Art and Biomass
by J. Bradley Faus, Program Director of Art at the Hotchkiss School
Editor’s Note: Centerbrook designed the Hotchkiss School Biomass Central Heating Facility to be accessible for tours and academic uses. The school’s art students explored and sketched its interior workings.
The "Industrial Interiors" assignment was driven by an interest in finding ways to have our students explore the Biomass Facility as a unique teaching, learning, and energy generating environment. The Art Program embraced the opportunity to work outside of a studio setting and pursue a complex industrial interior of pumps, burners, wood chip furnaces, steam lines, ash collectors, and a range of other equipment along with lighting, architectural elements, windows, doorways, gates, stairs, etc.
Students first toured the facility with a technician to learn how it functions. Each investigated the interior with viewfinder and sketchbook in search of an appealing composition. Light, shadow, texture, and perspective were key players in this process. Students completed a range of different formatted thumbnail sketches before presenting their work to the class. Peer critique led each student to select a final composition to pursue on a larger scale using charcoal on gray pastel paper. This view was documented photographically as a studio resource.
With planning sketches, studies and photos in hand, the class returned to the studio to complete a final perspective drawing.
As a complement to this assignment the class reviewed the work of contemporary artists working with architectural subject matter: artists like Gideon Bok, Jane Bennett, Cara Campbell, and Sean Freeman informed the media and technique that were used.
Our Art Program is committed to student self-assessment, and routine paired-peer, group, and instructor critique. Two-point perspective, sighting and measuring techniques, and light and shadow are essential components of the drawing process, as is the careful and thoughtful refinement of the overall composition. Students are pushed to engage the viewer and lead the viewer's eye through the composition with attention to focal point and overall pattern. Expressive use of media and a personalized approach to technique were encouraged.
A second phase to this assignment was to pursue a looser, potentially more expressive drawing style on A/C plywood panel. We liked the idea of using a material consistent with the interior of the biomass facility, which features a wide variety of ways in which wood is used in construction. The relationship of plywood to wood chips was appealing as well. The plywood surface presented a different texture and forced students to change the technique, often yielding more abstract, muted, or high contrast results.