Monday, October 31, 2011

Lesson idea: Alter Ego Photography - Digital

This project is a favorite of the graphic design students. Most students take the course thinking that we are going to do "cool stuff" to their photographs and are very disappointed by the fact that they don't use their cameras very much. There is actually not much photography that is required with the exception of a few projects. This one is one of them.

I first saw this project idea over five years ago when I was an avid blogger on a much lesser known blog community hub called Diaryland.  One of my fellow D-landers was a graphic designer for a major magazine publishing house in NYC and during one of her down times between deadlines, she posted some images of herself digitally cloned. I thought it was SO cool and tried it with my own self-taught photoshop skills (read: more like hacks). I was able to do it reasonably well for myself but I kind of was doing it just to see if I could do it so there was really no point to even doing it in the first place. I ended up mentally bookmarking it for a later time when it would serve a better purpose.

Three years ago (when I was blessed to be able to step into this position) the curriculum for this course was wide open. The instructor before me had very limited experience with using/teaching photoshop and I was told point-blank that the sky was the limit with regard to the class and what could be done. I immediately thought of the clone photoshop trickery that I was once so enthralled with. Funny thing is that it was also something that had become a bit of a fad for others as well. In my research to show my students examples of what could be done, I found a whole flickr community dedicated to it and the idea was also featured on one of the Real Housewives franchises. (Don't judge/hate that I just openly admitted that I have seen this series. *wink* For the record, I am not an avid watcher of it.)

Because I have been a fan of this project long before I was a teacher, the tutorial did not originate from textbook that we use for the class. I created one that used pictures of my daughter taken at home that walked them through the general steps well enough that they could refer back to the steps to create their own pieces.  Overall? This project has come a LONG way in terms of the polish that the students have added to their finished pieces. They are no longer just merging multiple images together to be within one frame. Now they are employing great acting skills to be able to interact with their digitally cloned selves in addition to thinking about  a larger picture of what they are ultimately trying to say with their multiple selves. Their technique with merging the images is also better and the renderings are a lot more seamless. I encouraged them to try and not use flashes and also pay attention to lighting in their final images. They had a lot of fun overall that I added a second very similar self-photography project into the curriculum that introduces the idea of surreal photography and levitation. (I'll be showing images of this some time this week!) Here are their clone/alter ego images just to whet your palettes. I'm so proud of my students! They really are doing well and making great strides overall.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Lesson idea: Photograph to Painting - Digital

This lesson idea is for the Graphic Design course I instruct and originates from a tutorial found in The Photoshop CS3/CS4 WOW! Book by Linnea Dayton and Cristan Gillespie. This is the second year I have used this book and it really works well for this class. It provides well-thought out and well written/instructed lessons that really addresses some of the "cool" things that can be done in/with Photoshop and also provides as a great reference item for just about any question or issue the students have had. The class I instruct is beginner with regard to Photoshop experience but intermediate-advanced with regard to visual art understanding and ability. I have a number of tutorials I have adapted as well as authored (based on my own self-taught abilities) and I use those to supplement the book in order to address the unique needs I've encountered in the classroom. I did a good amount of research before deciding on the book but it has really served as a great text to base the class upon. It also serves as a wonderful spring of resources for project ideas in the digital medium.

I run the Graphic Design/Photoshop curriculum/classes like this:

  1. I give them a tutorial (either from the book or something I've adapted to best suit their needs) that will take about a week to complete.
  2. The students take the following week to do a personal piece using the skills they attained from the tutorial experience. Usually there are some parameters but they are given a lot of creative liberties for the most part. 
Doing things in the manner of the aforementioned really allows for the students to both learn skills/understanding of Photoshop as well as gives them a well timed opportunity to apply them. Each lesson/project also builds upon itself to scaffold more advanced skills/projects.

This project/lesson idea utilized the tutorial found on p. 395 of the text called "Wet on Wet" Acrylics. It took a photographic image and digitally rendered it with effects to make it look like it was hand painted in our traditional art studio class. It was fun as much as it was a great learning experience for the students since it called upon previous experience in the traditional studio in order for their digital brushstrokes to be more realistically rendered. It was a bit challenging for them (at first) because they couldn't wrap their minds around the notion that the platform of Photoshop offers a virtually (no pun intended) unlimited supply of any kind or size brush that they could imagine or have been able to actually work with but eventually many of them "got it." They were given the option to use their own photographs as well as stock images. I strongly encouraged them to use images of animals or landscapes over people since the digital rendering into fine art painting ultimately results in an impressionistic art effect and therefore makes fine detail work very challenging to showcase.

