Tuesday, April 14, 2009

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.

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 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.