Visual Arts

Urban’s Visual and Studio Art program is designed to stimulate and develop students’ facility with and enthusiasm for creative visual expression in a variety of media. In a range of courses, Urban introduces students to the vast potential of the visual arts as a means of self-expression and as a way to engage their imaginations in giving their ideas aesthetic form.

We encourage independent and flexible thinking, as well as discipline and perseverance. We ask students to reflect inward; to demonstrate commitment, curiosity and craft in creating their work; and to be courageous in the process of shaping and re-shaping their aesthetic impulses. A hallmark of Urban School is the abundant artwork on display throughout the school during much of the year. A culminating experience for many students is the Senior Winter Art Show.

Department Goals

The goal of the Visual Arts program is to develop in students a familiarity with creative visual expression, moving beyond speaking and writing. Through different media and materials, we seek to introduce students to the vast potential of the visual arts as a means of self-expression and to engage their imagination and curiosity in giving their ideas aesthetic form. Our classes are designed to foster independent and flexible thinking, as well as discipline, risk-taking and perseverance. We ask students to reflect inward, to demonstrate commitment, curiosity and craft in creating their work, and to be courageous and trust the process of experimentation. Students may develop a rich and deep level of inquiry in each class, as all the classes relate to each other, and also by advancing in a medium by taking a class more than once. Classes include outside readings, sketchbook and writing assignments, a research project, visiting artists and field trips.

UAS in Visual Arts

Urban Advanced Studies (UAS) visual arts classes offer students an opportunity to sharpen their technical skills and to approach more complex domains through open-ended assignments as well as independent inquiry. Advanced work in visual arts asks students to explore, critique and express complex personal ideas beyond basic principles in a given discipline. The creative process necessary for this articulation involves iteration, re-working and re-making. Students exercise agency and build proficiency; they tackle rigorous problems; and they engage in increasingly independent and substantive intellectual and artistic investigation. Students also research and explore, using online resources, texts, videos, as well as the larger cultural terrain of the city through museum and gallery visits. Class time is primarily dedicated to in-depth studio work, as well as demonstrations, discussions and group critiques. Students produce a coherent project or body of work for a public audience.

Visual Arts Courses 2019-20

Architectural Design is a project-based studio class in which students employ innovation and imagination as they learn principles of architectural composition. Through a number of individual projects, students learn about topics related to the design of private and public spaces. The course will address foundations of the design process such as form, function, proportion, scale and space. Students practice freehand and technical drawing as well as model making. Exercises in sketching and linear perspective are designed to increase the student's awareness of the architectural environment; this is accomplished through a series of form studies of nature, architectural forms, linear perspective and abstract elements of composition. Projects introduce the complexity of architectural design by engaging problems that are limited in scale but not in the topics they raise. Experiential, social and material concerns are introduced together with formal and conceptual issues. Emphasis is placed on creativity, graphic presentation and computer skills. Substantive studio work is supplemented by a survey of important monuments in the history of architecture. Field trips to local architectural sites and design studios will offer students a chance to experience San Francisco's rich and varied architectural resources. Open to Juniors and Seniors. Pre-requisite: Drawing, Painting, Printmaking, Sculpture, Industrial Design or permission of instructor. (1/2 credit)

Drawing/Mixed Media focuses on developing observational skills, drawing techniques and creative thinking using a range of drawing media that includes charcoal, graphite, ink and mixed media. The process of drawing engages the student in quieting the mind, connecting the eyes with the hands and the imagination. Students will develop both technical abilities and creative responses to materials, ideas, feelings and imagery. Working abstractly, from their imagination and from observation, they will embark on a variety of projects that include drawings inspired by sound, contour line drawing, self-portraits and objects among others. The class culminates with a final independent project in which they synthesize and apply their knowledge of ideas, tools and processes, to an idea or image of their choice. In addition to a daily studio practice, this class includes outside readings, writings and regular sketchbook assignments. Open to all grades. (1/2 credit)


