Recapturing the Joy

Sarah Jantzi

Assistant Professor of Art

Each year, Valpo’s Draw-a-Thon brings together Valpo students, faculty, community members, and area school kids. The event gives them the chance to make art together with invention and delight, and without any grades.

The event is organized by Professor Sarah Jantzi, who says that the event’s purpose is to help all of these artists open up to broader creativity.

“In art classes, students tend to get really uptight about getting it wrong or right,” she says. “I can’t blame them, in some cases, because we do have to issue grades. The Draw-a-Thon is something I brought here to strike a sense of balance and recapture the joy of just making something — feeling out of control and discovering.”

Professor Jantzi began Valpo’s Draw-a-Thon in 2005 with inspiration from a “Drawing Marathon” at her undergraduate institution, Indiana University. For this event, students were invited to draw from a series of live models for 24 hours straight. (IU’s event was loosely inspired by the New York Studio School’s Drawing Marathons, in which artists do nothing but sleep, eat, and draw intensely for two weeks straight). Professor Jantzi believed in the idea of the marathon, but wanted to create something that would be more accessible for the Valparaiso community.

The result is a day of free workshops exploring alternative drawing processes: students may draw something inspired by a Rorschach inkblot or a recent dream, or draw using thick permanent markers or a flashlight and a camera. The workshops are proposed and led by students as well as art faculty. What unites all of the workshops is their common focus on unusual ways to approach art.

“I think if you are an artist and trying to think a little more broadly, it’s very instructive,” Professor Jantzi says. “If we don’t continue to push the boundaries of our understanding of what art can be and what it can look like, then we have done nothing but figure out how to repeat what someone else has done.”

Professor Jantzi says the event has deepened her own artistic curiosity. She now finds joy in using media that she had not been taught to use, like acrylics and encaustics, and in rethinking familiar implements like the pen.

Professor Jantzi has also experienced a shift in the way she creates her work, which has always centered on plant forms. Professor Jantzi trained as a perceptual painter, and for many years she worked directly from the visible world. Now, her mode of creating is rooted in the Surrealist practice of ‘automatic’ drawing: she begins by making a dense network of random marks on the canvas. From there, she uses her imagination to find an image within those unpredictable shapes.

“I have experienced a huge shift in my thinking. My art has definitely evolved and my sense of what makes a good work of art has certainly broadened,” she says.

Though the Draw-a-Thon takes considerable work to organize, the event also helps Professor Jantzi reconnect to the joy of being an artist.

She sees that the same is true for her students.

“We are breaking down preconceived notions of what a work of art should be and building up a sense of what could be. This is important for artists of all stages,” she says. “The Draw-a-Thon is a safe place to shake things up a bit.”