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.

UAS in Visual Arts

Urban Advanced Studies (UAS) classes in the Visual Arts Department are designed to challenge students to deepen their practice in a given discipline. The primary expectation of advanced visual and performing artists is serious involvement with their creative pursuit in a disciplined manner, with a commitment to exploring the practice with curiosity, conviction and technical mastery. Advanced visual arts projects include a student’s written proposal followed by short preparatory assignments, sketchbook work, journaling, writing, research and readings. The department's expectation is that advanced work in visual arts be more than a mere reflection of a topic or idea as it exists already. We ask students to push into what is personally meaningful, to explore it, to critique it, to transcend it, express their ideas and expand the audience’s understanding. The creative process necessary for this articulation often involves several iterations, re-workings and re-makings. Students sharpen their technical skills and demonstrate an understanding of formal and conceptual issues through projects that require independent exploration. Advanced students develop fluency with a variety of techniques and approaches in the specific disciplines, completing a final project during the 12-week term that is either exhibited or performed publicly.

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.

Visual Arts Courses 2018-19

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)

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)

Painting is a studio class in which students learn to explore a range of approaches and technique to using this medium. The primary focus is around two fundamentals: technique and visual thinking. Technique includes learning about composition, color, light, texture and space while gaining comfort and confidence with paint. Visual thinking teaches how to communicate a feeling, idea or a vision and to how reach into one’s own life for content and inspiration. Projects in class range from painting people, places and things while simultaneously exploring ideas about abstraction, representation and expression. Students are encouraged to reflect on their own lives, experiences, interests and hobbies as inspiration for their work while building one’s skill and understanding of the paint. Studio work is supplemented with group and individual critiques, sketchbook homework (both assigned and independent), as well as readings and writings. The ultimate goal is for each student to develop an individual visual vocabulary and to transform an assignment into a quest that demonstrates curiosity, commitment and craft. 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)

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)

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)

Making Media
invites a deeper investigation of the vast realm of media. The average teenager spends six to eight hours a day interacting with media - including radio, the internet, film, television, recordings, advertising, games. Even on days when we aren’t intentionally viewing media, we still take in the images we pass by on buses, buildings, billboards, store windows, in magazines and newspapers. We are bathed (or saturated) in media, and media makers are keenly aware of this, constructing messages in a wider range of channels every year. All of the media we consume is constructed with a purpose in mind. Through a series of projects, students evaluate everyday media and learn to de-code messages and meanings. We study popular culture and media artists as well as places that offer mainstream media alternatives such as galleries, zine shops, underground radio stations, the Internet Archive, SF Print Collective and other Bay Area treasures. Utilizing the strategies and methods of media makers, students create their own messages. The course culminates in a final art project that will be exhibited in a public setting, inviting a broader conversation and audience for the work. Open to Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors. (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)

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 Winter Art Show
is an opportunity to deepen an artistic practice and develop a project of substance. The primary expectation in this class is mature and serious engagement with the making of art in a disciplined manner, with a commitment to exploring ideas with curiosity, craft and conviction. In class, students sharpen their technical skills and demonstrate an understanding of formal and conceptual issues through their projects. Working in a medium with which they are familiar, advanced students develop fluency with visual vocabulary, utilizing appropriate materials and techniques to best articulate their ideas. Visual projects include short preparatory assignments, sketchbook work, journaling, writing, research and readings. Expanding each student's unique repertoire of methods, materials, and aesthetic and conceptual processes is essential to developing their personal vision in a creative and meaningful manner. This class is demanding, requires long hours of hard work, problem solving, flexibility, creative risk-taking and sustained focus. The expectation is that each artist will push into their own creative edge. It also requires a serious commitment to transforming your ideas into a finished body of work to be exhibited in the Winter Art Show.
NOTE: Winter Art Show students will be recommended by faculty and then submit a proposal for review. The final class list will be selected from pool of applicants. Prerequisite: Only with instructor approval and two 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.


Bay Area BlendEd Consortium Courses
(click here for a complete listing of BlendEd Courses for fall and spring semesters)

FALL 2018

Art History Through Inquiry
The course will help you learn how to engage with art history outside the traditional lecture and textbook format. Instead, our questions and inspiration will come from five face-to-face meetings at various local museums in order to explore art through observation, inquiry and analysis. We’ll explore how museums foster critical thinking and creativity while you’ll also learn the skills necessary to research and learn more about art and its history. As you develop an understanding about both current and historical art—and the methods in which to approach this learning—you’ll also be determining your own path of research and depth. After each visit, you’ll choose an artist, movement or piece of work for further exploration, and, with support from the teacher and art research techniques, will eventually create a paper or project that demonstrates your knowledge to share with others. (½ credit)


SPRING 2019

Bay Area Cinema & Filmmaking
Film, animation, and alternative film and video has been a stalwart of Bay Area culture from Muybridge to Silent Film and from Pixar to the Prelinger Archive. In this course we will explore the history of the moving image and its cultural impact in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as create our own imaginative responses to the ideas and concepts in the course. Students will get a chance to study films, technologies, philosophies and ideas related to the manipulation of time as well as create their own art, videos and visual journal entries. Topics will include a wide variety of cinematic genres and motion picture technologies. Students will learn interdisciplinary skills related to their own independent filmmaking in tandem with film and cultural studies. Students will be expected to make connections with larger social, political and cultural forces and be interested in independently creating artworks, visual journal entries and film and animation.

During our face-to-face sessions we may be meeting filmmakers, exploring museums, cinemas, archives, film festivals and places of cinematic industry in the prolific bay area arts culture. Tea and discussion will follow. Students will need access to a digital still camera and be able to upload images to the internet. Students will need to have some knowledge of video editing and have access to basic video editing software, a digital video camera/tripod combination and will need access to basic art supplies.
*Some supplies will be provided. (½ credit)

#Entrepreneurship through Design Thinking
Living in the Bay Area, we are in close proximity to the most important and innovative companies in the world. This course will leverage the unique accessibility we have to cutting edge fields and empower students to create a unique product, service or program that is original, viable and socially beneficial. In addition to employing the design thinking process, students will be equipped with marketing skills and techniques that allow them to engage a fast emerging industry and strategize on ways to create their own business entities. Students will learn different methods of utilizing social media outlets such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter in order to promote the products, programs or services that they create. We will begin with our first meeting in a BlendEd school classroom and then the subsequent meetings will involve field trips to some of the major local social media companies in order to give students a hands-on experience of seeing entrepreneurship in action. There are no prerequisites for the course. (½ credit)