biography: florida study

It was the serendipitous meeting of a man named George Sotos, a former teacher at the American Academy of Chicago, that took my studies in a new directon.
1983–1986: Art Education Moves to Cocoa Beach, Florida

In 1983, I left New York to study privately with Mr. Sotos and three other students. Under the direction of Mr. Sotos we created a very unique artistic learning environment.

The Basic Concept of Visual Vocabulary

The study centered on one overall concept: the development of the perception of space (learning to see) using the skeleton as the vehicle. Whereas the traditional approach to drawing used geometrical shapes (sphere, cone, cube, cylinder) to interpret a complex form, we were attempting to open a faculty of perception to "see" form directly. The "scale" that we employed, in lieu of the geometric shapes, was the organic shape of the sacrum (the triangular bone at the base of the spine). The "scale" or "vocabulary" that we were after had less to do with the fact that it was the sacrum, and more to do with that it presented a uniform but staggeringly complex form that, in theory, if committed to memory, had the ablility to open advanced spacial perception.

  • Ribcage StudyFront and back of rib cage and spine in clay
  • Skeleton StudyLeft: Building the spine of the skeleton, one vertebrae at a time with clay and wire. Right: A complete skeleton built later on from memory only.
  • Mandible/Maxilla StudyOversize sculpture of the bottom half of the skull in clay (the maxilla and mandible bones.)
  • Sacrum Drawing StudyDrawing the form in clay by touch only.
  • Sacrum Wire StudySculpture made from steel wire of the sacrum bone.
  • Skull StudyOversize sculpture of the skull in clay.
  • Sacrum DrawingDrawing the sacrum (back to front) from memory.
  • Head StudyStudy of a head in plasticlene clay.
  • Sacrum in PlasterCross section of the 2 top horizontals of the sacrum bone hollowed out in plaster.
  • Sacrum Drawing StudyExploring dimension through the sense of touch.
  • Sacrum Drawing StudyThree dimensional drawings from sacrum.
  • Sacrum Clay StudyPushing the image, despite the limitation of using the feet.
  • Color ChartsExploring the vast range and possibilities of color.
  • Charcoal StudyBlack and white charcoal study of a jug and apple.
  • Painting StudyColor study of a jug and apple.
  • Skull and LanternOil wash and finished painting.
  • Meat Grinder StudyOil, 1986
  • Study of Margaret and MarceeOil, 1986
  • Oil StudiesGarden Plant and Plein-air Study
  • Printmaking ExplorationEtching of an old car.
  • Plein-Air PaintingCocoa Beach, Florida, 1986
  • Plein-Air TransportCocoa Beach, Florida, 1986
the Principle of sound Drawing
The essence of sound drawing lies in the ability to put down, on a flat surface, the illusion of physical form in space. Whatever method a person uses for that end, be it the geometric interpretation generally accepted as the "way", or this maverick approach—the quality of the end result boils down to level that the artist actually feels that space and their ability to put down the illusion of it.

The core idea of using the fixed organic complex of shapes that comprises the sacrum, as the building blocks of spacial perception, can only be discovered in the experience of doing it.
Drawing using solely the sense
of touch
Using large hollowed out sectional papier mache' forms of the "sacral horizontals" we performed several exercises.

Reverse Drawing: One exercise was feeling the form of the horizontal from the inside with one hand, by stroking it, while drawing (what we felt) with the other. We called this "Reverse Drawing", without the use of our eyes to interpret the form.
This unconventional process was a mind bender and it took a while to get the hang of it. This exercise opened up a whole world in the imagination, as the hand learned what it was feeling.

One way to imagine the possibility of "Reverse Drawing" is to observe how a blind person picks up information through their hands in order to navigate their environment. Their sense of touch is their eyes. (I remember one time when I sold a drawing to a blind man. He was able to tell me what bill was in his hand just by the feel of it) When all you have is what you can feel, your brain uses it to its full advantage. That was the essence of that exercise. We eventually did this exercise blindfolded as well.
Building the complete skeleton From memory
The sacrum work "stretched" spacial perception of volume.
Our logical progression was to imbed the 3-D image of the skeleton. It involved building every bone over and over one by one, then in combinations, leading to the whole. This process took many months to master.

At the end, we were able to put it all together and build an entire skeleton from memory. This was quite a thrilling accomplishment.
Foot-building
with clay
Another very challenging exercise was building the sacrum with the feet, "pushing" the image and the "wire framework" into the imagination (above photo). The first time we attempted to foot-build with clay, our feet were red sore, and everything we did still looked like a blob of clay.
But as time went by our perception grew to the point where we could actually build it at will! At this point we tried the same exercise blindfolded. Of course they were crude, but they had the essence of the sacral form. The hinderance of not seeing coupled with building with the cumbersome feet forced us to work on a deeper level while holding onto that image in our minds.
Drawing exercises
of the bones and skeleton
We made many large scale drawings of the bones of the skeleton, skull, and the full skeleton on a daily basis from memory.

The memory work reinforced what we knew well, and made apparent where we were weak. These were not drawings with a light source. We were laying lines to create form, from back to front (as if transparent) in order to "feel" or perceive 3D form on a flat surface.
After many months, we definitely felt our perception of space change. The flat surface is not as inflexible as it appears to be!
Oil painting, color
and geometry
By 1986, our work evolved to include more and more time oil painting. We read books on color, made color charts, and did many painting exercises using a full-color palette, a limited palette, a monochrome palette, as well as a black and white palette for value studies.


To practice geometry and proportion, we made an in-depth study of a complex geometrical form, such as a large metal hand crank grain grinder. First we built it out of clay, then we plotted its lines on paper using a traditional perspective technique, which then led us to make a detailed oil painting of it. We also took a few local classes on printmaking, and stained glass.
Later on, I began to paint plein-air, loading my bike up with my equipment, trekking up and down the beach painting the Cocoa Beach landscape.


Wrapping up the Florida Study

We packed an amazing amount of study and work into four years. It was a very special time in my life and I feel grateful for having had that rare opportunity. However, the scope of what we were attempting went beyond our ability to stay with it.

In December 1986, the school disbanded, because of lack of funds. It was an abrupt interruption to an amazing journey. I loved the work and I miss the beach. Although I really worked hard and was filled with passion, at 26, I was naive to some of the realities ahead that I was about to face beyond art school.

To this day, I remain in awe of the courage of Mr. Sotos, in his conviction, to go dramatically against the prevailing sentiment on how one learns to draw, to boldly attempt a completely new angle. We (students) helped to pioneer what Sotos coined as "Visual Vocabulary". Mr. Soto's is now back to text in Chicago teaching students at his studio The Drawing Workshop.
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