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Establishing a Culture of Excellence

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A model poses for the Drawaholics Anonymous Crew during a recent session. Photo by Bob Toy.

The Drawaholics Anonymous Crew, a new drawing community at Academy of Art University, is not for the faint of heart. Anyone who wants to join must first sign a contract stating they will adhere to a culture of excellence and put their absolute best foot forward. In order to advance from a temporary to permanent member, they must complete 2,500 drawings: 1,000 heads, 500 legs, 500 arms, 250 hands and 250 feet within one year of signing. 

 “It’s serious business to me,” said Michael Buffington, concept art lead for the School of Game Development and originator of the community. “Many students underestimate what it takes to make it in the industry.”

As an illustration graduate of the Academy and an industry professional, Buffington’s inspiration for the community came after he noticed a pattern among his students. Practicing drawing is how top-performing concept artists achieve success, Buffington said, and diligent practice was not something he saw a lot of his students doing. 

“The mindset of students was totally different when I was in school,” he said. “We didn’t have to be told to draw. We knew how important it was. I knew I had to change the culture.”

With support from David Goodwine, director of the School of Game Development, Buffington corralled six of his top students and organized the crew’s first three-hour drawing workshop in late April. It was a huge success. Once word of the community began to circulate, Buffington said student after student came knocking on his office door to inquire about the community. He knew that he was satisfying a great need for Academy students from various schools, including animation and both visual and game development. His students wanted to draw, but didn’t have the motivation to do it on their own. 

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Students work on their required 2,500 drawings to advance from a temporary member to permanent member of the Drawaholics Anonymous Crew. Photo by Bob Toy.

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Students sketched figure models during a recent session. Photo by Bob Toy.

Now, with more than 100 contracts signed, the crew meets every Thursday, from 2 p.m.-5 p.m., on the eighth floor of 180 New Montgomery building. They also get together for monthly events, drawing challenges and industry professional speaking events. In May, the crew participated in a sketch-crawl, where they traveled throughout the city, from the Yerba Buena Gardens to Fisherman’s Wharf, drawing like maniacs.  

At the July 6 workshop, about 20 students gathered in the studio on the eighth floor ready to draw. After a pumped-up motivational speech by Buffington, a figure model graced the stage. Students were intently focused, some with traditional paper and pencil, others with iPads and graphics tablets. The crew got to work sketching the model as she positioned herself in various poses. For students who were unable to attend, Buffington made sure to live stream the workshop on Facebook Live.

Although the drawing community focuses on diligence and improving technical skills, students would agree, it’s a bonding experience, and one that is a whole lot of fun. 

“It’s really fun to be a part of the community,” said Aishwarya Chandramohan, a Drawaholics leader, who graduated in May with her bachelor’s in concept art for game development. 

“The camaraderie is really strong. It’s cool to have people to talk to and to make friends. I try to come in early so I can welcome other people. That’s my favorite part.”

Other students commented on the progress of their skills in just a few weeks from the workshops and drawing challenges. The last drawing challenge was to redesign Wonder Woman and create two new characters.

Sayaka Yamaguchi, a 23-year-old game development major, said it’s something about being a part of a community in which every member has the same goals that inspires her to work toward doing her best. “All the group members joined for a reason—to improve their art,” she said. “Everybody has a strong motivation to get better.”

Yamaguchi has attended the workshops every week and said she has seen quite an improvement in her weakest areas, hands and individual parts of the body.

For Greg Eichholzer, lead UI/UX instructor for the School of Game Development and Buffington’s Drawaholics partner, the community allows him to offer his students an experience they can’t get from sitting in lecture. 

“Art is a lifestyle. To be an artist you must develop skills and habits [that are] different than what you get sitting in a lecture,” he said. “Here they are developing the practice and in a culture that fosters camaraderie instead of a combative competitiveness.