Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Importance of Attention and Practice in Creating Art

I've started reading Creativity for Life by Eric Maisel. During the book's Introduction, the author touches upon the importance of attention and practice since they play are such integral pieces of living the creative life. I tell my high school students all the time that without practice they will always be frustrated in their attempts to get better at drawing what they see, mixing the colors that they want, molding the clay into the correct shape and manipulating the pen tool in Adobe Illustrator. Working hand-in-glove with skills practice, the art student must learn how to be mindful of the World around him/her.
Presently, I am teaching my Intro to Painting students some simple drawing skills before we launch into still life. So, we discuss simplifying images into basic shapes before rounding out corners and adding the details. We also address relationships: how does one object relate to another? Is it taller or shorter? Is it fatter or thinner? How can we use negative space to help us record what we see? The questions go on. It is initially overwhelming for them but I want to demonstrate to them the necessary self-talk to help them achieve their goals.
Truth be told, I didn't start reading the book for my students. Rather, I am reading it for myself. When Dr. Maisel talks about attention, he's not meaning a classroom setting per se. I've extrapolated his meaning because I do believe it speaks equally powerfully to students in a high school setting.
In the final analysis, Dr. Maisel wants to remind ME of the many ways I've allowed my art to be put off because of the many facets of my so-called busy life.
If your truth is that your life is out of control and creativity is just one of the many things that you aren't attending to, stand up and admit that to yourself, even if it means that you must change everything. Nor can you do this truth telling just once or twice: you need to do it today, tomorrow, and forever. (pg. xviii)

What I've read so far is just what the doctor ordered (no pun intended).

Sunday, June 21, 2009

How do you keep student interest during a demonstration lesson?

In my last blog post, I loosely reviewed a few assignments that I presently do in my painting class, commenting on the great suggestions from some other bloggers on additional exercises to offer. At the end of the post, I included a section under the heading of Demonstration difficulties. There I highlighted a few struggles I have had with my urban high schoolers.

After some reflection I wanted to inquire some more about a few things:

Student interest

I am hoping that next year my classes will provide a little more student interest. This past year gave me more of what I have experienced since coming to this high school: students who did not sign up for my class and resent the amount of effort they have to put into the work for me. Ironically, my classes aren't as difficult as others I've been exposed to through art education conferences. Go figure.

How do you teach skills when you don't have a willing class? Often, the things they want to paint require more skill than they have and that only drives up their potential for discouragement. Thoughts anyone?

Appropriate demo time

Another avenue I have considered playing with centers on in-class demonstration time. Frankly, I only do demos that are 15 (20, at most) minutes long. Often my students talk to one another during the demo leaving the on the outs when it comes to doing the work. The frustration level mounts once deadline for completion gets closer. At that point, I become inundated with "Mr. Phil, I need your help." In the end, I don't get to everybody and that frustrates my students as well.

Consequences

As I stated above, my students will often talk during my demonstrations. As such, I find myself giving one-on-one demos for those students. Otherwise, they won't work and I'm basically stuck in the water needing a means to see what the students have learned. My wife and I implement consequences for our kids at home but my students don't take authority well or the guidelines I provide as goals for them to think about and work through. Actually, I have a very good rapport with them but that becomes tested when dates are looming and they should recieve a gift, not an email or blog member.

I want to serve these kids well. So, any thoughts or recommendations based on what I have introduced would be greatly appreciated.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Using demonstration lessons to pique student interest

My gourd post generated encouraging remarks from my readers while also eliciting helpful suggestions for presenting information for my students. For those of you who don't know, I am a high school art teacher in an urban school district. Generally speaking, most of my students did not ask to be in my class. They were put there out of necessity, namely to fill a slot in their schedule. As such, engaging them can be a challenge.

The consensus seems to be that demonstrations are the way to give students a sense of my expectations and visually illustrate how to go about using the media at hand. Well, no argument here.

Painting exercises

I plan on modifying my assignments for my painting (and, probably, drawing) class to allow for some of the suggestions given by some online friends: Cyndy Carstens, Susan Martin Spar, Liz Holm, Lee Claughton Taylor and Gary Keimig. I normally use white, gray and black geometric shapes. I plan to continue that practice but add other exercises preceding those as suggested from these fine contributors. Eggs, eggs in a bowl on a white cloth and a crumpled up piece of paper will probably make an appearance in some form. I plan to exploit the whole white-on-white composition to drive home the importance of value. It's the most important concept to get across to my students; more important than line or color in my mind.

I'll then move to my normal exposure of black and gray, using cubes and spheres. I next progress to small groupings using colored building blocks. So, while the concept of simple shape is there, the introduction of color with the irregular shape changes things up some. Eventually, I progress to flowers and the other detritus associated with still life compositions.

