30 January 2009

great shots

fortune from chinese new year now on my office door.

mapping the still life

it is so important to 9th graders to make drawings that are super realistic but they are rarely willing to put in the amount of energy needed into actually observing what's in front of them. so...i try to develop ways to trick them into doing more observing than drawing in the hopes that they will build these habits before it matters too much.

in this exercise i set up a still life and then ask them to create a representation of the set up on paper without actually drawing any of the objects. it should be detailed enough so that someone could gather all the supplies they would need and then re-build it in another location at another time.

i did this for the first time when i was teaching basic drawing at the university of iowa and i can't even remember if it was my idea or if it's one i stole from someone else. the iowa kids came up with all kinds of crazy solutions to the problem. my 9th graders are often less inventive but this year's crew did some interesting things. and they learn what they're supposed to whether or not the work they make is all that visually interesting.

advanced 2d - project 2.

i've been trying to get my advanced students to think about their theme in a more global way. so i made this chart to show them what i meant.

for this 2nd project i'm asking them to make a diptych in which the two pictures address opposite points of view on an aspect of their chosen theme. in this class i don't emphasize traditional drawing and painting. i'm more interested in seeing them spend their energy on developing sophisticated ways to communicate visually about ideas they've developed thoughtfully. so i'm seeing some interesting methods for generating imagery.

from l to r: paint on xerox, xerox transfer, collage, using the in-focus projector to create a turntable made from traditional instruments

shape collage brainstorming.

my 9th graders are starting the collage project this week. the class is very small (yes, that's the whole class seated around the table with me. sorry brooklyn teachers).

we looked at a powerpoint i made with pictures of work that focused on shapes, including cave paintings, Harriet Powers's quilts, and Matisse's collages. as we looked at the pictures we talked about how people have been using shapes to tell stories about their lives ever since the beginning of time.

after looking at the pictures we gathered around the table and did some thinking and talking about what stories revealed something about our personality. some of the stories were events we remembered and some were stories that we'd heard over and over from family and friends. some of the stories included the time d tried to to make a smoothie and forgot to put the lid on the blender, when i's family moved to japan and he was the only red-head in class, and when s took a class on fashion and all the well-dressed girls picked on her but she got an A. it was a good conversation. we'll see what they make.

27 January 2009

dancing in the studio.

this is what happens after you force 15 year old boys to draw for 2 hours.

watching students watch.

one of my students said he wanted to do some marbling for his materials project. in my head i'm thinking...marbling? that sounds kind of crafty and lame. but...in an effort to relax my inner control freakiness i stood by and watched...luckily he proved me very wrong and has made some of the most beautiful work i've seen in this studio. check out the crowd gathering to watch the process in the videos below. i'll post the results when i snap some photos of them.

26 January 2009

focusing on focusing.

on mondays my advanced 2d class draws from observation. for the first half of the term i focused on increasing their understanding of what it takes to build a drawing...working in layers, being flexible, working from the general to the specific. they seemed to get it but they haven't been observing as closely as i wanted them to.

they're the group on "the plan" after all and they tend to get silly when we work from observation. so today i decided i would provide some of the structure and they would provide the rest. they would draw tiny pine cones. i hoped the size would help them to get involved and obsessed...

i also told them they couldn't sit within 10 feet of anyone else and they had to work in silence. i recommended headphones. they got to choose large or tiny paper and the materials they wanted to work with. i advised them to think about their natural tendencies...to work small and detailed or big and sweeping and to choose wisely.

and...they did it. they worked in silence, away from each other. they spent 50 minutes observing intensely. and most of them made the best drawings i've ever seen them make.

they need that internal focus to make accurate drawings. so what is it? is it sitting instead of standing? is it working without and audience? is it the tiny objects combined with the teenage brain?

or was it me?

i sat away from them and worked on my computer while they worked, making one or two quick laps around the room. i rarely allow myself to do this. rather, i circle around like a mother hen while they draw making mental notes of who's having trouble with what and yelling out suggestions to the class. maybe they were just as relieved as i was to have some quiet for once?

this makes me think it could be interesting to have a class like this work on one tiny drawing all term long next year....

the changing still life.

this morning i did one of my favorite drawing projects with my 9th graders. i can't remember anymore which projects i invented and which i didn't...but i started using this exercise to fight the number one battle i have when teaching teenagers to draw...their inability to be flexible. they insist on getting it right on the first try or they give up. they get extremely aggravated when they realize their drawing is out of proportion and something big has to be moved...god forbid. and they do not like eraser marks or any other kind of stray marks on their work. all of this cracks me up as they want adults to move deadlines and leave their stuff all over the place but that's beside the point.

here's what i do...i set up two simple objects on a table and i tell them to make the best drawing they can of what they see using line and value. after about 15 minutes i add an object. they adjust their drawing appropriately, erasing and re-drawing as needed. i continue to add objects to the still life every 3 minutes or so until the table is full and their groans reach a certain level of drama. then...i start taking objects away every 3 minutes or so. this positively drives them over the edge. i usually leave one object on the table but i move it to a different spot. their drawings show the history of the process which i love, love, love...and they hate.

the most important part of the whole activity is the conversation we have afterward about what was frustrating about the process of making the drawing. i talk to them about how the physical activity that happened during this exercise should be happening during every drawing even when i'm not messing with the still life.

this is an exercise that several students have told me (much after the fact) really changed their thinking about what making a drawing is all about. they admitted to hating the activity, and maybe even me a little bit at the time we did it, but were thankful later on.

