Creating Art, Amid the Art

By Allyson Tompkins
July 30, 2019
Index Magazine

Creating Art, Amid the Art

Two young children draw in front of Herbert Bayer's "Verdure."
Photo: Caitlin Cunningham Photography Young visitors sketch in front of Herbert Bayer’s Verdure, during a visit to the recent exhibition The Bauhaus and Harvard.

Walking around the galleries, you might notice some visitors sketching in their notebooks. Some might be inspired to draw Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait; others might find a comfortable spot in front of Calder’s sculpture Little Blue Under Red to draw its edges.

Among our visitors are those who have dedicated some aspect of their lives to art, as well as students and families with young children. All of them know that new ways of seeing can emerge when pencil meets paper. 

Many visitors bring their own sketchbook and pencil (no pens are allowed in the galleries). At our admissions desk, our youngest visitors can ask for a free sketchbook and pencil (and for adults, paper and pencil). Sophie Pratt, shop associate in Visitor Services, said children have chosen a wide variety of subjects to sketch, but a favorite is Carlos Amorales’s centrally-located Triangle Constellation, hanging above the courtyard. 

Some recent visitors who brought their own pencils and paper to the galleries have shared their work and stories with us on social media. 

Professional illustrator Alexander Mostov of Seattle, Washington, came to the museums while visiting a friend in Boston. As someone who draws every day, Mostov was inspired by George Minne’s 1923 sculpture Kneeling Youth with a Shell

Mostov said he was struck by the “contrast between the organic human form of the sculpture and the rigid lines of architecture surrounding it.” His sketch and the original work are both shown below.

Artist and art educator Marika McCoola, of nearby Somerville, Massachusetts, always carries a sketchbook when she visits the museums. She has drawn in the galleries a number of times and does her best to jot down details about specific objects. McCoola said she also enjoys observing how other visitors respond to works and sometimes tries to capture those responses. “Drawing is a way to actively look at and process the world,” said McCoola. 

When she viewed our exhibition Animal-Shaped Vessels from the Ancient World last fall, McCoola was inspired to sketch a rhyton in the form of a lion (an object that was on loan from the Louvre).

“Drawing is a way to actively look at and process the world.”

Another visitor, Kelly Manikoth, of Toronto, Ontario, came to the museums while attending the National Art Education Association’s convention in Boston. With a passion for illustration, Manikoth often carries a sketchbook in museums. She said the subtle aspects of an object become more apparent when she’s sketching, and she begins to think about the artist’s perspective. 

On average, Manikoth says, “most of us spend less than ten seconds looking at an artwork.” However, sketching challenges her to look a little differently and more slowly. “I’m forced to stop, look, and think about what is in front of me; it prepares my mind to get in the habit of slow and considered looking. Drawing art connects me to the artist’s style and technique, and I get a much more personal and meaningful understanding of the work.” 

On her visit, Manikoth drew Youthful Hero or God. One of the things that captured her attention was the sculpture’s “variety of textures,” she said.

Whether brought from home or picked up at the admissions desk, sketchbooks can promote a new kind of connection between art and observer. As Manikoth said, “It’s like I’m exploring a work of art through my tactile senses without even touching it.”


Allyson Tompkins is the Summer 2019 writing and editing intern in the Communications Division at the Harvard Art Museums.