Puppy holding tennis ball in mouth for Star Varner

Innovative drawing class features pets

The furry model sat perfectly still while students in Professor Star Varner’s art class at Southwestern University sketched every detail of his body, from the curve of his spine to the taut muscles of his back and, finally, his small paws.

Then he lifted a leg and scratched, vigorously, behind his left ear.

“The dogs are not terribly cooperative about modeling,” Star says.

Each semester, students learn how to illustrate the inner structures of the human body like those seen in medical illustration. But Star also challenges students to master drawing the human body by having them draw live animals in motion.

“It’s a special challenge for students to try to draw a moving target. When students are drawing or sketching in public, people aren’t posing for long periods of time like professional models that come to class.” Students must “become versatile as artists drawing figures in changing environments,” she says.

Star Varner

Star Varner

Star also feels that “it’s important for art students to learn to compare the anatomy of animals and humans.” Thus, she explains, “the annual Art for Animals Drawing II event is a celebration at the end of a long semester of drawing the human figure to help students understand the human body and synthesize [that knowledge] with other material. Students love it.”

For the past six years Star has offered a session with her Drawing II class as a fundraiser auction item to benefit an animal shelter. Winners may bring a pet to be drawn by the class. Pet owners take home a variety of drawings, from quick sketches to longer studies.

Recently, the offer benefitted Georgetown Animal Outreach’s Bow Wow Meow Holiday Bash. Star is not aware of any other art class in the United States that does something like this.

Dogs in particular serve as a critical test of students’ drawing abilities. Since the dogs won’t sit still for more than a few seconds, students will sometimes draw one pose and then leave it to draw another position, returning to the original drawing later. “They might have a whole page of drawings of different positions the dog is in if they can move back and forth between the drawings,” Star explains.

Sketches of dog models in Star Varner's class

Grappling with the challenges of drawing mobile subjects allows students to become stronger artists, Star adds. “I notice that they’re struggling to keep up with a mobile subject, so they have to rely on their knowledge of the skeleton, solid volumes of the cones and the sphere, the cylinder and the cube to construct a solid-looking drawing.”

Drawing animals is an extension of drawing the human figure. “Drawing the human figure has been a foundation in western art since the Renaissance. Drawing animals is an extension of the idea that if a person can draw a human figure, he or she can draw anything because the human figure is so complex,” Star says.

Star collaborates with Dr. Laura Hobgood-Oster, professor of religion and environmental studies at Southwestern, who arranges auctions for Georgetown Animal Outreach. “For the last three years, it’s been part of our Bow Wow Meow Holiday Bash, a big holiday fundraiser,” Laura says. “We have a silent auction that a number of businesses in Georgetown contribute to, and that’s the largest part of that fundraiser. The two highest bidders get drawings of their pet. For Christmas, it’s really a unique kind of gift.”

“It’s a useful drawing exercise that also benefits the Georgetown community through a Southwestern University outreach effort,” Star says. “Tell people that they can bid on next year’s event on behalf of their pet . . . Muffin’s ready for her close-up!”

Laura Hobgood Oster

Laura Hobgood-Oster


To see SU students in action drawing Georgetown pets in action, watch the video below:


Bow Wow Meow Holiday Bash 2014

Attend this year’s Bow Wow Meow Holiday Bash at Berry Creek on December 12 and enter a silent auction to win An Art for Animals Drawing II session in which Star’s class will draw your pet for you. All proceeds benefit Georgetown Animal Outreach. Find out how to purchase tickets at www.georgetowndogrescue.com.

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