Demonstration difficulties

My struggle to reach the demographic I am working with poses the following problems:
  1. My students see my class as not something meaningful to their future. Despite my efforts to let them know that this could, if nothing else, become a hobby that will provide great satisfaction if they would only give themselves over to the process and practice, they remain fixated on narrowly looking at art as non-essential. I think this will remain a point of tension for them and I'll need to find ways to simply cope with their discomfort and a certain level of frustration on my part.

  2. Many of my students do not have the attention span to sit through a 15 demonstration. Even though I had read about this before I started teaching, I still found it disturbing when it actually manifested itself. Ironically, even though many students comment on the end product of the demo, they still talk to one another instead of paying attention (and then ask me for help leaving me little recourse accept to give them a one-on-one demonstration).

    I am hoping to work on streamlining my demos but that poses problems simply because if I go too fast they will miss the application I address while I dialogue during the demo. I coming back to the reality I keep hearing from others--demos are essential to most learners. As such, my students need the exposure and I, in turn, need to press them to pay attention and find a consequence for when they choose not to listen. However, is that going to mean I tell those students I can't help them because the made a choice not to participate in the learning process as I've laid it out? I may need to speak with my administration to get their feedback since I will need their support should more students choose to fail because of their stubborness.

    Then again, I have to give these students credit when they draw such a hard line in the sand and then stick to it. It's sad they don't apply that stick-to-it'iveness to actually learning what I'm trying to teach them.

  3. Need to be tested on the bare essentials of the painting process so I know they get certain foundational principles. Presently, I don't test them at all except to verbally check for understanding during class time when I walk from student to student.

    I know such a thought will sound sacrilegious to some art educators. Having been to both regional and national art education conferences, I know I'm on the outs on the concept of testing. For the classes I've sat in at those conferences, I've found the concept of testing in art classes--specifically for application-related knowledge--to be frowned upon.

    Generally, I haven't tested much at all. My classes consist of project grades and in-class assignments. However, moving into my third year I believe more strongly on the importance of testing certain information. My students need to have some concepts committed to memory so they can begin building bridges with each painting project. I see now how so many remain ignorant as to why they are doing what they are doing. Sadly, they do not see the importance of linking together what they've learned. It's something I'm going to have to attend to.
Thanks go out again, to those who've provided me with feedback on the whole demonstration process. Any additional suggestions is always appreciated.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Gourd, Alla Prima oil painting

I'm not sure where my head has been. I should have posted this last week with the other oil painting demonstrations. This gourd elicited great consternation from my students who struggled with getting the undulating surface and transitions between the two colors correct. In some ways like the pumpkin and other ways not, my students failed to appreciate the color variations in the peaks and valleys of the surface. I told them it was not going to be easy but to look for the shapes of the colors and block them in as best they could. A few did well.

We've moved on to a small still life featuring a putty colored vase and a few more simple pieces of fruit. I did not do a demonstration this time around. Instead I did direct instruction and sketched on the whiteboard how they were to proceed, step-by-step. For some of my students this worked well, for others less so. So, I'll probably do a physical demonstration on Monday. A few were determined to do what they wanted while others--focused on getting it "right"--fell behind leaving me to dash back and forth.

Thoughts anyone on how to walk a class through the beginning painting process without doing a demonstration?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Pear, alla prima oil painting

Here is the third in a series of still life demonstrations that I did for my students in Introduction to Painting, my alla prima painting class. Unlike Apple, I was able to complete this painting in the 15-20 minutes I allotted for my demo.

The three students who sat in on this demonstration saw the key point I have been reminding all of my students of from the beginning of this course. Namely, alla prima is meant to be immediate--it's direct painting. Most of my students struggle with over mixing, over blending and, generally, over doing it. That often translates into muddy colors and edges that are too sharp.

This particular fruit example was made particularly challenging for two reasons: there were two green, speckled "stripes" running down either side and two splashes of orangy-red on the other two sides. I showed them that this was merely an opportunity for alla prima to shine. I could have done the green "stripe" a bit more speckled with a broken line effect but I opted to focus more on the blending between the green and yellow underneath. The splashy orangy-red was more easy to achieve and gave my students what they needed seeing the blending happen in front of them.

For those particular students, it was important for them to see the blending happen in front of them. Surprisingly, this wasn't the first time they saw it but it helped two of the three with what they delivered in their own rendering of this composition.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Apple, alla prima oil painting

Here is the second in a series of still life demonstrations that I did for my students in Introduction to Painting, my alla prima painting class. As I stated in my last post, I've been trying to get through as much as I can in the 20 minutes that I'm doing the demonstration and then finishing the piece for my own satisfaction during my lunch.

