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Re: Sketchbooks and how it relates to development


From: Larry Seiler (lseiler_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Tue Jun 18 2002 - 07:57:07 PDT

Many folks here are already familiar with my online demo covering
sketchbooks and sketching. I imagine there are some that are not...perhaps
even newer ArtsEdNet members so, I will provide the link here to the demo.
IT is eleven pages long....and discusses the value of sketching as well as
some methods of my own as a professional artist. Students can see me going
thru steps of one sketch of my laced hiking boot, and then applying quick
transparent watercolor washes over it to spice it up.

The first ten minutes of each class period in the junior high thru high
school is spent sketching. I have a large supply of assorted magazines, and
quite often I'll interrupt routine to put in a video of some fairly popular
movie or a video study of waterfowl, etc; and freeze frame. I'll give the
students about 45 seconds to one minute to sketch the image, using a black
ink ball point pen before moving on to another image.

I have a progression which depends on the development of the
students...where we go from recognizing basic geometric shapes and form; to
where I then teach some simple anatomy; to squinting the eyes to recognize
dark values and shapes to suggest form.

In time, students pick up understanding that the artist takes that which is
complex and reduces it to simpler statements, and that the simpler
statements hold a power to suggest more detail and life than time spent
drawing or painting anywhere or anything else.

Little by little they retreat from judging sketches as a poorly done
drawing, and begin to understand and embrace that sketching is an attempt to
take dictation from life. Such dictation is a tool for the artist, which
exercises the eye and increases abilities of the memory to remember images.

I'll eventually introduce still lifes in another room for which they can go
and have a limited viewing, then come back and sit down to reconstruct the
stilllife from memory using charcoal vine sticks. I'll give similar
opportunities for them to go in to the other room and do quick sketches
which they can then come back and use to build a drawing....which then
really helps the value of "why" sketching has value.

In time...they learn tactile feel of the pen, and even though it is black
ink learn that a very light line or mark can be made which can be darkened
at will with finger pressure. Over this watercolor washes can convert a
sketch into a very nice drawing. The point of all that is to get them over
the dependency of erasing as a crutch, and learn a faith based system that
an image will turn out regardless of the intial fears of making unwanted

I try to teach them that sketching is the lifeblood of many artists...and
often, I sit with the students to sketch from the videos as well. It helps
to dispel any notion that what I'm asking them to do is impossible, and I
figure introduces some art appreciation at that point. I don't believe
necessarily that all art making should be easy, nor that art students ought
not to struggle. I want them one day to be able to stand in the presence of
the work of other fine artists and be able to recognize good work as they
recollect the discipline and dedication that would be called for for such a
noble lifestyle and calling.

Besides...sketching along side them puts me in the position to then
cheerlead for them. Admit its difficulty, but at the same time its
worth...and encourage them. Its not always about how the immediate task
turns out that has value, but what a task in the long run will add up to.

I grade rather liberally the more I realize I am demanding of my students.
There seems to be a balance where their fears need to be restrained and THEY
need to give themselves permission to make the attempt. I want them to see
I am rewarding their efforts and engagement rather than punishing them
potentially by the outcome alone with a low grade.

I have learned by painting professionally and instructing other artists that
there is some truth to my old quirk that insists it will require 120 bad
paintings done to learn something about painting. I love Edgar Degas's
quote that says, "painting is easy when you don't know how, but very
difficult when you do."

Knowing that the excellence I am pushing the students for comes
accumulatively and in time, I place greater emphasis grade-wise on work
ethic and the effort to engage. My painting students put out one 18" x 24"
acrylic on canvas in a quarter...about 8 weeks for them to start and finish.
I have my own works in progress in the classroom, and more that I do outside
of school via "plein air." When the students see a piece I went out and
did as a plein air in two hours time, and then sell at a gallery for roughly
$1,000.....they get a sense of respecting the years of development such
takes. A painting I did in two hours that will take them 8-9 weeks.

They understand of course, that what has to be taken into consideration is
I've been painting for 25 years. What I have to understand and act upon is
to respect that, and quick to grade their efforts. Again, to
be a cheerleader. To encourage. I let them know constantly the treat, the
thrill, the privilege to paint as a lifetime habit. The end product is only
the excuse. The end of one session, but the beginning of still another; the
promise of yet more joy to encounter. A celebration of living.