Sunday, July 5, 2009

Go Big or Go Home!

To be truthful, I am kind of an old curmudgeon. My mother claims I was born that way. I came out of the womb and immediately had issues with most of what was going on around me. Being the old bastard that I am, I was a bit nervous about doing a workshop with a bunch of teenagers. I did not really get along with teenagers when I was one myself.

Despite all of that, I just had a great time teaching a class with seven high school kids from Iowa. Mrs. Bereskin is a wonderful art teacher that works very hard at making sure they see a wide variety of art, have lots of opportunity to visit museums and even organizes trips abroad.
She decided to organize a 4 day workshop on traditional methods of drawing and painting with me, and they drove all the way in from Iowa to do it. I didn't know much about Iowa other than that it is a mystical land to the West- and they grow corn. From this experience I discovered they are a clever and hardy people.

I have been asked a few times, "How in the heck is it you came to be teaching a class for a group from Iowa?"

Well, as it turns out, I am huge in Iowa! They freakin' love me there. I am a house hold name practically-
at least in 7 or so houses.

I did my best to introduce them to traditional methods and some bigger ideas concerning drawing and painting. The first thing was to define and explain some basic terms.
Now, of course it is crazy to believe anything life changing is going to come out of such a short class- other than the fact that it will introduce them to a more traditional way of working not available in most college situations. I treat a workshop like this as if it is a CliffsNotes version of full time training. Little more than just a quick overview of something that takes years to learn.

What are some of the major ideas I bombarded them with over the 4 days?

First I defined drawing as 'the interpretation of form'. We are often told that drawing is 'mark making', or something touchy feely having to do with self expression. While that can be true, it is basically about representing the 3D on a 2D surface. By that logic, if you are not interpreting form, you are not drawing.
A monkey with a crayon is not drawing. Squealing your tires at a stop sign is not drawing. It's mark making, but not drawing.
Again, teaching someone to faithfully interpret form can not be taught in 4 days. It probably takes closer to a year of full time study under someone that has already mastered this skill.

"Drawing is the interpretation of form." - Degas

We discussed the idea of light and shadow. Objects are made visible to us by light. If an object is lit well from a single light source, we can see that there is a definable light and dark side. There is a shadow line, that separates those two sides. We must first understand that concept. The light side is for interpreting form. Form is not for the shadow side, but is left for showing atmosphere, which we do by keeping the shadows flat. Look at the shadows, not into them. The dark is scary, stay out of there.

Squint! By closing one eye and blurring or squinting with the other, we simplify the scene down to the essentials.

Drawing and painting is really all about relationships. These relationships are discovered by looking, comparing and questioning. This way one determine proportions, values, colors, shape and edges. By being ever critical, you can learn your subject with every stroke. "Is it lighter or darker?" "Does it need more red, yellow, or blue?" "Is it warmer or cooler?"

I explained the novel idea of making sure your image will fit on the page by starting with the largest of measurements first- Top and Bottom. If you have ever been in a figure drawing class you will occasionally hear someone say they ran out of room for the feet or that they can't fit the head. If that every happens to you in the future, you have my permission to smack them in the back of the head with your sketchbook. Your main job when working is to at least make sure you can fit the subject in the square of the page. That is basic composition- arranging in a square. Always work big to small. Details are not as important as everyone thinks. Adding detail to a bad drawing will not make it better. Putting the features on a misshapen head will not make it look more life-like. Get the big stuff right-the big proportions-the big look, and the rest will fall into place. You will see that detail is not as important as the poetic beauty of the big impression. You will also find that there is more harmony in the 'whole' and you will save yourself a lot of wasted work. Leave detail to cameras and photorealists, both of whom are just dumb machines.

"Genius lies in seeing the thing as a whole." - Joshua Reynolds

Did I mention the squinting thing?

Most of the girls had a lot of natural ability and ended up doing some nice work for the short amount of time they had to complete it.
I explained that my job in the class was not to be the host of a group Hug Fest celebrating art.
First off that would be creepy, and secondly it is just not helpful. I just stood behind them and pointed to the things that were most off in their paintings from nature. I made sure they knew their job was basically to make "this look like that". They handled it pretty well, though a few seemed to have issue with me painting on their work, but I think that is the easiest way to demonstrate a point. We are taught from an early age that anything creative we do is special and awesome, and while it may occasionally be the former, it is rarely the later. It all went pretty well and I made it the whole class without making anyone cry despite my best efforts.

The title of this post is in reference to a rally cry the girls came up with for the week- "Go Big or Go Home!"
I was so proud.
I almost cried a bit myself.

I laid in a painting for them as a demonstration, I will do a post on that painting next.

1 comment:

Patricia said...

You are big in Iowa! Just think you'll be coming here to do a Landscape Seminar in Oil this coming October ---- so you will have at least 15 more fans. Wooo-hooo!
The seminar was awesome - it was a ton of information crammed into the 4 days. Much sunk in and we are finishing up the paintings in the coming weeks during the kids free time/open studio time.
You were not a "curmudgeon" - you were funny, witty, and informative. Can't wait to work with you again. Pat