Teaching with Contemporary Art

Thinking Through Possibilities


Sketchbooks can serve as places to work out big ideas, as we have seen over the past two Teaching With Contemporary Art columns where Sue Chenoweth’s students used sketchbook ideas to inform site-specific installations.

This week, Natalie Kowalski, a former student with Eric Scott at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, VA, and now a freshman at James Madison University, shares two images from her sketchbook that serve as very different examples of where students can take sketchbook studies. The study above can be read as a form of visual journaling while the sample below can serve as a study for a future illustration, painting or mixed-media work.


Investigating contemporary art and creating images that respond to visual culture, social and political issues, and specific design problems are just a few directions sketchbooks can take. Natalie Kowalski’s work illustrates how students can use sketchbooks to create more complete works of art vs. the quick studies and preliminary work we are often used to seeing.

Are there other directions you or your students take with sketchbooks?

Next week: A report from the Bodies exhibition: Using controversial subject matter in the classroom.


  1. Scott Glass says:

    I teach a senior level Humanities class that is focused on understanding how and why people create in all fields, but particularly in the arts. Even though it is an English class, students use blank-page sketchbooks, called Mindbooks, in which they construct entries combining image and text. The goal is to force students to think and communicate in ways that they are not used to. A typical assignment could be for them to explore a physical space, examining why they have positive or negative views of it and show how they would re-shape it. Because it is an English class, the entries are not assessed on technical skill, but on the depth of thinking and the integrity or craftsmanship of the page. As for technique, students are encouraged to use a variety of materials and manipulate found images. At the beginning of the year, I show Dan Eldon’s journals as examples of how pages can be constructed. This ongoing activity has added an important layer to how students see and discuss ideas from all fields. And it has forced them to reconsider how they and others can communicate most clearly.

    Thanks for your time.
    Scott Glass

  2. Joe Fusaro says:

    Scott, We would love to see examples by your students and/or Dan Eldon if you are able to share images or links. Using the approach you describe to teach and incorporate visual literacy, I am sure, makes your class unique and interesting for students. Where do you teach?

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