Connecting threads at The Big Draw

At Colorado Academy, the arts are a thread that runs from the first day of Pre-K to Twelfth Grade Commencement. Every CA student is truly an artist, and the evidence is all around, from the expressive and brightly colored displays adorning the hallways of the Lower School to the sophisticated and thoughtful works hanging in the exhibition spaces of the Ponzio Art Center, or the polished musical and dramatic performances on the stage of the Leach Center for the Performing Arts.

For 12 years, The Big Draw has woven together the vast creative energy of CA’s many artists through a globally-inspired annual outdoor celebration held in the fall. Founded in England in 2000, The Big Draw Festival is the world’s largest drawing event, promoting the universal language of drawing as a tool for learning, expression, and invention. The Festival is made up of a collection of thousands of creative events, activities, and workshops across the globe run by organizations big and small.

From Left: co-organizers Karen Donald, Middle School and Upper School photography teacher, and Angela Hottinger, Lower School visual art teacher

At CA, says Lower School Visual Art teacher and Big Draw co-organizer Angela Hottinger, the two-day event, held this year on September 29-30, possesses the unique ability to bring together students of all ages in ways that make collaboration and creativity accessible.

“It’s a model for both young and old,” she says. “The older ones watch their younger peers making art without any fear or self-consciousness, and the younger ones get a chance to see just how far the older students have come in their artistic journey at CA.”

“It’s quite beautiful,” adds Middle School and Upper School photography teacher Karen Donald, who co-organized this year’s Big Draw with Hottinger. “This event really embraces the joy of being creative, which is so important, especially for our older art students who can, at times, focus so much on technical proficiency. The Big Draw is about freedom.”

The student participants couldn’t agree more.

“Being creative in an unstructured way feels more like art, in my opinion,” says Junior Eliza Thorpe, a painter who believes some of the best teachers she’s ever had are in the CA Visual Arts Department. “Art is what the artist feels and what they see, so this is a great time to express that.”

Fellow Junior Noah Bub recalls, “I remember coming to The Big Draw as a Lower Schooler, and it being so much fun. I definitely feel it’s what helped get me into art, because being able to come here and see older kids doing art was so cool. It sent me down that path of doing art at CA.”

‘The great provocation’

Each year, the international Big Draw Festival adopts a different theme. For 2022, it is “Come Back to Colour,” an idea that speaks to rediscovering vitality, health, care, and vibrancy in life after what has been a challenging few years.

“For us,” explains Hottinger, “that theme is, again, essentially about rediscovering joy—the joy of making marks on the page, of expressing your voice. Color is the great provocation that allows each individual to engage with whatever they see in front of them, in whatever way they choose.”

“Provocations” are a central feature of The Big Draw at CA. In past years, they have included recycled materials, farm animals, modes of transportation, and architecture. This year’s provocations—a collection of inflatable sculptures—are notably silly, humorous, and playful, encouraging participants to let go and maybe even laugh as they observe and create.

In the words of Third Grader Malachi Luong, “The Big Draw is cool because you can create a gorilla wearing a dolphin hat!”

Or as Fourth Grader Audrey Linsley expresses it: “I like that we get to just sit out here and draw stuff. You can just let the pencil flow.”

A powerful force

According to Katy Wood Hills, Director of Visual and Performing Arts, “The ability to use our hands to create something out of nothing is built into our DNA as humans. But with our digital devices nowadays doing so much for us, drawing can remind us how powerful we are with just our hands.”

That reminder can make a big impact. “Art actually affects the brain’s state,” observes Hottinger, citing the large body of scientific evidence suggesting that art has an impact on brain wave patterns and emotions, the nervous system, and even levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that is believed to enhance mood. “Drawing is about slowing the mind down, relearning, and re-seeing what is in front of us to experience it in a new way.”

“In one class I’m kind of stuck on a project,” says Junior Katherine Rhine, “so it’s nice to be out here drawing a watermelon and not really thinking about it.”

“The Big Draw embraces the imperfect,” adds Donald. “The Visual and Performing Arts Program here at CA values experimentation and emphasizes the importance of failure. Nurturing the confidence we want to see in our graduates—their ability to try a different approach when something doesn’t work the first time—starts early, when children are just beginning to find their style. The Big Draw makes space for that.”

”We can try stuff we’ve never tried before,” says Fourth Grader Wesley Clark.

Celebrating diverse visions

Junior Avery Bakes says, “The resources and the faculty in the CA art program are just unmatched, and today, it shows. They have clearly put in a ton of work to enable us to be creative and to find what our artistic vision is.”

“We do The Big Draw because it embodies a fundamental notion that we emphasize at every grade level,” Hottinger says. “It’s the idea that everyone sees things differently—everyone has their own vision. Just the other day in my class, I had children all illustrating the same sculpture. When they looked at what their peers had created, they realized that even though they were observing the same thing, each individual captured a different perspective.”

The realization was like a bell ringing out in the classroom, Hottinger says. “Sharing and celebrating this diversity of perspectives—that’s central to The Big Draw, and to everything that we do.”