Graphic Design approaches design as a concept, as a process, and as a set of tools for the materialization of an idea. In a visual culture where technology is quickly evolving, the need to be visually literate and design savvy becomes imperative for successful communication. Through practical and personal projects, we learn to use Adobe design software including Illustrator and Photoshop. Assignments begin with the nuts and bolts of design principles. Students learn about traditional and experimental design, layout techniques, and basic graphic design through smaller projects. Each project offers an invitation to think outside the box in terms of scale, materials, and formats to solve different real-world design problems. The course ends with an individual project either in printed or digital online format. Students will design original and elegant solutions that strategically move audiences to feel, think and act. Each project will explore questions that broaden our perceptions as image producers and consumers. Drawing is the prerequisite for this class. Open to Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors who have taken Drawing or have instructor approval. (1/2 credit)

Industrial Design is a course that uses the design process to develop ideas and explore the relationship between form and function. The vast majority of the products that we touch every day were designed by an industrial designer: a toothbrush, a coffee mug, a backpack, a chair, an iPhone. Through a series of projects and assignments, students will evaluate everyday objects and identify design opportunities in terms of aesthetics, functionality, efficiency, and sustainability. Small skills-oriented projects build up to the complexity of a collaborative bridge design project. The course culminates in a student-chosen final project that implements a comprehensive and accessible design process and utilizes sketches, 2D and 3D models, 3D printing, laser cutting, hand tools, and mixed media to translate a conceptual idea into reality. Prerequisites: Sculpture, one term of Physics, UrbanX Labs: Engineering and/or instructor approval. Open to Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors. (1/2 credit)

Painting is a studio class that focuses on learning how to use painting materials, tools and techniques in order to communicate a thought, feeling or concept. Projects in class include painting portraits, spaces, objects and ideas while experimenting with a variety of tools and materials. In each project, students explore different approaches to working with abstraction, expression and representation. The class culminates with a final independent project in which they synthesize and apply their knowledge of ideas, tools and processes to an idea or image of their choice. Students also learn how to balance intention and skills with spontaneity and creative risk-taking. Studio work is supplemented with sketchbook assignments, individual and group critiques, as well as writings and readings. Open to all grades. (1/2 credit)

Sculpture: Clay and Mixed Media is a studio workshop class focused on making 3D sculpture, working with a variety of materials and ways of thinking three-dimensionally. Working in both subtractive and additive manners, students explore the relationship between form and content in materials such as tape, clay, wire, altered books and found object assemblage. Projects investigate representation and abstraction, the body in relation to objects, kinetic and/or mechanical objects, wearable sculpture and environmentally or architecturally inspired installation. Each student creates a life-size clay head over four weeks, working with a study of anatomy and expression. Students develop dexterity with tools, working with their hands and thinking expansively about the alchemical transmutation of unusual everyday materials in order to reveal the conceptual aspects of their work. Weekly homework includes making small sculptures at home by casting, carving and baking, as well as reading, writing and sketchbook assignments. Open to all grades. (1/2 credit)

Photography is a studio class, offering students an opportunity to work more independently, deepening their understanding of photography’s history and studio practice. The class includes a broad and intensive investigation into the properties of photographs and the meanings created when they are combined into groups, series and sequences. Students may pursue work in traditional black and white, color, or digital photography. Class exercises develop skills in composition, lighting, editing and printing images. Class demonstrations range from traditional processes to alternative techniques with a focus on individual creative expression. The ultimate goal is for each student to further develop their aesthetic vocabulary and to work independently, creating a body of work that demonstrates engagement, commitment and creative vision. Photography also includes outside readings, slide shows, sketchbook and writing assignments, a research project, visiting artists and a field trip. Open to Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors. (1/2 Credit)

Video Production is a studio class, introducing students to the creative and technical aspects of video arts. Through viewing and studying the techniques employed by contemporary video artists and filmmakers, students will make several short videos practicing different approaches. Class exercises develop skills in story development, video camera operations, composition, lighting, directing, editing and working collaboratively. The ultimate goal is for each student to develop their aesthetic vocabulary further, to work both collaboratively and independently, creating short videos that demonstrate engagement, commitment and creative vision. Video production also includes sketchbook and writing assignments, viewing films outside of class, visiting artists and field trips. Open to all grades. (1/2 Credit)

