I certainly understand the frustration with students hyped up on copying,
and as a plein air painter...I'm constantly encouraging painters (even
professionals) to get outdoors and get it straight from nature.
Having said that...a glimpse into my past might call for empathy for the
need of a student initially.
I was in third grade...which was the year our President John F. Kennedy
would be assassinated. My father was a police officer, and things in the
political arena were heating up. There was restlessness on college campuses
and the full blown student protests were yet to come. Already though,
administrations and occupations of authority were being despised and
tested...and kids that came from such homes were the target of resentment.
I would go thru this time a loner, with exception of eventually making
friends with other loners whom for one reason or another were also rejected.
Not being a large kid, I learned ten different ways to get home from school.
In my own neighborhood, I was singled out by bullies.
My next door neighbor, way up in cold snow-filled NFL town stinkin' Green
Bay, Wisconsin was at one time an artist for Walt Disney...back in Walt's
hay day. He had a keen eye for observation and being neighbors...he invited
me one time to check out his secret. That he had been a Disney and various
cartoon artist. He pulled out cells and drawings of Donald Duck,
Goofy...and cartoons of Woody Woodpecker.
What is more...he asked if I'd like to see how they were drawn?
Step-by-step. A process followed, could open a world to me. Only in third
grade, but it was like having slight of hand magic revealed.
I practiced, and practiced....and like these Japanese characters...I got
One day, I was not paying attention to the lesson of our third grade
teacher. I was doodling pictures of Woody Woodpecker, and a kid seated next
to me raised his hand to tell on me for not paying attention to the lesson.
The teacher had every right to make an object lesson of me, and came back to
my desk. She took that drawing up to look at it, and I thought I was in big
BIG trouble. The kid next to me smiling...
Instead, she held it up for all to see and drew attention to how marvelously
it was drawn. Suddenly, I became a hero. Out in the playground, kids asked
me to draw Woody and Donald on their notebooks or anything they had.
I had problems thru middle school and high school. Even bloody fights
because of my father being a police officer...but my identity with art had
been made secure. I found my hiding place where I could shut out the
negatives of the world and create my ideal world. In time...I grew out of
Woody and Donald, but not the values I gained from them.
I think...though I would agree to encourage the kids to observe from real
life...that I would be careful to not squash or extinguish what could be the
excitement kids might have in doing these drawings. We don't know from what
hell these kids might be escaping at home, in their neighborhoods...and
their obsession is an indication that more than learning to draw a character
is going on. They are deriving a much needed shot in the arm from it, and I
think encouragement...nurturement, and then gentle re-direction with
patience on our part is called for. In time...who knows...they might be
preaching to the choir and imploring other artists to get out there and
paint from observing life directly!