Image“Hitchcock’s Crow”  Pastel on Toned Paper by Kristin Gjerdset, 2013, copyright.

Reading through my twitter feed, I learned that Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, “The Birds” is fifty years old today. I have never seen it. I admit I am reluctant to. During college I worked at a pet store. Countless times people would stop once they saw the large area filled with cages of parrots. Some were too terrified to come any closer.  When I would ask what was wrong (usually I with a beaked companion on my shoulder), they said they feared birds ever since they had seen the movie “The Birds.”  I have pet birds and for the most part I like them (the squawking moments test my patience) and I really do not want that relationship to change so I have abstained from seeing it.

I have watched other Hitchcock movies, however, and found one in particular, “Spellbound” a great one for my drawing students to learn from.  Hitchcock is legendary when it comes to filming in black and white. His understanding of how to use value (darks and lights) to construct a striking, balanced and clear composition for each frame is impressive – each is an individual artwork.  He also uses value to play up the suspense of a scene.  “Spellbound” is no exception. When Gregory Peck’s character, makes his way from an upper bedroom down to a lower office in a sleep entranced state, shadows and light shift, to focus and refocus our attention on what is important. I show this clip as well as the dream sequence developed by Salvador Dali.  The goal of my lesson is that they become aware how thoughtfully one must consider using a broad value range for depth of field and clarity of spatial relationships, but above all, work to tell a visual story with a similar level of mystery and suspense as Hitchcock. I want them to think beyond simply making a good academic value drawing of still life objects.  In the end, year after year, I am sincerely impressed how inspired the students become and how well they succeed with the drawings (plus it is just plain fun to have the studio go dark with limited illumination).

I should note the students are college level, in the second semester of basic drawing. Additionally,the students select objects from the room to use and determine how the lights will be set-up.  There is no prescribed still life, as I believe it is beneficial for them to become the director of their drawing.  The materials are white Conte pastels on Canson Mi-Tientes darker colored toned papers (black, dark blue). Black erasers are used to fix mistakes and employ the subtractive method.

Here is a sampling of their work:


Bethany’s drawing, pastel on toned paper, 2013, copyright

(Having a plastic crow you see is a necessity for any good still life collection.)

ImageAmanda’s drawing, pastel on toned paper, 2013, copyright


Kathleen’s drawing, pastel on toned paper, 2013, copyright

The mannequin proved to be a good subject as well, appearing more humanlike.


Katie’s drawing, pastel on toned paper, 2013, copyright.


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