We are all born talented.
I am not even going to qualify the above statement: I don’t care how talented, or whether there’s some hierarchy; creativity is part of human nature, some might say our most defining trait. We are not born skilled, this is why education is needed.
I am having these thoughts as I watch my students take their last exams. With one eye on the blue Mediterranean — 27°C today and the beach just a stroll away!— and the other on their concentrating faces, if I could distill an essence, it would be this: Stay Original!
Art education helps in this, when it instills the things it’s supposed to:
- Refusal to accept the first solution as the best solution. This is the quintessence of a creative life. To approach the same problem from another angle, and another, and another. Not just the opposite of Learning by Rote – it’s very annihilation! Amen.
- Organisation of projects and of self, understanding that creating is a process, and planning it out– what a life skill! I know many adults who will never grasp this. Courage in self-presentation and therefore accountability: if you are going to show your work and/or speak about it, you need to be able to justify your process. The rewards of accepting good or bad criticism are invaluable to a person’s emotional intelligence and growth.
- Eschew the Copy-Paste Mentality. It’s almost embarassing to repeat this, because it really should be covered by the other two points, but we live in a world where access online is practically a human right, and we need to understand the responsibilities that follow. The internet is a tool; we are the craftsman. We cannot blame it, disclaim it, or abuse it. Everyone goes online for help, verification, inspiration. We are still responsible for how we present to the world!
Graduates! Though they may try to stifle you, mislead you by example, swamp you with questionable facts and methods: Stay true, stay original, stay creative!
What an intense month it’s been (obviously not in my blogging activity, as you may have noticed)! I know I should be blogging about summer, and the beach, but soon enough. I’ll get to it!
Ages 17-18 (Third year of Lyceum)
Sping has been super busy -as usual- full of projects, paperwork as well as the Easter break. Catching up just as it is about to expire, here is one of the things that has kept us busy: a project we had been working with in my class of seniors (17-18 yrs).
Our piece began as an attempt to cut down costs: we couldn’t afford supplies, but wanted something large and three-dimensional. Using recycled materials isn’t just better for the earth, it’s cheap, and the materials are readily available.
Drawing from previous experience, we came up with the idea of creating animals out of plastic bottles and papier mache. We were given the subject “Bridging Cultures”, for which horses and their relationship to humankind seemed the obvious leap (no pun intended). Gradually we thought of a board to anchor the pieces to, so the idea of a modified chessboard came about, with horses form Art History painted in the squares. We kept the pieces to a minimum, with a castle (or rook), a pawn and a queen.
The art history influences were: cave paintings, pottery from the Archaic period in Cyprus and Greece, the Parthenon Marbles, Byzantine icons, Nordic carvings and Degas! The model for our Rook (formerly a large juice container) was Kolossi and other Cyprus castles. Our Queen was inspired by various paintings, and was meant to allude to any one of the queens of Cyprus, actual or legendary.
Plastic parts were put together with duct tape. Recycled printer paper was glued in strips to create volume, magazine paper and tissue paper for more delicate work. Tissue paper is excellent for creating a “skin” on top of the finished horses. The painting was done in acrylics, our only luxury!
If you live in a part of the world where Carnival is celebrated, you’ll know that this is the time of year we think about disguise. Young and old dress up and go out playing pranks on each other, much like Halloween, except in Feb-March! Carnival is like a last hurrah before Lent, the austere seven weeks that precede (and prepare for) Easter. The spirit of Carnival is decidedly pagan in its origin though, very dionysian in its exuberance.
Especially if you happen to live a city that is carnival-crazy, as I currently am, it’s a good time to experiment with the idea of identity with students. Get them to jot down some ideas about what disguise really means: do we reveal something more than our day-today persona when we adopt a disguise?
These notan-like masks were made by kids in the 13-14 age group. Half the mask was cut out of a dark (in this case black) piece of card. The pieces were carefully cut whole with a cutter, and saved in a plastic sleeve until time came to paste. Important: lines must be thickened to shapes so we can cut them out, and this is the greatest challenge (I’ve taught a version of Notan to different ages for 12 years.)
When all the pieces have been cut, it is time to glue them onto the background. This should be double in area. For instance, if the dark piece is A4 then the lighter, background piece of paper should be A3.
Sketches are a must, not just because it builds good habits, but because the concept of positive-negative can take some getting used to.
Key vocabulary: symmetry, reverse, balance. Bright, contrasting colours can be used as well, to great effect.
It’s not because Thursdays are for throwbacks! Nor do I subscribe to some kind of Hashtag Nation agenda. Somedays, it’s just nice to find something one made years ago and not entirely hate it!
I’ve done #throwbackthursday before, I won’t deny it, though usually it was of a page in a moleskine, from a trip somewhere. An appropriate hashtag, because nostalgia! (A bit nerdy, but nostalgia nevertheless: “I went on holiday, and all I got to do was draw and paint in my sketchbook”.) This post is different, in that it is not place-specific, and not drawn from observation. It’s from 2-3 years ago, and was just something that came out of my head! So, I can’t really describe it, or say something about the place. Even though it’s more vivid to me than any actual place I’ve been to.
I can say that it is a sketch, that it is pencil and a little bit of coloured pencil on paper. Like a lot of my personal work, it is about memory, with imagined botanical structures and human anatomy used as a framework. It’s one of a series, actually, and someday it will be finalised and all on display. Just like I have it in my head.
Every once in a while there comes a time in the school year, when all boxes get ticked, and we Art Teachers are able to dexterously wear all our different hats, without feeling that one is to the detriment of the other. Syllabus gets taught, students learn something new about the Creative Process, costs are minimal, and all for a good cause. If that doesn’t fill a teacher with the season’s cheer, then I don’t know what will!
With the holiday season upon us, we were asked to come up with cheap and creative solutions for the school’s Christmas Bazaar, a charity fund raiser.
These cards were printed using collagraphy techniques, a great way to recycle odd bits and ends, for schools with tiny budgets, like ours. The plates were cut from the backs of old sketchpads – strong thick board is the best. PVA glue was used to adhere various surfaces to the plate: we used bits of card stock, string, sundry ribbons and a bunch of textured wallpaper swatches we found.
We printed using rollers and linoleum inks, in two, sometimes three colours each time. The plate was partly inked with the darker colour on top of the lighter one, to gorgeous and unexpected effect! The element of surprise made everything so much more fun: the kids loved it, and it was great to watch them get won over by the process.
Add-ons such as cut-out stars, bows and all-that-glitters are inevitable and -let’s face it- appropriate in this case. For me, it’s the atmospheric happy-accident quality of this technique that has been so inspiring. Students embraced this project every step of the way, and I think we can expect a few non-seasonal collagraphs in the future! Yay!