Visual Arts

The Visual Arts Department at NMSA offers four years of scaffolded learning that balances an attention to skill and concept building in the making of visual communication.

The four-year Visual Arts curriculum is designed to expose students to a breadth of visual arts experience through exposure to diverse materials, tools, and processes (including 2D, 3D, and 4D – digital and analog) preparing them for successful application and first-year engagement in fine arts college-level learning or related arts career pre-professional experiences.

Through the process of making and revising, accompanied by frequent critique, we aim to grow students’ critical, making, and creative problem solving skills, and the self-awareness needed to be successful in any field as engaged, self-expressed citizens.

Guest Artist Program

Tony O'Brien


Lucrecia Troncoso

Micaceous Clay / Sculpture

Rick Yoshimoto

Axle Contemporary Guest Artist

Jami Porter Lara

Ceramic Artist

Earl McBride


Kathleen McCloud

Axle Contemporary Guest Artist

Dario Robleto

Transdisciplinary Artist, Researcher, Writer, Teacher

Curtis Tawlst Santiago

SITE Santa Fe Guest Artist

Debbie & Charlie Carillo

Micaceous Clay Artists

Brandon Gunn

Education Director, UNM Tamarind Press Institute

We believe a student’s passion for the arts can propel them to success in every aspect of life. We are committed to fostering that success by providing a strong foundation for artistic and academic growth in an inclusive and challenging environment that encourages exploration, expands imagination and cultivates creativity.

Karina Hean

Visual Arts Department Chair

If you have questions regarding curriculum or anything about the Visual Arts program, please contact Karina Hean or use our Contact form and someone from the team will respond shortly.

Drawing I, 9th Fall (2 day Studio Course)

Drawing allows us to better know the world around us.  Observational drawing witnesses our coming to see and understand what we perceive; it reveals our thinking process – our coming to know something in an extremely intimate way.  In drawing this semester, you will each learn to see with more clarity.  You will draw to see more!  Through numerous drawing exercises/projects, each student will acquire a tool kit of ways of seeing and rendering what we observe in order to more fully develop the illusion of 3D on the 2D plane (paper).  You will learn to draw a ‘lie’!With this semester 1 skillset of a year-long Drawing I course, everyone will be able to use these representational skills to better render the observed world and also to use this skill in order to convey the world of their own imagination.

Drawing I, 9th Spring (2 day Studio Course)

This class will be focused on honing our drawing skills from the previous semester. We are a group of highly motivated artists who are driven to develop a mastery of skills to lay a foundational pathway toward mastering communication, composition, and practice technical abilities for when the time comes to execute our ideas at a highly-refined level. 

We will explore graphite, charcoal, pen and ink and alternative media. With a focus on form and space, we are going to use elements and principles to push our compositional skills and understanding of media. As a group we will be expected to develop the communication skills necessary for all aspects of our work and our daily lives. 

Introduction to Studio & Digital Skills 9th (Wednesday Course, Year-Long)

This course is designed to strengthen your digital skills and 2D design skills in relation to understanding what role visual artists play in our shared culture. Over the course of the semester, students will be introduced to the ways in which stories and viewpoints are expressed visually in different forms of digital media. Additionally, the course will provide insight into a variety of practices in the field of traditional and digital art particularly with respect to artwork documentation, analog portfolio building, and digital portfolio file management. Students are introduced to the work of contemporary artists through art exhibits, field trips, and visiting artists.This course will concentrate on expanding students’ 2D design skills and bridging traditional art to new media art. Using computers, cameras, scanners, copy stands, tripods, and Adobe programs, students will explore fundamental design principles that will be applicable to all art media and throughout their time at NMSA and higher education.

Visual Fundamentals 2D 9th Fall (2 day Studio Course)

In 2D fundamentals we will be developing an artist’s most important tool, composition. Whether you are a musician, painter, or you work with digital media, having a piece that is well balanced and engages the viewer is a strong skill to obtain. We will learn elements and principles of 2D design and strengthen composition skills. Using a variety of mixed media such as, acrylic paint, collage, drawing and pattern making. The 2D class will gain an understanding of how materials work, and how to use them to their advantages.  


Visual Fundamentals 3D 9th Spring (2 day Studio Course) .75 credits

What makes sculpture different from other forms of art? There is a physicality to sculpture that makes it vastly different from 2-D processes or digital work. Sculptures are things you can touch, feel and relate to physically. Sculptures can be small, intimate and fit in your hand. They can also tower over you or create spaces that you can enter.

