The Woods Hole Woman’s Club met last month to celebrate the retirement of Julie Swope Child from a long career as an art educator. In 1975 Ms. Child offered to teach biological illustration at the Children’s School of Science. The class has been offered at the school ever since. In the mid-1990s Ms. Child responded to requests to teach adult classes. The Woods Hole Historical Museum often holds shows featuring drawings by Ms. Child and her students.
The program, held at the Church of the Messiah’s Parish and Community Center, included an exhibit of drawings by Ms. Child and her students and a sample set-up of how Ms. Child might lay out a specimen for drawing along with the tools most used by her students.
Terry McKee spoke first, introducing Ms. Child and thanking the crowd for turning out despite inhospitable weather.
“It says a lot about Julie and what she’s contributed to the community,” said Ms. McKee, who went on to say that she was one of Ms. Child’s relatively new students, having started taking lessons around 2011. “There are many people in this room who can boast 20 years or more with Julie,” she said. After thanking Ms. Child’s former students for loaning their work for the show, Ms. McKee mused on how “many of us would never have seen the day when our own works would be on loan for an art exhibit, and we have Julie to thank for that. She found the artist in every one of us.”
Ms. McKee also thanked Ms. Child for teaching her students to observe the natural world, “to see the colors in a white shell, patterns in the vein of a leaf, the luster of a butterfly wing and the beauty of creatures from which we might otherwise shy away from.”
After Ms. McKee’s introduction Ms. Child spoke at the podium in front of a life-size India ink-and-brush drawing of a skeleton that she explained was her only self portrait, made when she was a student in medical art school.
After graduating from the Massachusetts General Hospital School of Medical Illustration, Ms. Child said, she turned her focus to her passion, biological illustration, which she described as a “happy combination of science and art.”
During the presentation Ms. Child described some of her teaching process, explaining to the audience that the first drawing she has students do is with graphite. “Everyone knows how to use a pencil,” she said.
Ms. Child’s students start with a simple object—a squash or an apple, for example—so they can observe the shadows and the highlights. “It’s a challenge on a two-dimension surface to make something look three-dimensional,” Ms. Child said,” adding that the illusion is done with “lights and darks, highlights and shadows, reflected light and cast shadows.” After drawing with graphite, students “graduate to colored pencils.”
Ms. Child said she primarily teaches with colored pencils now because of their versatility: “With colored pencils you can layer on lots of colors and it’s correctable.”
During her talk, Ms. Child described some of the different techniques her students master, such as using tracing paper, color cards, and layering. She said one of the most important things she hoped she imparted to her students was the art of careful observation.
“What I really want to do is instill in all of my students an appreciation of nature, its complexity, its delicacy, its details and its beauty,” she said.
Ms. Child thanked her many students and told them she was honored to teach them, calling them the “stars of the show.”
Summing up her thoughts on drawing she said, “I think the process of drawing is as exciting as the final product. When you’re really doing it and concentrating, it’s a very relaxing experience. It’s like meditating. It’s a very good thing to do.”
Ann Newbury and Susan Houghton, longtime students of Ms. Child’s, also spoke. Ms. Newbury described working with Ms. Child as fabulous. “If you’d asked me before I started class if I noticed nature and the beauty that’s out there, I’d have said sure, but once you come to Julie’s class you’ll understand so much more,” she said. Ms. Newbury described the process of taking something three-dimensional and rendering it two-dimensionally as a challenge but said “the more you do it the more exciting it gets.”
Ms. Houghton described Ms. Child’s influence as wide and deep. “She uses gentle coaxing to overcome individual fears. Julie helped us make our hands do what our eyes see,” she said.
Ms. Houghton also relayed some of Ms. Child’s humorous and insightful comments, many of which have been written down and preserved in the book “Julie’s Drawing Wisdom,” which was edited by Ms. Houghton and Ms. McKee.
Quotes including “Let your insect be your guide,” and “The harder it is the more essential it is,” drew nods of appreciation from the audience, while “Life is so short, you many want to do something easier,” drew many laughs.
Ms. Houghton thanked Ms. Child for helping her expand her “understanding of color, perception and beauty,” She closed by telling Ms. Child, “You are such a gift.”