This one I all but finished during the demonstration. That particular day I found it easy to enter the "zone." Unfortunately, I didn't fully complete the curved background at the top. I think I got sidetracked by a student coming in during my lunch to speak with me and then the period ended preventing me from getting back to it. But, I wanted to post it anyway.

I was particularly happy with this piece. I'll definitely need to go back and complete the background. Thoughts anyone?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pumpkin, alla prima oil painting

After doing monochromatic paintings of cubes, spheres and a geometric still life, I had my students move on to colored building blocks. I'll post those shortly, but I wanted to first post my own demonstration painting for their next lesson: a pumpkin. Actually, they'll also do a gourd, an apple and a pear. I thought these simple pieces of fruit would be a fitting next step for their efforts. I may be wrong, but we'll see.

I'm going to post all four of these demonstration pieces. I just finished my fourth so I'll post them over the next few nights. I start the piece during class for those students who are ready to watch and then finish it during my lunch. The focus for my Introduction to Painting class is on direct, or alla prima, painting. So, I'm pushing myself to finish the paintings that day to keep my approach fresh. I consider it an object lesson since many of them are struggling with overblending and generally overworking their paintings. But, that's a common mistake so I'm not wringing my hands over it. I simply remind them with each demo how to work with the paint before it dries. I have them work with water-soluble oil paints so they are dry to the touch by the next day.

Your feedback to this piece would be appreciated. I have more involved paintings if you'd like to review those, as well. I was taking my class over at Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia; Yellow Speaks, Composition with Yellow and Red and It's Not Easy Begin Blue being a few of my better pieces from the last class I took at Fleisher under Giovanni Casadei.

Again, I'd enjoy hearing from you.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

When does a student become an artist?

(This post is an aside I'd like to share with you; something that's been brewing in my head after reading a few things.)

How important is it for students--particularly elementary, middle and high school students--to consider themselves artists?

In my class, this perception/misperception usually manifests itself as protestations of unfairness for criticizing their personal expression. Their complaint centers less on receiving a grade for their work and more on receiving anything other than an "A" for it. And, you see, that's the crux of the matter.

Some of my students are under the delusion that I'm somehow obligated to give them an "A" regardless of what they hand in. When I ask what other class they have that operates like that, they don't have an answer. After all, even a creative writing assignment has to have some structure and follow grammatical guidelines in order to be understood.

Having attended conferences for art educators, I have found those holding to both sides of this debate to be rather vocal. Some teachers think it meaningless for them to "grade" a student's creative output. For them, grades are hurtful, even harmful, to the development of the child and her artistic growth. On the other side of the aisle, they believe that art education is like any other field of study where effective grading serves the student as skills are taught and craftsmanship is nurtured.

So, what are your thoughts on this topic?
If you're a parent, what are your attitudes towards your son/daughter's artistic production? Have you had run-ins with your child's art teacher? What was the issue?
If you're an art educator, what is your philosophy about grading your elementary, middle or high school students' creative output? What does your rubric look like?
I appreciate your feedback!

Spotlight: Tom Brown, plein air painter

Back in January, I posted my first artist spotlight by highlighting Joyce Washor and her wonderful work. This time around, I am choosing California plein air oil painter Tom Brown.

American impressionist and television host, Tom Brown also teaches "artists how to paint through oil painting workshops and art instruction CDs and DVDs." My experience from visiting his blog is that his primary subject is the landscape (which he encourages artists to record en plein air); however, on Tom's studio site you see still life done with equal aplomb. There's also an occasional figurative work as well, such as the playful A Little Bird Told Me.

Regarding his blog, Tom's paintings stand out well on the black background; rather glowing thanks to his deft handling of light and vibrant brushwork. Each work is often accompanied by an anecdotal listing of appropriate length. Tom's email address is listed under his work's associated information if you wish to purchase any of the pieces listed on his blog. He paints exclusively in oils. What I love about his oil paintings is his brushwork; so confident and expressive. But, you should expect that from a plein air painter, right? True, but it doesn't stop there.

His artwork has a freshness to it that I enjoy so much. So much so, that I purchased a painting from him in February! Tom Brown understands light and its affect upon his subject, as seen in another favorite of mine, Light Across the Water from March of 2009. In addition, he is a most adept draftsman as you'll see in the series of sketches, Palm Trees & Workshop Studies. These drawings are wonderful notans that capture a spontaneity consistent with Tom's paintings. I think you'll agree.

I encourage you to take a moment and visit Tom Brown's art blog and congratulate him on his contributions to the artist community. You leave refreshed and wanting to get outside and paint. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Painting values from life: black and white geometric grouping, student work

So far, over the past two posts, I've highlighted four students and their paintings of cubes and spheres. The third project my Introduction to Painting students worked on was a grouping of geometric solids.

