Friday, May 27, 2016

Report from the Farm-to-Plate Reportage workshop from Oct. 2015

by Stacye Leanza, Fearless Instructor

Here, finally, is the report on our flavorful artistic and culinary experience last October, as we visited some of the farms and towns in and around Chatham County. We documented local farm customs in our sketchbooks, and sampled local sustainably grown foods, in the perfectly warm weather of the NC Piedmont. Participants learned some strategies to capture fast moving people; how to compose pictures quickly with blobs; some story-telling techniques; and how to use color & line to pull the story together. The true nature of Reportage, of course, is to report on the cultures and events that you visit. So you will learn a bit about the people & places of Chatham County, as well as our learning experiences, in the travelogue below.

We spent Thursday evening at Blue Heron Farm getting to know each other & had a taste of Giancarlo Toso's made-from-scratch cooking. Except for a few items brought over from Italy, ingredients came from local farms & a local grain mill. You cannot get more fresh than that!

Here are Giancarlo's pizza crusts, waiting for farm fresh toppings.

As people arrived, their first activity was to make a name tag for someone they didn't know.

 the end of the evening, they were fast friends.

On Friday morning, we visited Granite Springs Farm. Their mission is to “feed the people”, so they donate some of their harvest to local food pantries, shelters, & community free lunches. On this very warm Friday, they were preparing for their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture. Find out more here: )
Participants got their first taste of “blob” sketching here. The farmers were moving around rather quickly, so the superfast blob drawing method came in handy. Some picked it up easily; for others, it was the opposite of their usual linear approach, & took some getting used to. Here are some samples of participants' work. If you look closely, you can see some blobs underneath the line. Notice that the line does not follow the blobs exactly:


Artwork by (clockwise from top left) Tanny Ho, Allison Banfield, Noga Grosman, & Peggy Herring

We joined the GSF farmers for a “Slow Food” lunch, prepared by Giancarlo, who makes his own pasta from scratch. More local ingredients made for a fresh and indescribably delicious feast!

Sharing artwork before lunch. 
Photos (above & R) by Noga Grosman

Lunch is finally served!

With full bellies, we headed for Piedmont Biofarm. They are one of several eco-industries at “The Plant”, which includes other innovative endeavors like Piedmont Biofuels, one of the largest manufacturers of bio-diesel east of the Mississippi.
One of the fields at Piedmont Biofarm  is planted under the shade of PV (Solar) Panels. It's a part of a grand experiment to see if both food crops & solar energy can be harvested from the same land. It looked like they were doing pretty well!

Artwork by Anna Futrell (above) & Lois Benninghoff (top, at right)

Here, participants were treated to a spontaneous talk by one of the Biofarm owners, “Chef Geoff”
before we went off to try our hands at “zooming in” & sketching “multiples”. Chef Geoff cooks unique meals for the community, based on what's currently being harvested at the farm. In that way, people get to learn more about the natural cycles of food growth. In this climate, food is harvested year round.

Here are some examples of drawing “multiples”. It's a good technique for when you are drawing a person doing a repetitive activity. It takes a bit of discipline!

These 2 are by me.


This sketch (at left), by Lois Benninghoff,
has both multiples, and a zoom.

Here's another example of “zooming in”, (below; sketched on Sunday at Giancarlo's.) In order to get the detail in the hands, I drew them much bigger, nearby the original sketch.


It was warm enough outside on Friday night to have take-out dinner from Angelina's Kitchen, a Greek restaurant that buys produce, meat, & dairy exclusively from local farms, including Granite Springs & Piedmont BioFarm. Even the honey for the exquisite baklava was local!
It was very cool to see little purple sprouts scattered on top of the salad, knowing it was all grown nearby, & freshly picked! (...too bad we were too hungry to take pictures!)

Here, you can see people sharing their artwork at The Plant,
while waiting for Angelina to show up with dinner.

Saturday began with a visit to the Carrboro Farmer's Market, where participants worked on story-making, a very personal practice where they determine what is most important to them about the event they are sketching, in the context of their own journey. We discussed some techniques on how best to illustrate their story in their sketches.  

Here's one by Marilyn Knowles:

Words & pictures together, by Mary Anna Hovey:

This sketch (below), also by Mary Anna Hovey, features the Farmer Foodshare Donation table, where farmers can donate surplus produce. The food is distributed to local food kitchens.

This session inspired some very personal discussion when we met back to show our work. People were very open & appreciative of what their fellow sketchers had to offer, both picture-wise and story-wise. For me, this was the best part. I felt honored to witness such personal stories from people of very different backgrounds, that I had met only 2 days before! It was a rich cultural exchange inspired by the shared cultural experience of the farmers' market.

These 3 photos are by Noga Grosman

Saturday afternoon was about using color & size relationships to create depth in the sketches. We used scopes to help see the huge difference in apparent size between people who are close up, and far in the distance. One of the participants wanted to keep her scope as a souvenir, so she had everyone sign it. Pretty cute.


...Fortunately, they are easy enough to replace.

We drew at the amazing Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe in Chapel Hill. Vimala's mission is to feed everyone, including those who cannot afford to pay, with food from local farms. She started cooking donation-based community dinners at her home in Chapel Hill in 1994, & the restaurant grew out of it. During our visit, she was kind enough to divert the customers to an adjacent room, so that we could draw the kitchen without being disturbed.

Find out more about Vimala here:     

Artwork by Anna Futrell (above) & Marilyn Knowles (below)

Some participants also chose to draw in the “Slow Kitchen”, where peppers were being prepared, perhaps for hot sauce:

Here's artwork by Peggy Herring :

After smelling fragrant Indian spices wafting out of the kitchen all afternoon, we were very hungry by the time our drawing session was over. The Tandoori chicken was well worth the wait, though!


