The John C Campbell Folk School: a Resource for Learning

I’m going a bit off topic in the post. The John C Campbell Folk School (, in Brasstown, North Carolina, is a great way to learn new arts or to polish the ones your already know. It follows the Danish folk school model (non competitive, no grades, learning for the sake of learning). It teaches week and weekend long classes, in a variety of arts (including, of course, metal clay). One can choose to stay in the school’s housing or stay off campus. While the latter option is slightly less expensive, staying on campus frees you from the need to drive, thus letting you focus on learning. In addition, the instructors recruited for the John C Campbell Folk School tend to be top notch (for example, Pam East teaches most of the metal clay classes).

I went there last week to take a class in drawing from nature. Previous to this, I had almost zero experience in drawing. I want to present a few of the pieces I was able to create in five days of classes, with almost no experience. I provide this information, so you can see how far one can go with one of these classes.

20170817_150302This is the first time I ever tried to do anything with charcoal. Charcoal is, in many ways, the opposite of traditional drawing — one darkens the entire page with charcoal, and then erases to lighten the places where you want the image to be.

20170817_150221This is literally an exercise — although the instructor liked it so well that she had me matt it. I was told to select nine different colored pencils and then shown a vase containing various plants. The instructions were to spend ten seconds drawing with each color. Then, after that was done, the students were allows to have 90 seconds to clean up their work. If you see fewer than nine colors (and you do), it is because the others were eliminated in the matting.


This is a pen and ink fanciful drawing of a spray of Bloody Butcher, a broom-corn like plant.

The illustration below is a colored pencil illustration of a vine. To give the vine some character, I let it thread through a piece of cloth.


My final example is my favorite — a foliate mask done with a combination of conte de Paris and colored pencil. Conte de Paris are a type of crayon for adults that limit the color choices to four (black, brown, terra cotta, and white). Using a combination of blending and force on the crayon, one can produce different degrees of darkness of illustration, thereby producing a more complex picture than four colors would suggest.


I strongly recommend the John C Campbell Folk School as a resource. What you can learn in a week (or even a weekend) is nothing short of amazing.


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