I have to admit that I over-extended my students with this particular exercise. Though I'm a firm believer in challenging people so they can grow, this project was too much of a leap for them. Neither I nor my students were particularly happy with the results. What I ended up doing with them individually was to look at snapshots within their work that showed me they were building upon and applying the skills and techniques they've been developing from the beginning. Having said that, here are the two student pieces ...








Student #1
What he did well:
  • Rendering some of the values and shadows effectively (see left side of piece)
  • Determining the perspective of the boxes well
  • Maintaining the proportional relationship between the objects
  • Centering the grouping well considering its complexity
What he needs to work on:
  • Rendering his shapes crisply so they look substantive, less fuzzy
  • Completing each object equally so no one element is left as seemingly unfinished
  • Ensuring that the shadows (both on and between the objects) clearly communicate the position of the light source
  • Comparing the value relationships in his painting with those on the still life to ensure the composition coheres
  • Understanding how layering operates within a painting so that objects communicate a believable sense of space







Student #2
What she did well:
  • Rendering her edges crisply so objects don't look fuzzy
  • Maintaining the proportional relationship between the objects
  • Centering the grouping well considering its complexity

What she needs to work on:
  • Rendering her shadows effectively
  • Completing each object equally so no one element is left as seemingly unfinished
  • Maintaining proper perspective within the composition so some shapes don't appear distorted
  • Ensuring that the shadows (both on and between the objects) clearly communicate the position of the light source
  • Understanding how layering operates within a painting so that objects communicate a believable sense of space
Project Overview
As I stated at the beginning of this post, I made an error in judgment with this assignment. I should have set up a couple of small geometric groupings instead of one large one. It would have made for a less frustrating assignment for them. As such, no one really rendered the grouping well. At least, the concepts from the first and second assignments that were difficult for my newbie painters provided opportunity for practice and reinforcement with this :
  • Composing your painted space
  • Rendering shapes effectively by maintaining consistent angles (i.e., perspective) for each form
  • Translating the effects of light as they pass across a three dimensional solid
  • Using value (instead of line) to delineate edges
  • Achieving a sense of space through proper placement and effective use of shadow
Space Planning
Centering objects or composing objects within a painting is forever the headache regardless of your skill level. It takes practice and know-how to make judgment calls on what to include and not include. As with the other two assignments, the issue was centering the objects and not making them too big or too small. The students were not permitted to remove or ignore objects at this time. Laziness reared its ugly head again as many students refused to redraw their work once they got far enough along to realize it was off center or that the elements weren't going to work.

Perspective
I reminded the students of the simple formula for rendering a solid. Namely, you begin with the bottom angle--double checking the lines of your angle using your paint brush--and then fill in the rest of the form using lines that are perpendicular and parallel to the bottom angle you started with. While this technique is not 100% foolproof it provided them with something tangible to get them started and help them achieve more naturalistic results.

As with the first two students, student #2 got the bottom angle correct but when she rendered the top of the square in the center she opened up the shape making it appear she could see more of the top than she actually could.

Value
Ensuring a sense of continuity between values and shapes within the composition by asking oneself "Does the value I just painted appear elsewhere in the composition?" was something I brought up and tried to hammer home with my students. A couple "got" it and implemented it but only to a small degree because they stopped remembering to ask themselves that question as their work progresses.

Many of the students stopped looking at the real-world still life and started making up values they thought should be there only to realize that sections of their paintings no longer looked coherent. As I walked around observing their work, I found myself reminding them that value is a tough concept because it's not only about seeing the value but putting it on canvas.

Overall, lesson learned ... by the student and the teacher!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Painting values from life: black and white spheres, student work

Yesterday's post highlighted two of my Introduction to Painting students. The classes first project was to render cubes in black, gray and white that were set up in the center of the room. The goal was to teach them to painting values from life. None of my students had painted before so the outcome was a good one; most of them did well. Today's post reinforces this as I focus on two other pieces of work from two other students.

The second project was to introduce another geometric shape, this time a sphere. If you have recommendations for additional projects to teach these concepts or you have changes to these projects please let me know.