UAS Advanced Art: Making Media Matter will explore visual culture, where technology is quickly evolving, and how visual literacy is all the more imperative for successful communication and cultural engagement. This course approaches media arts – including photography, video and graphic design – as a concept, a process, and a set of tools for the communication of ideas. Through the study of the history of artistically engaged social movements, creative exercises and personal projects, students use still and video cameras, as well as editing and design software to articulate their vision. This course introduces students to the possibilities of working in media arts through the exploration of interactive and collaborative methodologies, digital tools, and a critical study of media culture. We will discover how interactive media, storytelling and social connections determine our public and private identities in personal, fractured and complex ways. With an emphasis on collaboration and peer feedback, students deepen their knowledge of the tools (both equipment and software) and dig deeper into the content of their work using a structured design process in order to achieve more complex iterations of their ideas. Prerequisite: Photography, Video or Graphic Design. Open to Juniors and Seniors (1/2 credit)

UAS Printmaking explores a range of printmaking processes, including monotype, collograph and intaglio (drypoint and etching). Monotype offers spontaneity, collographs explore texture and materials, while drypoint and etching focus on precision of detail and composition. Students work with drawings, collage, color and photographs in creating the plates for their prints. A series of exercises revolve around the creative aspects important to any artistic pursuit, such as developing drawings, considering content, experimenting with composition, and learning what it is to be consistent and diligent with challenging projects. This class expects students to delve into substantial conceptual investigation as well as technical work. We look at pattern, mapping, self-portraiture and identity as well as political activism. The class encourages students to draw upon their own experiences and interests and to translate these into a visual vocabulary that is personally meaningful. Students work toward a final project working with multiple plates, juxtaposing images in layers to conceal and reveal different levels of meaning. This class includes both thematic and technical readings, research, sketchbook assignments, visiting artists and a field trip to a local printmaking studio. Open to Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors. (1/2 credit)

UAS Stone Carving explores many aspects of sculpture through the process of carving, specifically the reductive process of taking material away to create form. We study the use of stone throughout history around the world. Students make maquettes in clay that are then translated into different types of stone, usually alabaster or soapstone. Students are expected to complete one 3D stone sculpture over 12 weeks and to actively document their paths of inquiry in a sketchbook. This will involve a continual process of drawing as a tool for design, keeping a sketchbook of ideas, changes and discoveries, and the study of the work of other artists who work in stone, both traditional as well as contemporary. The development of appropriate studio skills, effective working habits, and a commitment to one's inquiry is a base level requirement for each student. We will explore resources for stone within the Bay Area and visit with local stone sculptors. This class includes reading, writing, research as well as group critique and discussions. Personal integrity and a high level of commitment are essential. This class requires a lot of endurance, patience and hard work. Prerequisite: Minimum one term of Sculpture or instructor approval. Open to Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors. (1/2 credit)

UAS Advanced Art: Winter Art Show is a disciplined engagement with the making of art. In class students sharpen their technical skills and demonstrate an understanding of formal elements and conceptual ideas while working toward an exhibition of their work. Students develop fluency with visual vocabulary, utilizing appropriate materials and techniques to best articulate their ideas. Projects include short preparatory assignments, sketchbook work, journaling, writing, research and readings. The class culminates with a public presentation of their work that includes an exhibition and artist talk. Expanding each student's unique repertoire of methods, materials, and aesthetic and conceptual processes are essential to developing their personal vision in a creative and meaningful manner. NOTE: Advanced Art: Winter Art Show students will be recommended by faculty and then submit a proposal for review. The final class list will be selected from a pool of applicants. Prerequisite: Only with instructor approval and three previous terms of Visual Arts. Open only to Seniors. (1/2 credit)

Art as a Daily Practice will combine hands-on art projects with a number of field trips to arts organizations and artist's studios. We will be looking at ways that artists practice art every day, considering both fine and applied arts, political activism, conventional exhibition spaces and alternative spaces, and various careers. We will also look at examples of art as a social practice, curating as social justice and a wide variety of ways that artists integrate activism into their practices. Each student will choose a focus for his or her own art making and commit to a daily practice – making something every day. This could translate into any number of mediums, working with collage, paint, sculpture photo, or something more conceptual, such as a performance art piece, creating scores for events, games, a mail art project, a sewing project or an installation. The assignments are open-ended and there will be ample independent studio time. Student work will be exhibited in May. Open only to Seniors. (1/2 credit)

Portfolio Prep meets during the fall term. This class serves as a structured environment in which Seniors compile a portfolio of their artwork that is included with their college application. The portfolio should reflect, creativity, content and technical abilities. During these meetings, students edit, document, revise and organize their work into a portfolio that meets the individual college requirements. Students are expected to be self directed and productive. Prerequisite: instructor approval. Open only to Seniors.