This semester will be the introduction into all things 3 dimensional from the large scale to the small and intimate. Projects will include initial training in fabrication, additive and subtractive practices. We will also focus on how the critique and understanding of sculpture differs from two dimensional media. By the end of this semester students will have a strong Foundation.

Visual Arts Department 9th grade Courses/Curriculum

9th grade is a foundation year. Students learn the elements and principles of design, and work intensively on building studio, design, drawing, critique, 2D, 3D and introductory digital skills, visual vocabulary, and sketchbook habits. The transition to high school is also addressed as students are taught skills that will help them succeed over the next four years, including organization, time/project management, collaboration, criticality, health and safety, studio/classroom expectations, wellness, and essential creative habits and skills.  Portfolio building and documentation, along with an introduction to the Adobe Creative Suite are additionally introduced.

Studio Exploration 2D, 10th Fall (2 Day Studio Course)

Maintaining our knowledge of the elements and principles of design, students will explore a variety of media and develop an understanding of how media can work with (or against) one another. There is more room for mistake-making and pushing the limits of specific media to create knowledge around the do’s and don’ts of media usage and time to discover new passions for techniques yet to be explored. Students will be problem-solving resolutions on their pieces during the making and implementing feedback after critique. 

Studio Exploration 2D, 10th Fall (2 Day Studio Course)

Maintaining our knowledge of the elements and principles of design, students will explore a variety of media and develop an understanding of how media can work with (or against) one another. There is more room for mistake-making and pushing the limits of specific media to create knowledge around the do’s and don’ts of media usage and time to discover new passions for techniques yet to be explored. Students will be problem-solving resolutions on their pieces during the making and implementing feedback after critique.

Studio Exploration 3D, 10th Spring (2 Day Studio Course)

This class will challenge students to experiment and express their voice through sculpture while expanding upon what was covered in the foundational year. This semester students will play with ways of approaching the ideas of light, interdisciplinary collaboration,  and form vs. function. Within each of the projects during this semester we will explore materiality as it comes into dialogue with the elements and principles of design used and explored during Visual Fundamentals 3-D. This year, a student’s understanding of how to classify and create sculptural objects will broaden through the exploration of alternative and new ways of making. Within these explorations we will work to strengthen problem solving skills for sculptural creation.

“Over the last ten years rather surprising things have come to be called sculpture: narrow corridors with TV monitors at the ends; large photographs documenting country hikes; mirrors placed at strange angles in ordinary rooms; temporary lines cut into the floor of the desert. Nothing, it would seem, could possibly give to such a motley of effort the right to lay claim to whatever one might mean by the category of sculpture. Unless, that is, the category can be made to become almost infinitely malleable.”
-Rosalind Krauss

Digital Fundamentals 10th Fall (2 Day Digital Lab Course)

This semester, 10th graders will be practicing problem-solving, endurance, creative-thinking and collaboration within the context of foundational digital skills and creation. This course will provide an exciting and diverse insight into the digital world and its continued importance in an artist’s career. Over the course of the fall semester, students will be introduced to the fundamentals of self-expression, concept building, composition, time management, and collaboration. Foundational digital skills learned in 9th grade Intro to Studio and Digital Skills.  Additionally, students will gain foundational digital skills and be encouraged to create using digital platforms.  File management and organization will be emphasized.  Students will gain exposure to a diverse group of artists who work in these mediums and topics.

Digital Exploration 10th Spring (2 Day Studio Course)

This course is designed to expand on and add to the skill sets of artists working in digital media. In this course we will create projects that focus on foundations of digital illustration, graphic design, virtual reality, film and the importance of the visual narrative experience. We will explore the topics via illustrations, collaboration, and video manipulation. We will also share ideas of art ownership, copyright and appropriation by creating art that relates to you. This course will concentrate on expanding students’ 2D and 3D design skills to create compelling works of graphic illustrations, video, sound, and digital story-telling, while also looking at the history and practices of a diverse group of artists who work in this medium.


Visual Arts Department 10th grade Courses/Curriculum 

10th grade is an exploratory year.  Course work will revisit issues of design, composition, and visual communication while encouraging students to explore, take risks, be curious, and embrace ‘failure’.  As a result, emphasis is placed on ideation, revision, and process more than product.  Students experience a wide range of materials and processes in Studio Exploration 2D, 3D, and digital/4D, while continuing to emphasize and deepen their vocabulary and use of the visual fundamentals.  Creative Process courses further expand student visual literacy by analyzing, interpreting, evaluating, and expressing responses to others’ artworks and their own with a focus on Material & Method and Research & Expression.