Student #1
What he did well:
  • Seeing the value changes as light passed over each form
  • Rendering the forms' values with paint
  • Maintaining a circular shape
  • Spacing his objects consistently (both on canvas and between his objects)
What he needs to work on:
  • Communicating space through the effective use of shadows (he simply didn't put them in)
  • Rendering his shapes so edges are crisp and the gray underpainting isn't visible








Student #2
What she did well:
  • Seeing the value changes as light passed over each form
  • Rendering the forms' values with paint (though her forms look a little lumpy in spots)
  • Spacing his objects consistently (both on canvas and between his objects)
  • Integrating the shapes with the space using shadow
What she needs to work on:
  • Maintaining a circular shape (when reviewing her work, we both agreed that her shapes were a little sloppy)
  • Communicating space through the effective use of shadows (he simply didn't put them in)
  • Shaping shadows so they are more naturalistic given the light source's location
Project Overview
As I indicated earlier, this lesson is deceptive due to the many layers and concepts students have to integrate into applicable skills. These can be difficult to "get" all at once:
  • Composing your painted space
  • Rendering shapes effectively
  • Translating the effects of light as they pass across a three dimensional solid
  • Using value (instead of line) to delineate edges
  • Achieving a sense of space through effective use of shadow
Space Planning
For this exercise, the issue was centering the objects and not making them too big or too small. So, it wasn't too complicated and the issue for many of my students was laziness in not wanting to make changes or start over it once they did it once. Making judgment calls about possibly excluding objects for to increase focus or add interest didn't come into play for this exercise.

Shape and Perspective
Integrating objects into a believable environment for this type of exercise centered on creating believable circular shapes, rendering the light passing across the form so that the shapes look hard and not lumpy and placing naturalistic shadows relevant to the light source. In my demonstration, I showed students how to adjust the shape and size of their circular form. You'll notice in that demonstration, the black sphere still remained rather un-circular while the other two were corrected.

For most of the students, the shadows proved challenging; getting their shape and perspective took some time and individual teaching. I'm sure I'll need to reinforce that lesson when circular shapes are reintroduced in a full still life setup in a few of weeks.

Value
Value has got to be one of the toughest concepts to master because it's not merely about seeing (which is problem #1) but also about translating it to canvas now that you know what you're looking at.

When I first taught this lesson last semester, I had the students do a color chart and simple value scale. I didn't have this semester's students do that because of the time involved. That was a mistake. I was surprised that I had a couple of students who didn't see the differences in dark and light at all; they were completely baffled. While they somewhat get it now, I think doing a simple value scale would help.

To get my students started, I have them "sketch" on the canvas using thinned-out paint. This is hardly new or revolutionary. However, in starting this way many of my students got stuck in "coloring book mode." You know, outline it and then fill it in. I had to remind them that the real world doesn't have edges (i.e., it isn't outlined) and that outlining is merely a convention artists use to talk about changes in value, color or space. Seeing things three dimensionally is something we take for granted until we have to take the 3-D world and translate it on a 2-D surface.

Recommendations Anyone?
Overall, I think these two particular students did real well with this second exercise. In an upcoming post, you'll see how others managed the follow-up exercise rendering a geometric grouping. As always, your feedback and thoughts are coveted--especially if you have recommendations for additional exercises or modifications to my approach outlined above to teach these basic painting principles.

Black and White Geometric Shapes: My High School Student's Work

As promised (okay, maybe a little late), I'm posting a couple of my student's pieces from last month's projects in my Introduction to Painting class. The first assignment was to render three cubes in black, gray and white. The objects were set up in the center of the room with appropriate lighting. Overall, most of my students did well considering none of them had ever painted before. I'm going to highlight two students who did particularly well.

The students' work that I'm highlight today shows a few issues that were prevalent in the class that caused performance hiccups here and there. If you have recommendations how I might better teach these principles, please don't hesitate to let me know!







Student #1

What he did well:
  • Seeing the value changes as light passed over each form
  • Rendering the forms' values with paint
What he needs to work on:
  • Spacing his objects, both on the canvas and from one cube to the next
  • Maintaining consistent perspective (notice how you can see too much of the tops of his boxes because the back angle/edges of the white and gray boxes do not match the bottom angle/edges; the form ends up looking distorted)
  • Rendering shadows consistently (notice the shadow for the white box is hard while the other two are more naturalistic)
  • Communicating space (the backdrop was right up against the cubes so their shadow should be traveling up the backdrop and not giving the impression they are going off the edge of a table)






Student #2

What she did well:
  • Seeing the value changes as light passed over each form
  • Rendering the forms' values with paint
  • Spacing her objects consistently (both on canvas and between her objects)
  • Maintaining proper perspective for each cube
  • Translating the shadows consistently
What she needs to work on:
  • Communicating space (as with student #1, she didn't notice that the shadows interacting with the backdrop so it appears that they travel off the edge of the table; also, her horizon line places her shapes into the backdrop)
  • Defining edges using value instead of an outline
  • Rendering her shapes so edges are crisp and the forms look hard versus soft
Project Overview
This lesson is deceptive: there are many layers and concepts contained in it that make it very difficult to carry off effectively for the first-time painter:
  • Composing your painted space
  • Rendering shapes effectively by maintaining consistent angles (i.e., perspective) for each form
  • Translating the effects of light as they pass across a three dimensional solid
  • Using value (instead of line) to delineate edges
  • Achieving a sense of space through effective use of shadow
Space Planning
Centering objects or composing objects within a painting is forever the headache whether you're a newbie or an old hat at painting (or drawing). It takes practice and know-how to make judgment calls on what to include and not include. For this exercise, the issue was centering the objects and not making them too big or too small. So, it wasn't too complicated and the issue for many of my students was laziness in not wanting to make changes or start over it once they did it once.

