Tokyo Institute of Technology: Unique portraits take shape at Art with an Artist seminar

Tokyo Tech students received another special boost of inspiration on May 19 through the Art with an Artist seminar, a hands-on session led by painter and poet Zuse Mayer.

Held twice a year to motivate and expand the perspectives of the Institute’s science and engineering students, the seminar was again held online due to the effects of COVID-19. Seven Tokyo Tech students, including several first-year students who recently joined the Institute, attended.

This spring’s session was all about creating portraits. Students who did not own the tools required to sketch portraits of themselves and others could borrow equipment such as sketchbooks, crayons, and mirrors from the Student Support Center.

Dr. Zuse Mayer: Artist and poet on two continents
Mayer, a graduate of the Berlin University of the Arts and former lecturer at Tokyo Tech, is an artist based in Berlin and Tokyo who runs an art school and art workshops in both Europe and Asia. Every year, she provides Tokyo Tech students with lectures on a carefully selected theme in both English and Japanese, and then encourages participants to create their own art based on that theme. Mayer then provides feedback on the students’ works.Artist Mayer with seminar participants
Lecture on portraiture: Picasso, van Gogh, van Eyck, Rembrandt
This year, Mayer provided participants with a lecture on portraiture. After sharing some preparatory information before the lecture, she spoke about and displayed works by greats such as Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Jan van Eyck, Albrecht Durer, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, and Gerhard Richter. “Picasso said that the chief enemy of creativity is common sense,” Mayer explained. “I say that the objective is not to draw well, but rather to draw what you see and feel in your heart.”

Task One: Self-portrait with single strokes
This seminar consisted of three hands-on sketching sessions, each with different approaches. In the first session, participants were asked to use a single-color crayon, and, without removing their hand from the paper, sketch a self-portrait in one go using single strokes.

Task Two: Pairing up and sketching portrait of partner
During the second session, two or three participants used breakout rooms on Zoom and created portraits of each other. By doing so with people they rarely sketched with, students were able to get to know each other through art. The finished works created excitement among the artists, and at times drew extended comments from Mayer.

Task Three: Self-portrait with colorful crayons
During the final exercise, students could freely draw as many self-portraits as they wanted with the colors they chose. This gave participants the chance to practice what Mayer had lectured about earlier — that an artist sketches not only what they see, but also what they feel in their heart.