Creative Process: Materials & Methods 10th + 11th mixed

(1 Day Studio Course, Year-Long) 
This course has students each explore the meaning, context, history and limitations of the materials we as artists use. Along with engaging in in depth research and experimentation with artistic materials, students will explore contemporary and historical artists through the lens of materiality. Materials and the ways they are used in artistic practices bring context to works that are created. As artists ourselves, it is important to take these elements when considering materials to use. By the end of this course, each student will have a greater understanding of the importance of material choice and how to use materials with intention. We will be working to effectively synthesize our ideas, experiments and discoveries through writing.

Creative Process: Research & Expression 10th + 11th mixed

(1 Day Studio Course, Year-Long) 
In this course, students will develop an understanding of an artist/artwork’s Expression by considering the role of Presentation, Installation, Public versus Private Display, and Venue/Site. Gain insight in and the ability to navigate the complexities of authorship, appropriation, copyright, and ownership, and value one’s integrity and understand how plagiarism operates. By the end of this class, students will have a value for how they can create meaning in their work and process; how an artist uses research to make work that emphasizes intentional decision making. 

Visual Arts Department 10th/11th grade Courses/Curriculum 

Drawing II, 11th Fall (2 Day Studio Course)

Drawing allows us one of the most direct ways to witness how we think and feel through a direct mode of mark making.  It reveals time, speed, and quality of action — it records how one is thinking, feeling, and perceiving.  Each student will improve their drawing technique this semester through hours of observational rendering.  From gaining this skillset, students can improve their capabilities to represent the world of their imagination as well.  We will stretch the boundaries of achromatic (black and white) drawing media, subject, and composition to communicate a range of expressive possibilities via drawing, including theme, motif, metaphor, ekphrasis, narrative, mood/tone, and psychology.  Drawn subjects will include:  still-life, interior, landscape, figure, and more!

Junior Conceptual Concerns 11th Spring (2 Day Studio Course)

This course is designed to provide an introduction to the topic of making a body of work related to conceptual thinking. Reading, writing, research, and the production of artwork will constitute the activities of the course. Together, we will work to understand strategies and workflows of conceptual art making and support these by maintaining a sketchbook/journal practice. Discussions will be led by topics of bridging concepts and works of art, portfolio purpose, current artist needs, ethics as a conceptual artist, and how to create bodies of work in relation to another.  In particular, students will be tasked and supported in the transition from making assignment focused works to personal and series based bodies of work in the creation of a group planned and installed exhibition, “Envision”,  in the first half of the semester. 

Visual Arts Department 11th grade Courses/Curriculum 

11th grade is a year of media focus in research, inspiration, and making and builds upon the previous two years by introducing increasingly rigorous, semester-long courses that build depth in material command in Drawing II and Sculpture, Digital & Electronic Arts, Printmaking, and Painting.  Creative Process courses further expand student visual literacy by analyzing, interpreting, evaluating, and expressing responses to others’ artworks and their own with a focus on Material & Method and Research & Expression.  Increasingly independent and teacher-guided work that expresses personal interest is emphasized in Junior Conceptual Concerns.   College application portfolios are developed by the end of 11th grade.

Sculpture 11/12th mixed Fall (2 Day Studio Course)

Students will use all the tools they have to create engaging work that displays both one’s wide array of technical skills and ability to think critically along the lines of content, context and objecthood. This class will be focused on using one’s own voice and perspective in order to approach broad prompts in unique and creative ways. Through in depth planning, research and experimentation, the goal of this course is to push the student’s sculptural work to its limits. This is the capstone sculpture class. The projects this semester will demand critical thinking and problem solving. 

“Among the many relationships that define the human condition, the individual’s connection to the environment is primary. The elemental background against which all our activity is played out, nature is the biggest of big pictures. We worship and loathe it, sanctify and destroy it. Birth, death and all that is graceful and vicious between, sit comfortably within the natural web. We ‘singular creatures’ also bloom and rot on its vast matrix, but the combination of our ambition and our gifts make us want more than to simply survive. We aspire to leave our mark, inscribing our observations and gestures within the landscape, attempting to translate and transgress the space within which we find ourselves.”
-Jeffery Kastner

Digital & Electronic Arts (formally New Media) 11th/12th grades mixed Fall (2 Day Studio Course)