Perspective
In the beginning of the lesson when I did my demonstration lesson, I gave them a simple formula for rendering a solid. Namely, you begin with the bottom angle--double checking the lines of your angle using your paint brush--and then fill in the rest of the form using lines that are perpendicular and parallel to the bottom angle you started with. While this technique is not 100% foolproof it provided them with something tangible to get them started and help them achieve more naturalistic results.

Many of my students (just like student #1) made the mistake that I find many first-time painters (as well as draftsmen) make: he got the bottom angle correct but when he rendered the top of the solid he opened up the shape making it appear he could see more of the top than he actually could. All of my students could see when they got the angle incorrect but, ironically, none of them could fix it without direction.

Value
Value has got to be one of the toughest concepts to master because it's not merely about seeing (which is problem #1) but also about translating it to canvas now that you know what you're looking at.

When I first taught this lesson last semester, I had the students do a color chart and simple value scale. I didn't have this semester's students do that because of the time involved. That was a mistake. I was surprised that I had a couple of students who didn't see the differences in dark and light at all; they were completely baffled. While they somewhat get it now, I think doing a simple value scale would help.

To get my students started, I have them "sketch" on the canvas using thinned-out paint. This is hardly new or revolutionary. However, in starting this way many of my students got stuck in "coloring book mode." You know, outline it and then fill it in. I had to remind them that the real world doesn't have edges (i.e., it isn't outlined) and that outlining is merely a convention artists use to talk about changes in value, color or space. Seeing things three dimensionally is something we take for granted until we have to take the 3-D world and translate it on a 2-D surface.

Recommendations Anyone?
Overall, I think these two particular students did real well with this first exercise. In upcoming posts, you'll see how others managed the follow-up exercises using a sphere and a geometric grouping. As always, your feedback and thoughts are coveted--especially if you have recommendations for additional exercises or modifications to my approach outlined above to teach these basic painting principles.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Black and White In-Class Studies (Part 2)

I wanted to post another simple demonstration lesson today so you have some context for the student work you'll see tomorrow.

Much like yesterday's painting, this one also focuses on noticing and recording light passing across simple geometric forms. The goal wasn't to fully complete it but to render the three spheres against the foreground and background. While this demonstration didn't illustrate the nuances of each surface--dull or shiny--of the three spheres as well as I'd like. It did provide guidance on painting a three dimensional sphere and showed how foreground and background color impact the perception of values. One of the primary purposes for this demo was to illustrate how to correct the shape and size of their spheres. You'll notice the black remains, um, un-circular. The other two were corrected.

I felt rushed during this one. I can't say this isn't the case for most demos I do. Since nearly all of my students have no prior knowledge of art or its practice, they are not given to sitting still and gleaning insight from someone while he paints--even though I talk them through the what and why I'm doing what I do. They want to jump in and start despite the fact they don't know what they are doing. While I try to nurture their push to get started it rarely reaps the rewards I seek for them and I find myself doing mini-demonstrations for many students to help them "get it."

Today, I used direct instruction as I started a simple color still life of one object. So, I did something and then they followed after me. I monitored their work accordingly. I'll be curious to see it's long term benefit, if any. I feel I must keep trying different approaches to getting them to attend.

I'll be curious what your thoughts are as you see a few pieces they've done.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Black and White In-Class Studies (Part 1)

Sorry I've been away so long. Things have been rather challenging at school, plus my kids and I have been playing dueling illnesses. But, I'm back and purpose to post more regularly. To that end, let me share what has been going on at school with my high school painting students.

I start my students out with basic exercises: studying simple geometric forms and translating them in black, gray and white (first) and color (second). The first image presented here actually records two different in-class demonstrations I quickly did prior to the students beginning their work. I'll post student samples tomorrow.

Despite the extreme difficulty in helping my students see and successfully record a believable black and white value scale, I have to admit some of them did the first assignment well. None of these students has ever painted so please bear that in mind when I show you a couple student examples tomorrow.

