DrawTogether with WendyMac
DrawTogether with WendyMac
Color and Energy with DC-Artist Alma Thomas

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Color and Energy with DC-Artist Alma Thomas

Also DrawTogether Strangers at the National Gallery of Art!

Hello my wonderful GUT peeps!


I’m writing you from the sky on my way home from Washington DC. I was at the National Gallery of Art all week where I gave a talk on portraiture/drawing/seeing people, and hosted a big giant DrawTogether Strangers in the museum’s East Wing. (I’m playing to cool, but OMGGG! THIS WAS ALL A DREAM COME TRUE!!!!!)

A little DC recap!

The week started with a trip to the White House (also OMGGG!) where

and I saw a special screening of the film Rustin (the film is amazing - and yes I did steal multiple packages of White House branded Hershey’s Kisses. LOL.) On Friday I gave a talk at the National Gallery of Art about the intersection between my drawing and Dorothea Langes photography in conjunction with the phenomenal show of her work: Seeing People. (It runs through the end of the month. See it if you can!) I was overwhelmed by the turn out (standing room only!?) and moved to tears by everyone who stayed after to share how DrawTogether in its different forms has touched their lives.

I think/hope the talk will be on the NGA’s website soon.

Surreal to talk about my hero at the NGA. (Friends, I have a framed photo of Dorothea in my bathroom! It’s just too much.)

On Saturday we hosted a GIANT DrawTogether Strangers event in the atrium of the National Gallery’s East Wing. It was a dream come true, and the best time ever. I’m still pinching myself.

The National Gallery’s public programming peeps are some of the kindest, most creative, enthusiastic people I’ve had the good fortune to collaborate with. I’m beyond grateful they brought me to The Capital to engage people in drawing & looking, and that so many of the staff jumped in to help. We had six tables set up, plus a ton of additional drawing activities, and about ten trained DrawTogether Strangers facilitators rotating through the day. It was a the best group art-sport ever.

Underneath the giant Calder mobile: about half of the amazing National Gallery folks that pitched in to make DrawTogether Strangers at the National Gallery of Art a wild success. HUGE THANKS to Dena in the maroon jacket for making this all possible, and all while super pregnant!! DENA YOU ARE A SUPER FORCE FOR GOOD!

Underneath the giant Calder mobile: about half of the amazing National Gallery folks that pitched in to make DrawTogether Strangers at the National Gallery of Art a wild success. HUGE THANKS to Dena in the maroon jacket for making this all possible, and all while super pregnant!! DENA YOU ARE A SUPER FORCE FOR GOOD!

To make it feel extra approachable and DrawTogether-y, we totally ignored the museum’s fancy new Pentagram branding, went rogue and made huge hand-made cardboard signs for space, handwritten printed explainer cards and special DrawTogether Strangers hand-lettered-drawing-paper. Then, on Saturday, we facilitated hundreds (thousands?) of people of all ages to draw and connect with each other.

DrawTogether kids (including my kid-artist-hero TaiTai!) and future GUT members <3

What I didn’t expect: SO many DrawTogether Kids came!! Plus DrawTogether Classrooms Educators, and a TON of folks from our GUT community came through (extra ups to the GUT members who traveled from afar: Chicago! New York! Baltimore! More!) A bunch of people cried, EVERYONE laughed, and most everyone made a new friend or five. Bonus, everyone got to hang their drawings on the walls of the National Gallery of Art. (Not a bad addition to a CV, esp at age 7!!)

My one regret is not having time to plan a GUT gathering while I was there. It’s clear to me it’s time to start making in-person community gatherings a priority. We all want and need it. Let’s make that happen this year.

I’ll share more photos and drawings on my instagram page in the upcoming days (I’m /wendymac over there) but for now, let’s just say this week was a dream come true. I’m grateful and honored and feel full of love.

DrawTogether Strangers x Gorky painting in the National Gallery of Art in DC. I’m dead.

And with that, let’s get back to the actual DRAWING and get on with this week’s GUT lesson!

This will be our last week of review lessons, so I’m cannonballing deep into the GUT and DT Classrooms archive to bring you one of my favorite artists ever and super fun lesson, all with a DC twist: a mashup tribute to they extraordinary artist and educator Alma Thomas.

Let’s do this.

