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Art for superfans: Classical skills find new subjects in the modern art class


From Hermione Granger to "Avatar: The Last Airbender," unconventional subjects are making classical portraits for today’s young painters.

Fan art - drawings inspired by popular characters from books, movies and graphic novels - have long languished in the margins of school notebooks. But students paint what they are passionate about in the Art School of SF Bay’s Mountain View classroom. In addition to digital and traditional media, the school offers classes and camps on manga and fan art. Minecraft and Harry Potter share the easel with still lifes and figure drawings.

Maria Zhalnina, the Art School’s founder, said teaching classical art in a modern way builds artistic skills while embracing individual interest. Shoujo and shounen manga, for instance, become an area of scholarly study as students tease out the technical details of creating comics in styles traditionally aimed at male (shounen) and female (shoujo) youth.

"We want to make sure that they can do shading, proportions, that they know human anatomy," Zhalnina said of the Art School’s coursework.

In the manga class, the nuances of portraiture narrow, focusing on how to draw human emotion and facial expression in stylized ways specific to the cartoon tradition. Proportions might change, but the fundamental concepts still apply.

For parents at home looking to foster similar efforts, Zhalnina offered two tips:

• Self-taught students can find prolific resources online for specific skills by searching blogs for tutorials such as "how to draw a human face."

• Copic markers, though expensive, blend well, enable layering and provide the watercolor-like effect often seen in manga. They make a special gift for budding art lovers.

- Eliza Ridgeway

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