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.