Saturday – April 21, 2018

MATC Uses Innovative Approach for Digital Life Drawing Class

November 2009

From the hallway, Room 165 on the first floor of the Main Building on MATC's Downtown Milwaukee Campus looks like a fairly typical college classroom. What makes this classroom different is what's happening inside. On Wednesdays and Thursdays for four hours, instructors Tim Decker and Brian Mennenoh bring learning to life ... literally.

Decker and Mennenoh have developed a Digital Life Drawing course which is the only one of its kind in the country. The course is unique because students are drawing on Wacom Cintiq monitors, eliminating the traditional charcoal and paper approach.

Each class is split into 20-minute sessions during which a model poses for 2-3 minutes in sequential order. The goal is for students to capture the gesture, the feeling of the pose, to later be used as a tool for drawing and animating their own character creations.


Instructors Brian Mennenoh (left) and Tim Decker pose for students.


Student Lisa Fadden captures the detail of a model's pose.

Students draw in Corel Painter, which allows them to work with pencil, ink, oil and watercolor, among other mediums. Most of their work is completed in pencil, but other media will be incorporated throughout the semester. The experience is not limited to the traditional classroom with human models. Students visited the Milwaukee County Zoo and used sketchbooks for that experience.

One fall semester day, two models joined the class. One posed as a leopard and the other practiced Tai Chi. Students captured the poses in sequence, that when combined, would show movement and activity.

Decker encouraged the students to "push it" as they captured the models' poses. Background music helped create an environment that students were clearly comfortable in. Some engaged in conversation during breaks, while others continued to refine their work.


The class has been made possible through an MATC Innovation Grant, which funded the purchase of the monitors, computers and drawing benches. Decker and Mennenoh created the concept while attending the 2008 Siggraph Conference in Los Angeles. The duo had been trying to develop new ways to incorporate more traditional drawing skills into MATC's animation program. When Decker and Mennenoh shared the idea with a Wacom representative, the response was "Nobody else is doing that!" That was even more incentive to develop the course.

In an average class, each student will create 100-115 drawings and it's the "pencil mileage" that leads to improvement among these burgeoning artists, designers and animators, according to Decker.

The improvement in the students' work Decker and Mennenoh saw in the first portion of the semester was impressive.


Adrian Trotter at work during a Digital Life Drawing class.

"Students are able to tell a story with their sketches," said Decker. "I've seen dramatic improvement that probably wouldn't have occurred in a traditional class."

Student Lisa Fadden works on a Tai Chi pose in MATC's Digital Life Drawing class.

Tai Chi is the theme of this Digital Life Drawing class.

Mennenoh shares that many students came to the class with "little or no drawing skills and were hesitant to take the class. After a bit of reassurance and explanation that the reason to take it is to improve one's drawing skills, both sections filled to capacity."

The enthusiasm is not limited to the forward-thinking instructors. Student Lisa Fadden calls the technology "amazing." The 20-year-old from Milwaukee whose dream job is to work as a Disney imagineer, is pursuing an animation degree because she wanted to "stop watching and start doing."

For information about MATC's Animation Associate Degree, please visit