My classroom setup includes a large rectangular table in the center of the room. I cover this table with one of my felt cloths. I have a 1/2" pvc pipe that I clip another piece of felt to and suspend it the length of the table. It works well in permitting me to set up an additional still life on the other side of the table. I'll try to include a picture of this table setup for you tomorrow, as well.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Aging Well: Permanence and Water Soluble Oils (Water Soluble Oils, Part 3)

Aging well for an artist is a double-edged sword, isn't it? On the one hand, we ourselves experience the fullness of time; our eyesight weakens, our hands don't always catch on to what our brains tell them to do and so on. With the other hand--and more relevant to this discussion--comes the bittersweet reality that what we create here on earth will also suffer at the hands of time.

I call it bittersweet because many of the finer things in life become better with age--just like we hope our work will do. And, that is our expectation more often than not. We expect fancy restaurants to present us with a wine list befitting their three- and four-star ratings. We expect older homes to have a charm that newer constructions simply don't possess. Though in the US we don't see this as much, but elsewhere in the World, the elderly are looked on as vessels with something meaningful to impart from their well-lived years on this planet.

And so it is with the works of artists. My students are often aghast at the prices fetched for masterworks. In an effort to pull them out of their consumable- and entertainment-driven stupor, I like to point out most ancient civilizations aren't remembered for their dignitaries or sports; rather it is the art and literature they created that stands the test of time.

Suffice it to say, the paintings that artists create will undergo changes because of time. The important issue to be discussed presently is how will water soluble oil paints stand up to those imminent changes? On the whole, the evidence would indicate very well.

In a previous post, I introduced the major players and their water soluble brands. Standing behind these players looms the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), and their tests form the benchmark of light fastness, or how much exposure it take before colors begin to degrade. Their work is essential because it helps ensure the artwork that I have in my living room will look the same when it is handed down to my great-great-granddaughter in 75-100 years.

There are several factors that affect permanency. One is application. It doesn't matter how good you think you are; if you don't follow time-honored rules of painting then your work will suffer. Winsor & Newton sums up those rules well (emphasis mine):
  • Fat over lean (flexible over less flexible). When oil painting in layers, each successive layer must be more flexible than the one underneath. This rule is maintained by adding more medium to each successive layer.
  • Thick over thin. Thick layers of oil colour are best applied over thin under layers. Thin layers on impasto paintings are likely to crack.
  • Slow drying colours should not form continuous under layers as any faster drying layers on top may crack.
Another issue affecting permanence is lighting. UV lighting damages paint. Period. Thus, we have museums with special lights, darkened rooms for more sensitive mediums such as pastel, UV glazes and special UV glass covering up priceless artworks. It's impossible to oversee where and in what light your work will be seen after it's purchased. However, informing your clients of the effects of UV light on painted surfaces would be a kind way for them to protect their investment . After all, most buyers aren't conservationists so any advice you give them may get you more sales. In essence, you caring for your client is also you caring for your artwork. (Can you hear it? It's Elton John singing "Circle Of Life.")

The following have specifications which either specifically mentions ASTM ratings or utilizes internal testing protocols based off of the ASTM standards. Click the links below to visit the technical specifications and color charts. (You may find the color charts helpful before you try one of these brands:
The fact that a company may choose to conduct its own tests based on ASTM guidelines shouldn't necessarily raise red flags for an artist. Why? First, these companies have been around for a long time. This means they have spent time creating processes to make their business better. Secondly, you can do what I did and cross-reference the information on the manufacturer's primary product. If those products use the same rating system as their professional-quality oil colors then you know their water soluble line is equally important to them. And, thirdly, we're dealing with companies with reputations they need to uphold. They can't afford to mislead the public and thereby destroy the brand they've spent millions of dollars trying to build.

So, there you have it. I hope that this gives you a springboard upon which to learn more on your own about these companies and their fine products. Any questions or comments, please let me know.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Still Think Oil and Water Don't Mix? Think Again. (Water Soluble Oils, Part 2)

Sorry I've been remiss in posting. My wife and I got sick concurrently with two different things. Then our 4-year old got sick. Ah, such is the life of a parent.

As I indicated in my first post about water-soluble oils, I discovered a book by Sean Dye called Painting with Water-Soluble Oils that introduced me to a new product, transformed my understanding of oil paints and revealed a practical way for me to return to painting.

Water soluble (water-mixable or water miscible) oils are similar in composition to traditional oil paints except that the oil medium in these paints has been altered on the molecular level to allow for water dilution and clean-up. So, the old axiom of water and oil not mixing isn’t true in this case. I’ve read a few online posts that the manufacturers use detergent to make the water solubility occur, but I was not able to confirm this through any legitimate source. Therefore, I would list such claims as questionable. Collateral I was able to find from the different manufacturers points to the chemically-altered makeup of the paints and not a simple additive formula (though additives do play a role). While not the definitive authority on the subject, Wikipedia concisely ascribes it to "the use of an oil medium in which one end of the molecule has been altered to bind loosely to water molecules...."

