Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lesson idea: The Unfinished Puzzle - Digital Art

 This project is the first one for the Graphic Design/Photoshop class. Students are required to take two foundational pre-reqs in the art catalog (2D Design and Interactive Art History) in order to enroll in the course but most of them have no previous experience with the Photoshop program and limited experience with photo manipulation on the whole - usually it's with web-based programs like Picnik. The course (designed/written/instructed by yours truly) assumes no previous experience of digital art creation but the studio pre-reqs that they all should have taken help because I don't have to teach the elements and principles of art and design. In my own experience with teaching this kind of art, the computer and software presents a huge challenge for the students in and of itself.

Some background of this course that you can skip reading if you only want to know about this lesson idea: This is my third year teaching this course and I really love teaching it. When I first stepped into this position this class was a relatively new course that had little to no curriculum/lesson plans to start with. The instructor before me had limited experience with Photoshop themselves and even less experience teaching a computer-based course. When the course was handed over to me I was basically told that I could build it completely from the ground up if I'd like to so I did just that.

One of the greatest challenges for me with this class was figuring out how to teach it. I stepped into it WITHOUT textbook and if I wanted the kids to do anything I had to do things step-by-step and hand-over-hand style. Before I even started the class I knew this just wouldn't work. There were some tutorials written by the instructor before me but just by looking at them I knew that they would need to be greatly expanded upon because the students would whip through them very quickly. So what did I do? I combed through Google's search lists of Photoshop tutorials that fulfilled the following requirements:
  1. It had to yield a piece of visual art that was reasonably impressive to look at despite the fact that it might not take a lot of skill/Photoshop understanding to create to begin with. 
  2. It had to focus more on creating something new vs. simply tweaking what was already there (ex. changing the exposure of a picture) in order to fully teach the spectrum of abilities that Photoshop enables the user to have.
  3. It had to be compatible with Photoshop CS2. If it wasn't, it had to be something I could rewrite (within reason) and adapt to Photoshop CS2.
After a year of doing the above and hours upon hours rewriting just about every tutorial (I could find) into PDFs that were usually as many as 30 pages in length (Yes, that's right! Don't ever let anyone tell you all an Art teacher does is make "things that are cool." At this point I'm a regular pro at some serious technical writing!), I threw in the proverbial towel and found a great Photoshop manual/guide called the Photoshop Wow! Book. Last year we used the CS2 version but this year we upgraded our software to CS4 so we are now using the CS3/4 version (as linked above). It has some very awesome and easy to follow tutorials that really stretch skill sets to the full range that Photoshop offers and it's awesome to use even now that I have a whole archive of my own Photoshop tutorials. 
 This lesson idea is one that is NOT found within the class textbook. I found this project idea online in a tutorial that I had to rewrite into a CS2 version and you can find it to if you Google for something along the lines of "Photoshop puzzle effect" or the link. [Note: I have a tutorial written up for it in a PDF and I will gladly forward it to you if you'd like to use it but I will not make it available for you here because it's not my original lesson plan.]

I like to do this lesson idea to kick off the Graphic Design class because it uses very simple functions within Photoshop that starts to familiarize the students with the layout of the software features while still creating something impressive enough to look at and provides a feeling that "I MADE this!" It also draws in classic art teachings and forces them to consider visual texture, composition, correct use of space, and depth/relief to create realistic feeling of dimension on an otherwise flat surface.

The students do a tutorial version of this with a self-selected stock photo and then they do the tutorial directions again with a photo image from their own personal archives. While the students are working, I constantly circulate the classroom and remind them that the goal is to render their photographs into something that realistically resembles a jigsaw in process. It helps them to do something more than just texturize their pictures with the puzzle effect and definitely steers them in a way that is a lot more well defined.

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