Hello My Name Is...

Ms. Szpara


My name is Carolynne Szpara. I am the art teacher at Clara B. Ford Academy. I have lived and worked in the Detroit area my entire life. I have two art degrees from Wayne State University and have been teaching art for over twelve years. I have been at Clara B. Ford Academy since 2019 and I am loving my students and my job.  

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School Wide “Nonnegotiable” Rules:

1. CELL PHONES should be silenced and out of sight.

2. HALLWAY PASSES are needed during class periods.

3. ONLY APPROVED FOOD OR DRINK can be consumed during school hours.

4. TEACHER'S DESK, CHAIR, LAPTOP, AND CLASSROOM PHONE are off limits to students.

If you wish to contact me, select "Contact Me" which is located on the left of your screen under my name. Please send me the following information:
1. Your name.
2. The students class.
3. Your email address.
4. Your question or comment. Please include the name of your student.

If you do not have an email address please leave your phone number in the question/comment section and a good time to reach you. 

Art Resources and Homework



Tip 1: Look at what you are drawing

This sounds obvious, but it is the most common error made by art students. Many students attempt to draw things the way that they think they should look, rather than the way they actually do look.

The only way to record shape, proportion and detail accurately is to look at the source of information. Human memory does not suffice. Forms, shadows and details are hard enough to replicate when they are right there in front of you; if you have to make them up, they appear even less convincing. In order to produce an outstanding observational drawing, you must observe: your eyes must continually dance from the piece of paper to the object and back again. Not just once or twice, but constantly.

Note: even if you pursue a theme about mythical creatures, fairy tales or some other imaginary form, you should work as much as possible from observation. Piece your creatures together from fragments of life. Dress people up and then draw them or merge different parts of insects or creatures together (using artistic license as appropriate) rather than creating an entire form or scene from your head.

Tip 2: Draw from real objects whenever possible

The phrase ‘observational drawing’ typically implies drawing from life. Ask any art teacher and they will list the benefits of drawing from objects that are sitting directly in front of you. You are provided with a wealth of visual information…changing light conditions; rich textures; views of the subject from alternate angles; as well as information from other sense…smells and noise from the surroundings etc. Transcribing from three-dimensions to two is ultimately much harder than drawing from a photograph, but it often results in drawings that are ‘richer’ and more authentic.

(This doesn’t mean, however, that you should never draw from photographs. Students frequently traipse from home to school and back again: it can be impractical to carry and set up complex still life arrangements over and over again. Some subjects – such as landscapes and nude models – are also unavailable in most classroom settings. It can therefore be good practice to set up a still life arrangement in the flesh (or visit a location) and begin drawing directly from the subject, using photographs to complete the work at home).

Tip 3: Don’t trace

Throughout history, great realist painters have traced from photographs or worked from projections blown up onto walls. But these painters are not high school art students; nor are they assessed on their ability to replicate form.

There is a place for tracing, but tracing from photographs and then simply applying color or tone is not always the best art skill building activity. Such methods of ‘drawing’ involve minimal skill, teach you little and run the risk of producing clunky, soul-less outlines.

Tip 4: Understand perspective

As objects get further away they appear smaller. The replication of this change of scale on paper (through the use of vanishing points) is called ‘perspective’. 

Tip 5. Use grids, guidelines or rough forms to get the proportions right before you add details

Many students start with a tiny detail (the eye on a face, for example) and then gradually add in the rest of the image…ending up with a drawing that is badly proportioned or doesn’t fit on the page (or floats aimlessly in the middle of it). This can be avoided by approximating the basic forms before adding details or by using guidelines to ensure that proportions are correct.

If working from a photograph, using a grid can result in highly accurate work. It allows students to focus on one small segment of the image at a time and gives arbitrary lines from which distances can be gauged. This can be a helpful strategy when precise, detailed images are required and can itself become a celebrated component in an artwork. As gridding is methodical and involves meticulous plotting of lines, however, it is important to acknowledge that this approach runs the risk of producing tight and regimented drawings that lack in ‘spirit’ and should thus be approached with care.

Tip 6: Be wary of ellipses

Ellipses – the oval shapes that are visible at the top of cylindrical objects such as bottles or jars – frequently ‘trip up’ a weak drawer. They can send an immediate signal that a student isnot looking at what they are drawing. All ellipses, no matter what angle they are viewed from, should be rounded (not pointed) at the ends

Tip 7: Keep the outlines light

As your drawing is fleshed out in more detail, with attention given to the subtle variations in shape and form, the natural inclination – especially of the novice drawer – is to want to darken in the outlines, to help ensure they are visible. Do not do this.

Real objects do not have dark lines running around every edge. Edges should instead be defined by a change in tone and/or color.

If you are producing a line drawing, a cartoon or some other graphic image, outlines may be darkened, but in an observational drawing – especially one which you wish to be realistic – dark outlines are never advised.

Tip 8: Have a Good Range of Tone

When it comes to applying tone to your drawing, as with everything else, look at the object. Observe where the light and dark areas are and copy what you see. In almost all cases, your drawing should have a full range of tone, from black, through a multitude of greys (or colored mid-tones) through to white.

Some students – having learnt how to blend tone smoothly from dark to light – develop the unfortunate habit of randomly shading all surfaces from dark to light. Tone should never be invented and it should never be applied by guesswork.

Tip 9: Use mark-making to convey surface quality and texture

When producing an observational drawing, the mark-making used should help to convey the texture(s) of the subject matter. There are a multitude of different ways a pencil can strike paper – hatching / dashes / smudges / dots… think carefully before you decide which technique to use.

Tip 10: Include / omit detail as necessary

One area where students often become disheartened is in the depiction of incredibly complex subjects. When drawing trees, plants and bushes, it is not necessary to replicate every leaf or stick. When drawing a person, it is not necessary to depict every strand of hair. The artist is always in a position to pick and choose what goes in their artwork. As long as the decision is based on what is aesthetically best for the work (rather than wanting to leave out something that is hard to draw…which is often the driving force behind students wanting to eliminate certain aspects of their image) there is nothing wrong with omitting certain details from a drawing. In fact, often the composition is less cluttered and easy on the eye because of it.

There are many approaches to this. Sometimes every single detail might be recorded with accuracy. Sometimes a certain area of a drawing is rendered in full, with other parts trailing away.

Tip 11: Insert your own soul

Most of the tips above are aimed at helping a student create more realistic observational drawings. This last tip is something different. It is a reminder that sometimes it is the difference between the real item and the drawing that matters.

Although observational drawings are usually expected to be realistic in nature, they do not need to be hyper-realistic (in other words, they don’t have to look exactly like a photograph). Often, it is the unrealistic parts: the unexpected mark-making – the gap between the real object and what is drawn – where the soul sneaks in. It is the beauty in smudges and irregularities and artistic interpretation. Every student is an artist. Embrace this!

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