the Winter Palace Studio in Georgetown. In this group, one of several run by Mokina, each of the eight members works on one painting at a time for five or six weeks, eight hours per weekly session. At the end of this period, the paintings are exhibited at the Winter Palace Studio. One of Dr. Bland’s more impressive recent works is a still life inspired by the work of seventeenth-century Dutch painter Willem Kalf. If you want to see one of Dr. Bland’s works in person, you’ll want to visit a group show at the Winter Palace Studio. In the meantime, visitors to the Collaboratory this semester can enjoy her most recent painting, which features a model in a profile pose and distant landscape that evokes portraits from the Italian renaissance. Bonus points if you can identify the sitter!