Here are some of the best pieces of student work that I picked from three classes total starting with animal subject matter...

Here are some of the landscape pieces:

I am beside myself with the strides that some of the students have made! The lot of them are very talented in the visual arts aside from the classes they have taken with me/during their time here at school but aside from that, I know each of these students very well and I will tell you that they are all making tremendous progress with their abilities and skillsets.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Lesson idea: Gratitudes in Color [Color Study and Silhouette painting]

This project comes from the curriculum of my 2D Design classes. It's one I've done every year and I'm hesitant to abandon as it allows for so many things even with the course being of the foundational level. It addresses/examines/encourages all of the following:
  • Color study
  • Value study
  • Brushwork practice and perfecting
  • Space and composition
  • Creating visual balance
  • Watercolor painting - both pencil and paste/liquid
  • Using the amazing surface that is the Aquabord
  • Proper care and clean up of art supplies and tools
  • Long term project planning
  • Visual communication of a specific idea
  • Process of originating and developing one idea in multiple ways
  • Using the foreground to emphasize the background and vice versa
  • Creating correct proportions when drawing living being (animals, people)
As you might be able to guess, I could easily go on and on with this project. Thus, I keep it in every year despite my general rule to either skip a year with projects OR scrap it after doing it multiple times.

Because I work in faith-based education, my curriculum encourages expressions or examinations of faith. This project is one I called "Gratitude in Color" because all subject matter was selected in order to illustrate and provide a visual expression of gratitude for something that brings the artist of the piece great joy. (I defined joy to the students as something that makes them so happy that they return to it as often as possible and the happiness that is inspired because of long outlasts the moment of which the happiness originated.) They were encouraged to do a lot of brainstorming and then really dissect their ideas for as many elements as they could come up with that could be depicted effectively and correctly in silhouette fashion. This was challenging for them since many of their ideas were scrapped based solely on the fact that the would create an unrecognizable silhouette.

Color study was another huge element of the project and I took them through an intensive powerpoint with class discussion about different color groupings in addition to visual effects/impacts of certain colors, the physiological effects they can have, and also what they can mean symbolically. They were tasked with picking a color palette that would help to enhance their silhouetted subject matter and communicate a message as much as the silhouette itself would.

For inspiration, I showed them images of early 19th century art as well as Apple ads for iPod so they could see that however antiquated silhouette art might seem, a contemporary twist on an old idea can always revitalize it and so past forms of art should never be completely written off.

I required them to do a minimum of (3) thumbnails and also color studies with watercolor pencil on watercolor paper and also have a 1:1 conversation with me where they fully explained their visual prayer of gratitude. Once they jumped through all of the "hoops," I gave each them a 6x6 square of Aquabord and opened up the Reeves brand classpack of Watercolor tube paints.  They had a solid week and a half of class time to do their color background first and then lay in their silhouettes with black paint and/or ink (for touch-ups). Here is a sample of a completed background.

Here are some fully finished projects...

All in all? I'd say they did a great job with their limited experience coming into this. Many of them had struggles in creating correctly proportioned silhouettes. All of them were intimidated by the new medium and serious nature of the Aquabord itself. The major investment of time combined with the definite challenges presented really encouraged them to be as invested as possible though. Here are some of their pieces.

Their grade/evaluation will be based on two areas - Brushwork and Color usage/application. I purposefully pulled back on my feedback a third of the way through the portion of time when they were all at the Aquabord stage because I wanted them to learn to evaluate their own work and determine what needs to be done, what is well done and should be left alone, and what should be reconsidered. It was frustrating for them at times for me to answer their questions with questions but they ended up having much more confidence in their own incredible skills that they had already build up. I don't have evidence to show you how far these have come compared to last years go 'round with them but this round is a great improvement mostly because I re-evaluated what and how I was teaching this lesson.

