One Size Fits All

The giant shoe drawings that appear in the Rubenstein Gallery every two years have become a Sidwell Friends tradition.

Every two years, the AP Studio Art students get their boots on the ground with one of Sidwell Friends’ most famous projects: the large-scale tonal shoe drawing. Visitors to the Daryl Reich Rubenstein Gallery immediately notice the shoes lining the gallery walls, which look about the right size for a giant visiting via beanstalk to wear. The project is the brainchild of Upper School art teacher Anna Tsouhlarakis, who first assigned it when she arrived at the School in 2009.

“We do the project every other year, because AP Studio Art is taken by many students as a two-year class,” she explains. “It’s a great way to start off the year, to get students to loosen up and try something new.” Unlike many of the art projects students are used to, this one requires total engagement with their creative space, because they are working in such a large scale. “It gives students a sense of working in an actual artists’ community, working side by side in a larger space,” says Anna. “Their bodies become so much more important in terms of how they relate to their art. They have to reach up high, bend down low; most have to be present in that space in a way they’ve never been before.”

In addition to this new approach, the shoe drawings also teach important artistic skills. Students use white chalk and charcoal on toned paper, and they become adept at shifting between shadows, mid-tones, and highlights. Nevertheless, Anna stresses that students retain their individual styles, because they can use these techniques in many ways.

“It’s really personal,” she says. “Seeing all these drawings next to each other helps the Sidwell Friends community as a whole to see that there are different ways of art making.” The personal element can also be found in the shoes students select as their models. According to Anna, “Students bring in everything from football cleats to flats to platform shoes to hockey cleats.”

Brenna Hanson ’17 enjoyed the scope of the project: “My favorite part was building up to the place where I could draw the metal part of the shoe,” she says. “And getting to the point where I could compress the charcoal and just fill in this really dark black.”

Anna’s own favorite part is the way that students make the project their own, no matter what their artistic style. “It’s a project where one size fits all,” she adds. “Somehow working in this scale allows students to be successful—and that’s why I love it. It highlights their own special, unique way of drawing.”

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