Say What You Think!

Painting Boop Photo
Photograph © 2016 Vicki Thomas

I’ve been teaching a lot lately, both to adults and, as a Teaching Artist, to kids in school. Having been creating art, in one form or another, since I was a tiny lad, I perform a lot of procedures, make a lot of decisions on auto-pilot, almost unconsciously, when at the easel. Many of these decisions involve critical creative fundamentals. Fundamentals I should be sharing with those in my classes. I’ve found these automatically performed functions to be the most difficult to relay to students. Not because they’re difficult to explain, but because, when I’m in the zone painting, I’m unaware that I’m even performing many of them.

So, I’ve made a conscious effort to make myself aware of every step that occurs, while I’m painting. To write them down, as they occur, for later communication to those in my workshops or classes. I’ve also found that talking through the process with other creative friends, verbalizing procedures, brings these buried faceted automatics out into the light. These conversations also reveal differences in how others works, providing me with even more information to share. If out of the blue, I begin a conversation with you about paint application or simplification of forms, let me apologize in advance, know the annoyance is serving a good cause!

Lifting procedures up onto the surface has been like a trip down memory lane. “When did I pick that up, who taught me that?” It’s a realization of how very many great teachers I’ve had, how many truly accomplished artists I’ve worked beside, how much information has been passed along. I’ve been extremely fortunate! It’s important to reveal and write all this stuff down, then pay it forward!

 

Teach a man to DRAW a fish…

Art Tree Logo Graphic

I just returned from a trip to Santa Clarita, CA (a bedroom community just north of Los Angeles) to make a presentation at the ARTree, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization engaged in bringing creativity to youth and adults in the surrounding community. While the ARTree expands awareness and participation in the arts to the population in general, a primary goal of the organization is to fill the void left by cut-backs or complete elimination of the art and music programs in public schools.

My presentation covered the personal opportunities that presented themselves to me over my, now, 46 years as a professional artist. Through my partially scholarship funded education at CalArts, I was able to perform as illustrator, graphic designer, animation director, fine artist, art director, creative director, chief creative officer and even CEO, providing income for my family: opportunities that stemmed from a love of drawing as a child and the continued support of family and the art programs in public schools.

Sadly, at a time when there are more opportunities than ever before in which an individual can earn a very good living as an artist, our public education system has ear-marked art and music programs in schools as unnecessary disciplines and targets for trimming from the education budget. Through public outcry, school sports programs, also once marked for elimination were able to survive, while art and music were eliminated. Sports programs do perform a vital function keeping youth physically fit, teaching cooperation and team building towards a common goal, not to mention providing activities that engage the whole family and entire community, but I guarantee, a lot more public school graduates will have the opportunity to earn their livelihood through art, than as a professional athlete.

There has long been work for artists in the creation of illustrations or graphic designs for the advertising and editorial print industry (magazines), TV commercial industry, television and feature film animation industries, but the quickly expanding Internet and technology industry has increased the demand for artists. The ever increasing demand for web sites provides endless opportunities for artists, in their design and fabrication. Television and feature animation has gone from being a solely hand drawn and painted undertaking to a computer generated discipline, expanding the size of their creative teams 30 fold. If you doubt this, stay in your seat to read the closing credits the next time you watch an animated feature. Feature live action films, heavy in computer generated special effects, now have the same increased demand for artists. The computer game industry, as big or bigger than the feature film industry, employs myriad artist and new companies in this industry appear every day. Remember when I say computer games, that includes not only games played on computers, but those on dedicated game machines (Xbox, Sony Playstation, Nintendo), tablets, mobile phones and, now, smart watches: each separate efforts by separate creative teams. You get the picture, increases in the need for artists and increases in the use of new technologies go hand and hand.

While we’re unlikely to be able to quickly redirect our lumbering ship of state to toss life preservers to the drowning public school art and music programs, bringing them safely back on board, non-profit private sector art education organizations, like the ARTree, and local government Teaching Artist programs are there to fill the gap.

These organizations deserve your support, both as a financial contributor and, if possible, a volunteer: if not just to keep cultural participation, awareness and opportunity alive in our society, than to guarantee our populations are equipped and ready for the jobs that are available!

Who’s Teaching Who?

(Image: Drawing from upside-down reference. (Left) Reference: Picasso’s Stravinsky, (Right) Student Drawing)

I’ve volunteered as a teaching artist in the Mariposa School System for the Mariposa County Arts Council this year. I’m teaching art to two 5th grade glasses, one hour a week, over twelve weeks. I’m a little more than halfway through the session right now.

I started them off with several right brain drawing exercises: the dual human profiles that create a vase in negative space, drawing a complex image, while viewing it upside down, contour drawing without looking at your paper, etc. (one of my high school art teachers, Betty Edwards, actually wrote the book on right brain drawing techniques). Enough for them to gain a glimpse of what it feels like to draw in the right brain zone, as a seasoned artist does. Few of them could stay in the zone long, so in a short time, during every session, the buzz of talking would rise and I’d have to focus them once again, reminding them that they couldn’t be working in the right brain and talking at the same time. The left brain handles all communication. The right brain is incapable of conversation.

We soon moved on to single point (vanishing point) perspective, discussions of the events and developments that triggered the transition from representational art to abstract art, systems utilized in abstract art, actual painting using these systems and last week, team work on a large collaborative painting (the most fun, so far).

Working with these individuals, about to transition into adolescence, has been a joy and eye opening. In these two classes of 24 to 30 students each, only a small percentage, 2 or 3 students per class, show a focused interest in art. I’m guessing this aligns with the percentage of our society, as a whole, that shares this level of interest. Naturally, these students of focused interest also show the most potential (also a likely reflection of society).

More than this, to some degree, the art exercises reveal the personalities and psychological states of the students. The whole class appears to truly enjoy learning about and participating in art, but a couple students have difficulty following instructions, others ignore the exercise and draw or paint what they want, one or two ask a lot questions, a couple are insecure about whether they are doing things properly, another seeks precision, there are a couple of clowns, one does not participate and another’s actions reveal them to be working out some problems.

I wonder if exercises in other subjects reveal similar things, if the same students exhibit the same behaviors consistently across all subjects or if students respond differently to each subject? Makes me wish I had more time with these kids. Would love to see who each of these individuals becomes in the future.