> I replaced a retired art teacher in the high school who allowed
> students to locate prints, photos and such and use an opaque
> projector to trace and then they colored them in. This was done
> in painting, drawing, and any two -dimensional project. I am trying
> to break them of this habit and to be more original and to work
> from life. My advanced painters are having the most difficultly with t
> his concept. Suggestions please. Sharon...
We are practically neighbors...well, sorta. I'm about 2 hours away from
you, NE...in Laona. As a performing musician, I played at the Uncommon
Ground in your town a number of times when Jeff and Barb managed (think they
sold it now).
The situation you are in is not all that uncommon...that is, replacing a
teacher whom you feel did an inadequate job and as though your work were cut
out for you. I teach K-12 and kids complained of only drawing hands and
shoes. Kids in elementary thanked me for "getting to paint" (evidently the
former teacher didn't want to deal with the mess and organization), and my
seniors had never heard of Vincent Van Gogh...and didn't know basic color
mixing principles like yellow and blue make green, etc; was pretty sad.
In your situation, your kids will be lazy and no doubt throw up a wall of
complaints. My kids did at first too because they all used grids to draw
from photos, and I wanted them to learn to see. In a way, it was not too
difficult for me as I'm a professionally known artist myself and the kids
could see outright that I knew how to paint, draw, etc; so they quickly
abandoned their protests when I explained I wanted them to learn to
I would suggest approaching two fronts to take care of this
problem...(hhhmmm, maybe three): First explain well left brain/right brain
principles and how the left brain fears losing control...but yielding
control is exactly what the right half requires to be allowed to grow. Such
"yielding" includes their sense of fairness and logic which are rooted in
their left brain; hinged on this explanation I'd explain that one function
of art education is "art appreciation" and that students facing a difficult
task is not one we as professionals and soon to be artists are afraid to put
them thru. To face the difficulties that are associated with "being" an
artist is to know a bit more what becoming an artist is like. To that end,
we have art appreciation.
I tell my kids that I am not here to crank out artists...but to give them an
art experience, and help them know and appreciate what it is artists do.
That will include how artists will feel as they learn and develop skills.
It will includen the beast of impatience within themselves that they
struggle to bring into submission...and so on.
Where this especially plays out is when a student asks me "Mr S...would this
reference be easy enough to do for me?" My response is canned and goes
something like, "Oh.. heavens yes....I agree! I'd never pick that one
either! Better to find one more challenging!" Of course...I get the
dropped mouth and blank confused dazed look which comes before their
"but...but...but..." and protest. It gives me a chance to hammer in again
and again...that growth comes by taking on challenge, and that growth is
what we in the arts are all about.
Okay...now, secondly....I'm not fortunate in a K-12 small school to have
advanced painters...though I get a few that come back to work independently.
What works for me and I'd recommend is I set my students up to prepare and
experience a plein air landscape experience. The atmosphere is more
controlled this way, allows me to get around daily and get kids to think
about color, values...so on. I have amassed (you have the summer coming up
so good time to do this) a good personal collection of outdoor photographs.
Often I take these as points of reference while I am painting plein air
myself on location. I blow these up digitally with photoshop and adjust
color to what my artist's eye remembers experiencing. They are about 8" x 1
0" in size.
The kids set these up near their easels...and yes they do copy. So for your
"copying" kids this is somewhat a compromise for you and them. A lot of
artists though that work instudio (and I recommend it to artists at
Wetcanvas.com all the time) and wanting to get up the nerve to paint
outdoors do this.
Let them paint and copy these photos. In the meantime, every Friday is
video Friday, and I show the Artist Series videos of Monet, and others...and
Impressionist videos of artists painting outdoors. I'll compare their
"tracing" habits like an academy gimick which the Impressionists broke away
from...to let nature teach their eyes directly.
The weeding away process is difficult, even for capable artists....because
the ego and their reputation is at stake. Painting from life will force an
artist to "suggest" detail and learn to use the brush, color and value
craftily so the viewer's eye from a few paces away from the canvas "think"
they see detail. Copying allowed all the time in the world to put in a
linear literal detail. That's tough to break away from.