As artists today, we are given an opportunity to apply ourselves in a world of digital media that has proved to be ever-changing. In this course we will look towards understanding the basics of these medias and hope to continue with creativity and curiosity. As we venture into this world together, I ask that we approach with these attributes: problem-solving, patience, community, collaboration, and curiosity. This course will introduce continuing works of contemporary new media artists, new media art exhibitions, new media installations, and what are limitations to new media & the arts. The course blurs the lines between performance, generative art, photographic and video works, sound art, video games and site-specific installation. The objective of the course is to provide both an insight into the variety of practices in new media and a foundation for making art in new media. To develop a newfound understanding of digital practices and terminology using software’s, video cameras, microphones, projectors, and electronics. We will explore the various applications of new media art and discover its potential for advancing one’s personal aesthetics, expression, and explorations. We will approach learning new media arts by creating interactive digital projections with Premiere Pro; 3d designs and animation with Unity; sound designing & mapping with Max; and coding & electronics with Arduino; exercises will be assigned as a way of understanding and practicing the skills learned for each project.

Printmaking 11th/12th Spring (2 Day Studio Course)

This semester of Printmaking will provide Introductory instruction in working with a range of three printmaking processes: MONOTYPE, RELIEF, and INTAGLIO.  The power of printmaking will be explored through the exploration of improvisational and also pre-planned intentional graphic image making and with time spent learning the craft and impact of its reproducibility.  Each type of printing process affords the artist with new kinds of mark and image making possibilities and involves individual unique processes/tools; combining these processes, once known individually, opens up infinite avenues of visual exploration.  The process of printmaking engages and draws on much of what you have learned in 2D Visual Fundamentals, 3D Visual Fundamentals, Drawing, Studio Explorations, and your conceptual course work.  While exploring composition and design to express meaning making this semester..  

We will learn and reinforce shared, safe studio practices and the craftsmanship involved with printmaking as well as to introduce familiarity with the vocabulary, tools, and the historical and contemporary context of printmaking.  Studio visits, gallery/museum field trips, and guest lecturers/artists will broaden your exposure to the craft and career of creative fine art printmaking (hand pulled prints).  Students will work with hand printing and press printing throughout the semester—supplies are provided!

Painting 11th/12th grades mixed Spring (2 Day Studio Course)

This course will introduce painting techniques and painting with different media: Acrylic, Oil, Gouache, and Watercolor. Artists will work into abstraction and realism using observation painting and working from photos, collages, and/or drawings. We will generate the context of painting through the study of historic and contemporary artists; why was this media used and how does it fit into the world today?  We should leave with an understanding of our tools and our media. Our breadth pieces will allow us to explore a variety of media and techniques, while our creativity  will devote us to an investigation of concept or an idea.    


Visual Arts Department 11th/12th grade Courses/Curriculum

Senior Project Honors & Professional Practices 12th

(3 Day Course, Year-Long)  
The senior project year involves an investigation into making that is unique to each student.  Guest artists, peers, and instructors will assist you in pursuing what you want to make and bringing it into the world.  The several projects and presentations you will create this year are the culmination of your education in the Visual Arts at NMSA, while not all things made or tried out will be in your Senior Exhibition – all attempts to start, revise, or complete work will inform the work that is selected to go into your final group exhibition.  Each student’s many projects will witness their unique interests and strengths as well as a strong awareness of how to manipulate the visual elements & principles of design with intention.  To assist with the varied approaches to making that exist within any group of artists, guest artists will join us several times throughout the year to offer extra consideration and guidance as well as guest critics.  Each senior will also collaborate with a student in Creative Writing & Literature to develop a related visual artwork inspired by a selection of student poetry/prose in the development of a fine art print catalog and exhibition!  In preparation for careers in the arts—or lifelong involvement in the arts and frankly any career—students will develop professional practice skills and documents (e.g. time management, proposals, websites, presentations, exhibition installation/proposal, artist statements, CV/resumes, consignment inventories and more), as well as critical life and learning skills (e.g. communication, collaboration, flexibility, initiative, accountability).  To coalesce these professional skills into real action each student will complete an application to Young Arts, Scholastic, and perform a Pecha Kucha style (visual storytelling) public presentation in the Fall semester.


Visual Arts Department 12th grade Courses/Curriculum 

12th grade is a culminating year of intentional individual effort and expression in which student voice and choice are central.  Independent study/research is supported by semester-long courses in Sculpture, Digital & Electronic Arts, Printmaking, and Painting.  Students convey their ideas visually and verbally with clarity and confidence in professional level oracy and writing.  An independent Senior Project that culminates in a student-produced exhibition is required for graduation with an Art Institute Certificate.  Professional Practices and college application preparation/decision making are also addressed along with the transition to life after high school.