WiPs: Gratitudes in Color - Color Study and Silhouettes

So busy in classes today! The last day of the marking period is next week but to keep on schedule, I had to push for the deadline for this project to be today so we would have as much time as possible for our next 2D Design endeavor. I am SO proud of the students and what they've turned out for this project.

I will be posting a full lesson idea write-up hopefully within the next week but grades are also due in and I'm also going to be in the throes of set painting for the school's big stage production (of the year) at the start of November. So what I'm basically trying to say is bear with me and I will get things up here as quickly as I can. Until then, here's a quick snapshot from my phone of some of the gorgeous student works as they are drying...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

NEW Favorite Product Alert: Portfolio series Water Soluble Oil Pastels

Truth be told, I've never been much of a fan of pastels. Chalk pastels have always been very challenging for me to work with and I also don't like how they dry out your hands. Oil pastels are a little bit better to me but I always feel like they smell weird (I am particularly oversensitive to smells) and they also seem to get everywhere even when you are trying to use just a little bit at a time.

Enter Portfolio series by Crayola. They have changed my mind and if you have felt similarly as I have noted above -YOU MUST TRY THESE PASTELS!!!! They are incredible.

(Let me just note that I am NOT being compensated for what I'm about to say and I have no affiliation with the Crayola company beyond having a ridiculous amount of their materials in my art classroom inventory.)

I must thank (if anyone) my cohort here in my department. She is a part-time instructor who oversees the upper-level studio classes while I have the foundational courses and the upper-level digital art disciplines. My colleague is the one who ordered a class set of these pastels for her portfolio prep and honors studio art classes.  I don't know how much use they are getting but I suspect it's a decent amount and still? They are holding up like champs! They aren't wearing down/out quickly and they don't break easily and become annoying like crayons and some brands of pencils I've known. They are a little on the smelly side for me but I have completely looked beyond that since the consistency and texture they offer is nothing short of buttery. They blend beautifully by finger and even act a little like watercolor paint if you attempt to treat them as such. The color is also beautifully rich and saturated and mixing them for the purpose of color theory study is an amazing experience. They are indeed on the pricey side at around $100 but that's a class set with a decent amount that I expect should last for the whole year even with me digging into them a little with the foundational courses and art club.

So that's my rave about them. Like I said, this isn't a product plug because I'm getting anything for it. I urge you to try them out though because they truly are awesome and absolutely worth the money! I have always been a loyal fan of the Crayola company but these pastels really make me want to expand my classroom inventory even moreso to include as much of the Portfolio grade as possible.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Checking in

Hello, fine friends of this blog!

Just wanted to touch base with you all about the happenings and doings of things of late since I've not been very present on the blog.

All of my classes are approaching the end of the marking period and are therefore in the throes of trying to finish up project work. I have some items that I hope to share soon...
  • Clone Photography from Graphic Design
  • Creating a photorealistic aquatic environment/image with Photoshop from Graphic Design
  • Levitation Photography from Graphic Design
  • Fine Art effect painting of photographic images  from Graphic Design
  • Color Theory and Silhouette Watercolor paintings from 2D Design
You might note that Graphic Design has a significant amount of project work more than 2D Design. The reason this exists is because 1) Graphic Design/Art projects work up a lot more quickly than the traditional studio pieces, 2) Many of the projects are intended to instruct on skill-building more than being long and time-intensive projects, and 3) It is an Intermediate/Advanced visual art course so it is generally accelerated with a lot greater demand of completed work.

Within the classroom (so it's something that is infused within the class projects) I'm really working on many things that I keep seeing as problematic, long reaching, and detrimental to success and goal achievement. It's a common thing for me (during any given project) to hear a constant stream of students demanding attention from me in the way of, "Mrs. E, is this OK?" or "Mrs. E, does this look good?" or "Mrs. E, may I use this color?" This very thing is something that I understand is uniquely generational more than anything else. They have an insatiable need to get immediate feedback in order to feel confident enough to move onto any number of steps that follow. They also have incredible challenges with battling attention spans that have been conditioned to consider amounts of information or investments of time in only very small amounts. These things combined can be a bit of a recipe for disaster for art classroom excellence. Rather than hold my students accountable for these things that they have very much been conditioned to have in the first place, I've been thinking very critically about how to tackle and negate them and then reshape them to yield greater success in the classroom.

