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The Art is in the Detail

“Milkweed” by Tara Shukla

By Caitlin Beckwith-Ferguson

On Saturday, the details will be the center of attention at the Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA), where the Center for Prairie Studies (CPS) will be hosting an artist workshop entitled “A Closer View: Seeing Details of the Prairie Through Drawing.”

“The landscape at CERA rewards observation of close detail and if you look at it closely you start to see its richness,” said Tara Shukla, the local artist who will lead the workshop.

In the workshop, artists will share in a new appreciation for the minute and oft-overlooked aspects of the natural world in general and the prairies of CERA in particular. In the morning session from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., participants will start to understand drawing through the classical approach. Participating artists will reinforce such skills through contour and gesture drawings, in addition to learning charcoal and pencil techniques.

After analyzing the works of various abstract and botanical artists, the artists will move outside and collect something of interest to sketch. They will work on sustained, detailed drawing—the key to Shukla’s methodology in detail-oriented art. In the afternoon session, from 1 to 5 p.m., participants will build on the illustrating skills acquired from the morning session, with an emphasis on values and texture.

“Drawing is a particular synthesis of your brain, your hand and your mind. And the way that we look at things is not really the way we use them when we draw. In this workshop, we are really going to look at the intersection of how sustained, detailed drawing can get you to notice things,” Shukla said.

The workshop is open to a dozen participants from the College and the community.

Shukla, who currently resides in Grinnell, is from Canada, where she started her training in art. She has had experience in exhibiting, creating and teaching art at various venues over the past decade in the U.S. and Canada. Her work is currently on display at the Smith Gallery in the JRC. Although Shukla’s work was previously more abstract, in the last year the detailed study of nature sparked her interest.

“I felt an impulse to look more closely,” she said. “Sometimes we compare the art of looking at things and drawing it to climbing over a mountain as opposed to flying over it. It’s a very tactile way of looking, so it’s a complex thing.”

Jon Andelson ’70, director of the CPS and professor of anthropology, was interested in Shukla’s sustained way of looking at things, so he set up the artist workshop as a way to connect students to the community.

“Our goal at the Center of Prairie Studies is to increase people’s awareness of and connection to where we are. A lot of students come to Grinnell from out of the Midwest and they’re here for the four years and they know no more about Iowa than when they came,” Andelson said. “So we want to use our location as a teaching tool. but also to have people think about the role of place in human life.”

The CPS will present several other place appreciating events this fall, including the Prairie Festival, which will take place next Saturday afternoon at CERA. This year the Center is adopting the theme of “the Commons,” a reference to Garrett Hardin’s famous essay that emphasizes mutual appreciation and awareness of shared resources the world over.

“A commons is what we all own and use together. So in the town of Grinnell, the streets and sidewalks and parks are a commons,” Andelson said. “We all own those and share them and use them collectively. National parks are a commons and the Smithsonian is a commons. Public education is a commons. It’s really big and yet it, too, is under a kind of assault. There are pushes to privatize everything, so we want to address this.”

The CPS will be hosting events covering the financial commons, water as a commons and the knowledge commons.

“My own personal feeling is that in this country the sense of place is eroding and I think that’s a loss because if you don’t know your place particularly well, there’s no particular reason to take care of it. We want to establish an appreciation of our place and the commons,” Andelson  said. “We want to appreciate Grinnell.”

 "Milkweed" by Tara Shukla
“Milkweed” by Tara Shukla
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