I found six (sorry, Wikipedia) manufacturers and their respective water soluble oil paint brand. I've listed them below alphabetically:
You might be thinking, "Jeff, are these professional artist paints?" I searched literature and here's what their sites or representatives say:
  • Grumbacher refers to MAX as their "professional line of water miscible oil colors." (Note: MAX2, which has been discontinued, was their student-grade.")
  • Similarly, Holbein speaks of their Duo Aqua brand as "an artist quality pigment in water-soluble linseed oil."
  • LUKAS' Berlin brand is listed as "professional quality."
  • Winsor & Newton's Artisan brand is a curious case. Their well-designed website doesn't specifically list the paints as professional-grade; however, when I emailed W&N's customer service I received the following email back from them (bolding mine, for emphasis):

    Thank you for your enquiry. Artisan currently does not quite match our
    Artists' Oil Colour range in terms of size of range and pigment loading (in
    certain cases). However, in terms of permanence and colours included in the
    range it definitely meets the stringent requirements of professional
    artists. For example, it contains "genuine" cadmium colours, cerulean blue
    and cobalt blue.

    The Artisan range is for professional artists and is used successfully by a
    large number of professional artists worldwide.

  • Van Gogh H2Oil paints are not listed anywhere (either manufacturer or retail sites) as being professional.
As Wikipedia conventiently points out, "The Royal Talens and Holbein paints do not use the traditional pigments that are based on cadmium and other heavy metals, which further reduces the toxicity risks of working with them."

Well, that concludes the discussion for now. I encourage you to check out the manufacturer websites. There's a wealth of information out there on these paints. I've linked to the retailers selling some of the paints. I believe all of them offer starter sets if you'd like to experiment which I'd encourage you to do.

Up next, I'll specifically address the feel of those paint brands I've worked with and what my results were when using them. If you've worked with water soluble oil paints, please let me know about your experience and what brand you used. I would love to hear from you!

Monday, January 12, 2009

That Pink Thing, alla prima oil painting

That Pink Thing was the last alla prima oil painting I did for my still life class I started in October. I have to say this was also one of the paintings I liked least from my class. While I liked the composition and a few of the components (e.g., the tablecloth and acorn squash, in particular), I made poor choices in the execution of this piece.

I zoomed in some on the objects versus working smaller including more of the space surrounding the piece. While the colors harmonized overall, my application of the copper bowl wasn't as successful as I had done previously (e.g., It's Not Easy Being Blue and Fruit with Vessels. I'm probably reacting to the softness of the edge which makes the bowl feel more ceramic than metal. The white vessel next to the copper bowl proved the most disappointing because I screwed up the perspective of the blue stripe. I may go back and simply paint over the area to make the stripe nonexistent; you know, blend it in more. We'll see. Oh, and did I mention "that pink thing" in the back drove me nuts because I simply hated it. I'm sure most of my disdain stems from my not doing fabric well. But, as I posted previously, I'm going to make that something to work on in 2009.

It saddened me to realize that the new art classes will be starting at Fleisher in another couple of weeks. I had considered signing up again with Giovanni Casadei, but decided to hold off and do some work on my own at home. I am reviewing my goals for this year and I'll probably post something related to that as I've become more intentional about those musings as of late.

On a final note, I will do a better job at photographing my work. Susan Martin Spar over at her art blog The Daily Muse recommended that I include close-ups of the surface to highlight my brushwork. I'll be more diligent with either doing such close-ups or making certain that when you click on the painting itself the enlargement sufficiently displays the surface texture. Thanks for your recommendation Susan!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Spotlight: Joyce Washor, Small Oil and Watercolor Paintings

I've decided to take time on my blog to occasionally highlight a particular artist whose work I appreciate. It's my way of giving back to those who don't know me but have inspired me with their work and dedication to our craft.

Joyce Washor has a new painting up on her art blog simply titled, Flower Composition. First, I love the painting. Second, it's actually a mini-tutorial detailing her style of working. Washor wrote a book called Big Art, Small Canvas which details how to compose and produce postcard-sized paintings.

When you visit Joyce's website, you'll notice a few things. Joyce's paintings are 3"x4" in size. Though small, I think they are potent. She does an excellent job of bringing expression to her subjects with minimal strokes. Washor modulates form with a wonderful play of light and color. Her subjects include florals like Floral Arrangements, still lifes such as Still Life with Honey Jar and Sunflower and landscapes like Landscape Interiors with Steps.

Please take a moment, visit Joyce Washor's art blog and look at what she has contributed and continues to bring to the artist community at large. She has another website that includes About, Resume, Workshops and a few other sections. Enjoy!