So...I provide NO detail size brushes. I get a hog bristle set of
oil/acrylic brushes with two sized flats, two rounds...and one round that is
about 1/8th in width. This, plus a small Richelin diamond shaped painting
knife. Any details are suggested with the tip or edge of the knife. That
is not easy to do.
When an artist is driving down country roads looking for a spot to pull over
and paint, they are not looking for details. A scene will possess a
particular aesthetic of light, drama, color...and variance of spacial
quality. The artist will sense their jugular about to be ripped out that
screams "must paint that!" It is only after the work is underway that the
immature artist notices the particulars that had nothing to do with that
first impression. If that artist paints such in...s/he'll end up soon at a
point in the painting where s/he'll wonder whatever it was that caused them
to want to paint it in the first place.
The beauty with landscapes as a painting subject working with photos....is
you can hold the pictures up....get a consensus of ooohh's and aaahh's and
then ask the students to explain what they think they were responding to!
You slowly convince them that it is not to details, but to how they "feel"
as people when confronted by beauty, (albeit, their sense of the dynamics of
beauty). Tracers and copiers are concerned with details, so by explaining
you are going after the aesthetics of "beauty" gives you a platform right
off to emphasize the danger of detail to sidetrack and destroy the effort.
You begin by changing the emphasis. No detail...but rather an exploration
of why you "feel" moved by the scene. This all works wonderfully into
deeper understanding of why the critics of their day called these artists
You are the professional and judge of YOUR kids here...so you know better
than any of us where they are at. I'm going to go out on the limb here
though and say without a reference they'd be paralyzed! So, let them use a
reference but give them a different way to work with it. Make it a game.
Argue that basketball has its rules of play, but there are other games you
can play with a hoop and ball such as "horse" ..."around the world"...
"twenty-one"....etc; That yes...tracing is how some might approach making
art, but that the art world does not itself give highest regard to such
artists. Tell 'em you are essentially going to have them play another game.
To play a different game, they are going to have to give themselves
permission to play. This means a different set of rules.
Now...if you get a chance Sharon (don't know if you have painted plein air
before), you are certainly welcome to visit my website (I think Judy has it
available as well) and I have quite a few online demo's which shows and
explains how I block or raggin' masses (if you use acrylics...use larger
flats for this...too difficult with rags), how I use negative space to
"suggest" trees and details, and so on. You might even want to have your
kids look thru a number of those demos.
Tell them that this defines how the game is going to be played. A block
in...then a suggestion of detail using negative space; and using impasto for
texture to give a sense of depth perspective and realism and so on.
This one painting could take an entire quarter. If your kids are more
advanced, you could set them up to paint outside...with a small panel to do
studies or "pochades" which to plein air'ists are oil sketches. References.
If you want to teach them how some artists work...have them take a camera,
shoot the scene themselves. Do a 20-30minute pochade...which focuses on
basic values and colors and will appear somewhat abstract due to being done
so quickly. THEN, take that reference image to set up next to their pochade
sketch. From both the photo and the pochade...teach them to do the one
Knowing the Medford area and surrounding country....I'd probably try and
arrange a bus field trip to a nearby place. Have them take the photo
reference or you do it for them while they are doing their 20-30 minute
pochade. Then you teach them to refer to them BOTH...and explain that a
photograph (because of thru the lens metering) cannot be relied upon. Darks
turn darker and lack color real life reveals. This is why most paintings
done from photos look tonalistic in contemporary work.
Now...my third suggestion...hee hee...is, give me a call at my school next
year, and perhaps we can work up my coming over for a day to do a plein air
demonstration. Work it out to get your art kids an afternoon off...(after
all, athletes get part of the day off to go golf don't they?) or
something....I wouldn't mind having a sub come in and get a break! Perhaps
your school could offer to pay for my sub, or something.