Alma Thomas, Artist & Educator

“Through color, I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness, rather than on man’s inhumanity to man.” - Alma Thomas (1891-1978)

BIG EXCITING NOTE: This week the Grown-Ups Table features a podcast! That’s right, that audio player at the top contains a drawing podcast with a little lesson and a guided exercise. As a kid who wanted to hang out at the grown-ups table when I was little, and as a grown-up who loves to visit the kids table, I’m throwing rules out the window and doing our first DrawTogether KidxGUT Crossover. So below is our more in depth lesson on Alma Thomas, and the lesson itself is IN THE PODCAST ABOVE!

First, read the lesson, then grab your supplies and hit play on the podcast above. Sound good? It’s an experiment for the GUT. Let’s try it. (Also, you can also listen to all the DrawTogether Podcasts episodes on Apple Podcasts anytime. We made 36 episodes and then paused. Who knows, maybe we’ll start back up again someday!)

Alright, now onto Alma.

Alma the Hero

Alma Thomas was born in 1871 in Columbia, Georgia. In 1907, she and her family moved to DC in search of better educational opportunities, and to get away from the racist and oppressive South. She went on to be the first graduate of the Department of Art at Howard University, then get a master of arts degree from the Teachers College at Columbia University in New York. She retuned to DC and immediately became a public school teacher in Washington DC, and continued to commit her life to the empowering young artists in the classroom for 35 years. (!)

Alma, you’re a heck of a role model.

Alma the Artist

Alma was a constant creator, but it was only after retiring at 60 did Alma start seriously painting. Her large, colorful, abstract paintings were inspired by nature, and she was obsessed with space. The painting Blast Off (below) was inspired by watching the first rocket traveling to the moon, which she watched on TV.

Blast off, 1970, Acrylic on Canvas. “Thomas was also fascinated with outer space, as she believed it was an extension of the nature she saw and loved around her. Through her space art, Thomas sought to unite mankind in universal appreciation of beauty, imparting as she said: “beauty, joy, love, and peace.” - National Air and Space museum

At 75, she became the first African American woman to have a solo show at the Whitney. And, in 1971, at age 85, she became the first African American woman to have her work acquired by the White House.

Alma Thomas’ painting Resurrection hangs in the dining room of the White House in 2015 as the Obama’s host Passover

Alma’s creative influence is unparalleled, and her impact profound. While other American artists around her at the time were all hung up on tight lines, she explored the space and light created by nature and process. She let her pencil lines show.

Breeze Rustling Through Tall Flowers, 1968, Acrylic on Canvas

Make no mistake, Alma was rigorous with her intent and technique. She painstakingly planned her composition, and her vibrant color choices were all informed by color theory. But there was a human, experiential influence in her work. You can see and feel her hands. And unlike so many artists of her time - and artists today - she reveled in the experience of beauty, and, considered the creation of beauty a profound (and perhaps political?) act.

“Man’s highest inspirations come from nature. A world without color would seem dead. Color is life. Light is the mother of color. Light reveals to us the spirit and living soul of the world through colors.”  - Alma Thomas

Pansies in Washington, 1969, Acrylic on canvas

Alma said, “I looked at the tree in the window, and that became my inspiration.”

And fun fact: Alma may have been the original member of the Netflix and Draw Club. Her studio was her living room, and she often painted while watching television!

Alma The Educator

While the world may know her as a painter of abstract composition, color and energy, Alma was known as Miss Thomas to tens of thousands of young artists, who she inspired in their classrooms.

As an teacher for 35 years, she would weave African American history into her art lessons. Somebody once said that you could probably talk to half of the African American kids in Washington DC and they would probably have been taught by Alma Thomas. Now that impact goes beyond any art hanging on any gallery wall. She truly did it all. Our hats are off to you, and we walk in your footsteps.

If you are interested in learning more about Alma, DrawTogether Friend LoveIs Wise illustrated a gorgeous kids book about her life and work called "Ablaze with Color.” Also if you want to splurge the retrospective of her life’s work “Everything is Beautiful” is gorgeous!


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DrawTogether with WendyMac
DrawTogether with WendyMac
The world's first drawing podcast! Drawing teacher Wendy Mac offers a bite-sized, no-experience-required interactive art adventure - all you need is a piece of paper and pen. We learn about art and artists and some drawing skills, while building curiosity, confidence and connection. For kids (of all ages.) https://club.drawtogether.studio
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Wendy MacNaughton