Chicago Architect Uses City as Backdrop for Virtual Drawing Class


As he was taking videos while kayaking along the Chicago River, Chicago architect Joel Berman got the idea to teach virtual drawing classes with the city’s architecture as the focal point.

“The subject has to be compelling and interesting or it’s not worth drawing,” Berman said. “Somebody has to be excited about what it is they’re creating.”

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Berman has taught a number of art classes throughout his career, but this is his first virtual class for children. 

Using the videos he shot on the Chicago River and others of the city, Berman set up a five-week course for students ages 9-12. 

I participated in their class the second week, where we learned about value.

“Value is darks, lights, different tones and shades of darkness, and what we talk about is simplifying it,” Berman said. “The simplification is breaking it down into three values: dark, light and medium. Dark is black, as dark as you can get. Light is nothing and medium is in between.”

For 11-year-old Julia Highsmith, the lesson was an opportunity to further her curiosity in architecture.

“I’m interested in architecture and I do a lot of building with Legos,” Highsmith said. “I’ve never got to do an architecture class so that’s what got me interested. My art classes at school usually work on different styles or types of art. Like we did in class he does the thumbnail art drawings, which I thought was really helpful for me, because I’ve gotten into more shading.”

Julia’s mother Tiffany said she’s happy to have found an activity that suits all of her daughter’s interests.

“Julia’s been interested in architecture — she’s been into Legos since she was what, 1? Architecture is something that people always encouraged her to explore. As soon as the class closed out she was, ‘Like that was so good!’ So that’s the reaction I was hoping for,” she said.

Berman says he’s eager to continue teaching the next generation of artists with the city as the highlight.   

“I’m hope I’m bringing something as an architect that they wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise. Chicago right now is getting a bad rap, and there’s so many great things about Chicago,” he said. “I want the world to know what a great place we live in.”


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If you’re interested in taking this class, good news: After seeing the success of the first five-week course, Berman plans to open it up to all ages. 

Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3

Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.


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