Saturday, June 6, 2015

From Farm to Plate Workshop: Documenting the Slow Food Movement in Chatham County, NC

The Slow Food movement was started in Italy “by Carlo Petrini and a group of activists in the 1980s, with the initial aim to defend regional traditions, good food, gastronomic pleasure and a slow pace of life.” “Today Slow Food represents a global movement over 160 countries.” “Slow Food envisions a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it, and good for the planet.” (Quotes are from the website. See more at:

In the Triangle area of NC, the Slow Food Movement is a well-established culture, & blends easily with the thriving Slow Money, Sustainable Agriculture, Sustainable Energy, & Buy Local movements that energize the community here. There are more sustainable & organic farms per capita in Chatham County than anywhere else in the state.(More artists & craftspeople, too!) You will also find solar panels everywhere in this rural countryside with rolling hills. (See below for references.*)

Crops under the solar panels at Piedmont Biofarm, Pittsboro, NC (detail) © 2015 Stacye Leanza

Come practice your reportage skills as you document the journey our “Slow Food” takes to get from the farm, all the way to your restaurant plate, & the dedicated people who do the work all along the way. Artists sympathetic to these causes will find this workshop a great way to express their views! Those who like the challenge of reportorial drawing will appreciate the variety of settings & activities we will draw. Those who appreciate great local food will love what's on the menu!

Our assignment: We are pictorial journalists (aka: reportorial illustrators), traveling with the people & crops grown at Granite Springs Farm, & Piedmont Biofarm, two sustainable farms in Chatham County, NC. Over the course of 2 days, we'll follow the produce as it is harvested and goes to the local farmer's market. Then we'll visit a restaurant that buys from these local farmers, & draw “behind the scenes” in the kitchen. Finally, we'll put down our sketchbooks & dine on their local creations.
For our final drawing session on Sunday, we'll visit the kitchen of our own Italian country chef, Giancarlo Toso, at Blue Heron Farm. He will offer a cooking class (homemade pasta!), as he prepares our Harvest Meal. Workshop participants may opt to join the cooking class for part of the session.

Our meals: Throughout the workshop, we will dine on delectable food from local cafes, such as Angelina's Kitchen (Greek), & Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe (Indian). All eateries serve meals made with produce, dairy, &/or meat bought from local, sustainable farms, like Granite Springs & Piedmont Biofarm.

An important part of the Slow Food movement is savoring the meal. We will get to witness this first-hand as we share a couple of meals with our farm hosts at Blue Heron Farm. Our own Italian country chef, Giancarlo Toso, will prepare our Sunday Harvest Meal with produce from Granite Springs, & other local farms. There will be time to relax for a bit after the meal. So, do count on a lot of scrumptious food to complement the drawing!


Learning goals:
One of the most important things about Reportage is learning how to tell the story efficiently & effectively. It is a constant editing process. I will guide you through the editing process throughout the workshop. The specific lessons listed below will help you with speed, accuracy, expression, & story-telling.

1st session: Using “Blobs” to compose your picture, & draw people in motion.
  • Page Composition (Who's in charge of your drawing??)
The concept of using “blobs” to compose your picture requires you to distill your scene into very general shapes. These “blobs” are easy to adjust, because they have no sharp outline. By using this method, you can compose & adjust your composition relatively easily. Adding detail becomes easier afterwards. 

Here (above) is an example of a composition that has been “blobbed in”, then adjusted with slightly darker color. If you look closely, you can see that light lines have been added.
Here (above) you can see that more detail has been added, as well as more color, & darker & brighter lines.  

(Click here for complete Blob Demo & explanation: 

  • Gestures & body-language
When people are moving quickly, there are only seconds to record the essence of their pose. “Blob” gestures (aka: mass gestures) can be done in a few strokes. And, if you are observing their body language closely, these gesture drawings can be very expressive! Another good thing about blob gestures is that – if you get lucky – your subject may stick around a few seconds longer, so you can scratch in a few lines of detail. Below (left) is an example of the traditional “blocking in”. Observe the faint, general lines beneath the darker, more detailed lines. On the right, the colored shapes were “blobbed-in” first, adjusted, then the dark line added. Note that the line diverts somewhat from the colored blobs.

2nd session: Multiple images; Zooming In & Out
  • Multiple images at the same time
People working tend to repeat a series of motions over & over. We can use this to our advantage, by drawing 2 pictures at the same time! I've drawn white circles around the 2 images (below) to show they are 'insets', separate from the rest of the composition. The subject switched back & forth from the 2 positions.

  • Zooming In & Out
You are drawing a picture of someone when you notice the exquisite expression of their feet. But your picture is too small to do justice to the detail. What to do?

3rd  session: What's Your Angle? How to tell the story visually (We'll be touching on this throughout the workshop.)
  • First – find your story angle.
What jazzes you about what you see? (You may want to follow a particular person, a particular crop, or activity.) Your angle may become apparent to you after you've been drawing for awhile.
  • Second - tell your story visually
Learn & practice continuity & sequencing skills, so that your pictorial “essay” makes sense to the viewer. What's important to include about the people, the action, the crops, the setting? What can be left out? This is (partially) subjective! Based on your own interest & delight.

4th  session: Using color & line to unify, accentuate & polish up your work.
Tricks for creating a cohesive foreground, mid-ground, & background, so your drawings are not too busy, & 'read' well.

5th session: Q&A – We'll cover questions students have about the previous lessons.