Art Students Draw Inspiration from Museum Masterpieces

The academic tradition of learning to draw by imitating the works of established masters has been alive for centuries. Professor Rick Rodrigues has been bringing this rich tradition the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco since 1995, when he initiated a partnership between the City College of San Francisco and the Museums. Professor Rodrigues's drawing classes cover a variety of skills and techniques, ranging from basic life-drawing using models and tone-drawing to more obscure old-master techniques, such as silverpoint drawing or staining with tea or coffee. His much-beloved classes are a deeply fulfilling experience, giving  young artists the opportunity to learn from art history's old masters directly in the museum setting.

Visitors are always welcome to sketch in the Museums' permanent collection galleries. Sketching in special exhibition galleries is by permission only and subject to lender and gallery restrictions. Please see our museum policies for more information.

Sketching in the Rodin Gallery at the Legion of Honor

City College San Francisco Students sketching in the Rodin Gallery at the Legion of Honor.

Education intern Megan Friel recently sat down with Professor Rodrigues, who is still passionately committed to the academic tradition of museum drawing after 16 years of teaching, to discuss his experiences directing the program.

What do you feel students can gain from drawing in a museum that cannot be taught in a classroom?

First off the students learn that there is more to art than themselves, that they are part of a tradition. Also the students do not only learn from me; they have an ongoing dialogue with artists in the Museums' collections. It is almost as if they connect with the spirit of the artist that they're studying. You see even a great artist's triumphs and mistakes, and you learn that we are all the same, or that you have something in common with the masters.

One of the most important aspects of this training is self-confidence. At first students are fearful of contact with the public, and then a month later they are asking, “Why didn't anyone watch me work today?” That fear is transformed into confidence by the fact that you can be totally creative and "in the zone” at any moment. This is the most amazing part of this experience. Plus you fall in love with the museum as the world’s greatest studio.

 CCSF Student shows off his sketching in progress

A CCSF Student shows off his sketch-in-progress in a gallery at the de Young.

What inspires you to continue teaching at the museum?

Each semester I study a new series of artists, and the Museums' rotating exhibitions bring to life what I am teaching. I relate the exhibitions to what we are studying. It’s like living magic. For me these artists are all alive. They never die, and I love their stories.

Do you have a favorite moment from your experiences teaching in the museum?

My favorite moment is the last day of class when I look at all of the work done during the semester at the museum. I tell students that in art there is no end, as the end is the beginning. The study and evolution of your skills and your ideas is the life of the artist; your work lives beyond you, in spite of yourself.

 Professor Rick Rodrigues instructs his students in a de Young Gallery

Professor Rick Rodrigues, always with his beret, instructs his students in a gallery at the de Young.

So, the next time you see student-artists at work in the galleries, take a moment to watch the magic unfold!