I knew what ART PROF Teaching Assistant Annie Irwin was all about before she even spoke a word to me. On the first day of my RISD freshman drawing class back in the fall of 2011, we reviewed the course materials for about 20 minutes, I gave the students a 15 minute break, and then we got started drawing right away with various kinds of lithographic crayons. One thing I do when I teach drawing is I spend time watching students’ movements as they draw: their movements can often times reveal to me just as much about their skill set as looking at the drawing itself.
I vividly remember the incredible conviction I saw in Annie’s face that first day of drawing class. Her movements as she drew were sharp and energetic, and she handled the drawing materials with a confidence that I don’t see very often from a freshman on the first day of class in the fall semester. I could tell immediately how intense and fully engaged she was. Annie had a highly focused gaze on the model, and her assertiveness with her drawing skills was truly incredible.
Annie was truly a force of nature- she’s one of those students who is so amazing that as the professor, I feel like all I have to do is make sure I get out of her way when she takes off like a rocket. Students like Annie make you feel, as the professor, that you don’t have to lift a finger to help them. Below is Annie’s final project from my drawing class, she constructed a diorama which had giant clumps of twine layered like a jungle. She drew her piece by drawing from direction observation of this diorama using charcoal on a 4′ x 4′ sheet of canvas. To this day, her final project still resonates with tremendous expression and emotion combined with a masterful command of the drawing material.
When you find a fabulous TA, you hold onto them for dear life! Annie was my TA for several semesters afterwards, and we managed to squeeze in an independent study somewhere. We caught up one last time on campus before graduation came along in 2015. Let’s hear from Annie about her journey so far:
“I live in California and recently completed a position as a silkscreen apprentice at the Fabric Workshop and Museum. My BFA is from the Rhode Island School of Design in Textiles. I have experience in fashion print design, an award-winning upholstery fabric, an undying love for art, and a bizarre drive to construct and embroider sock animals.
This all started when I was 11 years old. I was sitting at the car wash with my parents and found a magazine in the waiting room. When I came across images of wild paintings and crazy fashion designs, I was hooked and decided to read the article, which talked about the wonders of an art school in Rhode Island. I knew that this was the college for me but, being only 11 years old, I was too young to apply. Instead, I drafted a handwritten letter and made a pathetic attempt at copying Vincent van Gogh’s Portrait of Eugène Boch in acrylic paint and a lame pencil drawing of a horse floating on a blank page. I sent the letter and artwork to the RISD admissions office.
I was nervous and excited when I saw the envelope with RISD’s return address. The letter told me that the best way to assemble a great application was to remain passionate and practice drawing from life every day. This advice stayed with me throughout school and remains with me today. I was lucky to have amazing teachers and a solid art department to help me through the awful time that was high school. I ran into a wall when my art teachers told me that my technique was good but my ideas were not fully developed. That’s when I learned that art-making is equal parts concept and technique; it’s a skill in itself that takes practice and effort.”