21 January 2009

the plan...

i came back from new york to find my room a disaster and little evidence that my advanced class got any work done at all while i was gone. they are juniors and seniors. they had assignments to complete. they have class last period on friday. in every way they are in trouble.

i saw the mess first thing when i came in yesterday and it made me very sad at first. then i got angry. then i realized that maybe i've gotten a bit lazy...a bit soft...since i started teaching at a private school. in brooklyn i never would have run a class in the relaxed way i've been running this one. i'm asking them to do very independent work and to work with very big ideas and i've given them very little structure in which to do so. they sit wherever they want, roll into class and get started on their own, and unfortunately, they're also a hilarious group of people. so they laugh a lot and i laugh a lot...this is not inherently a bad thing...but things have gotten out of control.

it occurred to me that if we are trying to master "progressive teaching" at this school maybe we need even more classroom management than we needed in brooklyn.

so i have instituted "the plan" which is basically they way i ran my classes back in brooklyn.

and of course i gave them a pretty good lecture. my life (and theirs) has been changed. they seem happier. they're making better work...and lo and behold i'm able to better record their progress because i can actually hear myself think while they're in the room.

the thing is classroom management is not only about keeping the high energy focused and the shy kids safe...it's also about creating a working environment for yourself. i think we forget that sometimes. i have to be able to do my job which involves some level of concentration. it's much calmer around here this week and i feel better able to do my job.

20 January 2009

inauguration day.

i brought in my rabbit ears from home and set them up on the television i usually show my powerpoints on. my intermediate drawing and painting class was scheduled for a double block and they're all knee deep in several projects so i just set it up and let it play. they painted and watched like they were at home. it seemed perfect...for me and for them.

at 11:15 we all gathered in the assembly hall and watched the live coverage on the big screen.

i feel lucky that my school co-ordinated this...but i have to admit that i often feel conflicted about experiencing so many big events with my students rather than with friends or family. i know most people watched at work and i did too. but i feel like i can't always experience things the way i normally would (read...crying) in front of the kids. maybe this is silly.

the experience also made me long for brooklyn to see how my former students felt about the whole event.

16 January 2009

eavesdropping on nyc school teachers...

i'm in new york city for several days and tonight riding home on the subway i was standing next to a group of 4 nyc public school teachers, all female, all over 50...and they made me happy and hopeful. first of all they were over 50 and they didn't look or sound tired, bitter, or cranky. second of all they were riding home at 11pm on a school night and they didn't look or sound tired, bitter, or cranky. third of all they didn't look or sound tired, bitter, or cranky.

but what was so exciting was the story one woman was telling the others. the staff at her school had been discussing the inauguration next week and trying to decide whether the students should see it at school and how. the school has 1300 students and they don't all fit in the auditorium and they don't have the technology to stream television in there. she explained the various scenarios they'd discussed and it seemed nothing would work.

then one of her student's parents offered to have the entire class over to her house to watch it on her tv. so this teacher got permission slips signed for each child and is planning to walk her class to this students house next tuesday to watch the inauguration. 

apparently, other parents heard about this idea and now almost every class in the building is taking a field trip to one student's house to watch the inauguration which leaves enough room in the auditorium for the classes that don't have hosts. 

THIS is how we should be solving problems. THIS is thinking outside the box. plus i love the mental image of a pile of 3rd graders gathered around a tv in someone's living room watching president obama's speech.

15 January 2009

great shots

08 January 2009

carianne's spill project.

carianne worked with my advanced 2d art students today. she talked about "spilling" paint and working from and with accidents. they loved this...naturally.

after "spilling" they looked for imagery within the spills and further developed the "spill" into a painting. the picture on the right became a design full of hearts.

07 January 2009

carianne's fruit project.

carianne taught my intermediate drawing and painting class today. she wanted to do something that shared her interest in color and observation with the kids so did a variation on an ann pibal assignment. she brought in fruits and vegetable and cut them in half in front of the students. she talked about the hundreds of colors that could be found in each and had them observe closely.

then they mixed all the colors they observed and arranged them based on proportion in a circle like you see below. the paintings were beautiful and the color combinations gave me all kinds of ideas for color schemes for my own work...or home, for that matter.

i love having the artist in residence teach my students. even though i consider myself to be pretty energetic it always reminds me of how tired i can get sometimes. they always seem to have so much enthusiasm and the kids feed off that and do just about whatever they say happily.

06 January 2009

carianne mack visits.

carianne is here this week as an artist in residence. today she talked about her work to the middle schoolers. they were hanging on her every word, especially the girls, who get so excited every time they are exposed to some new version of cool adult girl like carianne.

05 January 2009

drawing on each others drawings.

oh boy, did they hate doing this...i set up a fairly complicated still life and asked them to draw it as best they could using charcoal. after about 20 minutes i asked them to rotate 5 spots to their right, to someone else's drawing. they were to correct what they saw in front of them, erase and re-draw as they thought was necessary. some students arrived at a drawing that was better than theirs and some arrived at drawings that needed a lot of work. i had them work on an additional two drawings before returning to their own to see what had become of it.

we had a discussion about what you see when you look at someone else's drawing...how it's easier to see the mistakes and why. we talked about flexibility and how in order to make accurate drawings you need to be willing to adjust, eliminate, add, and look very closely.
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