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Drawaholics Build Illustration Portfolios, Leveraging Skills, Connections

Craig Kimball was a tattoo artist for over 15 years, but nowadays he’s tattooing less on people and doing more drawings of them. While shopping around for art schools, he saw a video of the Academy’s Drawaholics Anonymous student group and was instantly hooked.

“Just the first 10 minutes [of the video] was captivating—how they talked about getting better and committing to doing the work,” recalls Kimball, an online BFA School of Illustration student from Ontario, Canada. “I knew I wanted to be a part of this group.”

‘Hefty’ Challenge

Drawaholics Anonymous is a drawing community whose goal is to get students to draw more and “create a culture of excellence” in the words of Michael Buffington, Drawaholics founder and School of Game Developmentinstructor.

To date, the number of members has grown to around 300, more than 25 of whom have completed the hefty Drawaholics challenge: To become a permanent member, students draw 1000 heads, 500 legs, 500 arms, 250 hands and 250 feet—a total of 2500 drawings.

The Drawaholics Hall of Improvement
The Drawaholics Hall of Improvement compares members’ drawings from the beginning to the end of the 2500-drawing challenge.

The Art Monster

Buffington laughs. “It’s become this monster. I thought Drawaholics would change the attitude, the culture, and camaraderie among students…. Now, there’s this level of intensity and love people have for drawing.”

In addition to sponsoring the challenge, Drawaholics organizes sketch crawls, sketch challenges, member meet-ups and guest speakers.

Drawaholics Outdoors
An outdoor Drawaholics Anonymous meet-up session.

“Every workshop, every meeting, there is someone with work to critique,” says Shermond Wong, who was the second Drawaholics member to complete the 2500-drawing challenge. “Seeing that for yourself every meeting is pretty motivating. It’s kind of a friendly competition thing.”

Before Drawaholics, Wong says, his drawings were “horrible…a mess. I couldn’t see any of the planes of the face, I didn’t know what line work was, I didn’t know what line quality meant,” the MFA Game Development student says.

But with Buffington’s influence, Wong got motivated to take on the challenge as quickly as possible. He holds the second fastest completion time at three months (according to Buffington, the first place record is 11 weeks), and his improvement is evident in the refinement and expression in his final drawings, now hanging in the Drawaholics Hall of Improvement.

“I got a lot of tips and advice on how to self-critique my own work,” Wong says. “Looking back on the challenge, it was a small step for a bigger leap.”

Online Advocate

Richelle Cowan was the first online student to complete the Drawaholics challenge. Located in Colorado, Cowan says she enrolled in the Academy to beef up her drawing skills and gain her BFA Illustration degree to enter the profession.

Already obsessed with improving her own art and helping others progress, she was a natural fit for Drawaholics. “Drawaholics really gives a base to people that are doing the same thing you’re doing at school. It provides a support group you can go into, Every time you engage, online or on site, you come out a little better, and that’s our goal every time.”

She says Drawaholics is equally about community. An advocate for the Academy’s online students, Cowan led the Drawaholics sketch session at the university’s 2018 Summer Expo, which was, coincidentally, the seminar Kimball was struck by.

Drawaholics online students
Drawaholics online student lead Richelle Cowan (top row, second from right) visited San Francisco to hang and draw with her Drawaholics community.

As a Drawaholics leader, Cowan is now the point person ensuring that online members like Kimball feel involved, engaged, and most of all, committed to growth.

“[As online students], we need tactile experiences, we need people on the other end of the screen that we can connect to,” Cowan says.

From Hearts to the Human Form

Kimball has completed around 1500 drawings in his Drawaholics challenge, which from a tattoo artist’s perspective is “light work,” he says. “Tattoo artists have to draw 5000 roses as an apprentice, but the human body is more challenging.

“It’s not just about talent, it’s about the work you put in. If you work hard, you’re going to get it.

“Nothing has made me feel more a part of the school than this extracurricular group. They taught me attention to detail and just putting in the work. I wouldn’t have gotten that without being a member of the Drawaholics.”

drawaholics 2
Butters Alkaabi, MFA student in the School of Game Development, works on head sketches for the Drawaholics Anonymous challenge.

Article by Nina Tabios of Academy Art U News

Photos courtesy of Michael Buffington

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