Now, what I'm doing is very much a challenge and definitely a stretch for me. But honestly? This is what I get paid to do and moreover this is what I feel I am called to do.  As I understand it, this is what teaching is all about.

Aside from all of the classroom teaching, I've recently taken on a new challenge of instructional and informational writing for an online publication via the Fuel Brand Network. I applied and was accepted to write monthly articles for their photography section and I'm delighted to say that despite the challenge I have with writing anything (instead of visually designing and creating), my second article was published online earlier today. It addresses color theory as it can be applied to the photographic medium and is in two parts (the second one will go live next week) because the topic of color theory is so dense in and of itself. (If you are interested, my first article talked about the visual art element of texture in the photographic medium.) I don't know how great my readership is but I am not too concerned with that. My motivation for being part of the Fuel Brand is to simply help increase the amount of information out there for other visual artists to draw upon that will strengthen their bodies of work. Again? I'm just trying to teach and do what I feel like I'm being called to do.

But aside even from all of that teaching, I've been very VERY busy with photography work lately. (Amazing the way it pours when it rains and I can only thank the good Lord above for such a shower of blessings since I am in a serious position that requires that kind of help.) So as it's happened? I'm working seven days a week these days either teaching and/or doing freelance work and when I'm not clocking those hours in the day, I'm being a wife and a mother. *phew*

Thanks so much for keeping up with this blog if you've even gotten this far in this posting. I very much appreciate the readership that is building here and my stats counter is more and more indicative of the fact that I'm reaching all types of folks that I know are using the content here for good! Please keep coming back for more and I will do my best to keep putting things on here as much as my schedule permits.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Lesson idea: reMarkable Macro Fingerprints

I originally stumbled upon this project idea on The original idea took the artist's finger print, blew it up to macro detailing and then infused the lines of the print with a narrative of the artist's life story. I liked the idea immediately because it opened the door for cross-curricular learning. For my own purposes though? I felt it could be strengthened by doing more than just a self-reflective narrative and I changed that to using Bible verses instead.

To make the project more approachable for my students I identified seven different types of scripture and set up a printable worksheet for them to collect and organize their scriptures. Each student studied  their Bibles and came up with scriptures that spoke to them of love, faith, courage, forgiveness, hope, healing/comfort, and wisdom. The idea of the project was multi-layered with regard to how and why the scriptures were used within the fingerprint:
  • God's word is something He hopes will leave a mark upon us so that the marks we leave all over the place (since it's so hard to not leave fingerprints wherever we've been) are marks that are infused with Him.
  • God's touch/fingerprints are all over creation and that includes even the tiniest details like our fingerprints. No detail is overlooked and He has taken care to attend to every one of them.
  • Every mark we leave behind should be infused with love, faith, courage, forgiveness, hope, healing/comfort, and wisdom. If everybody was doing that, imagine the world that would be created instead of what we have instead.
I've done a few projects with the students where scripture helps to inform the design of their work and since I teach faith-based curriculum, that works well! However, I definitely don't feel as if I do it often enough. From the stand point of teaching from a Christian worldview, scripture always has a place and always should be in place. And when it comes to art, it's a great connection with creativity/creation to the students and always inspires them to be more invested in their project work no matter the difficulty and challenge that might be presented as well.

This project definitely presented technical challenges to the students. There were many steps from start to finish and lots of new types of media and elements of art for them to be introduced to all at once. I started the project with having the students work on getting good clean fingerprints using black ink stamp pads on copy paper. I encouraged them to try and get prints from all of their fingers and thumbs on BOTH hands and then make decisions about what print they liked best. For the smaller fingers, I required them to print the shaft of the finger in addition to the finger pad to yield more fingerprint lines the way a thumbprint would yield.

Once everyone was printed and they had picked their best prints, I invested multiple planning periods standing at the copier blowing them up to fit on an 8.5x11 copy sheet of paper. I first enlarged them by 300% and then I enlarged the new sized print by 150-250% depending on how large they were at the 300% stage. Once I had them all enlarged, the students used them to enlarge them again onto poster board that was about 11x14 in size. I didn't require them to draw the prints line for line but encouraged them to simply section off the fingerprints in parts where the print lines started to change directions and/or naturally divide themselves. It was challenging for many of them (since they are foundational students with not a whole lot of experience) but it was tremendously helpful for me to help them draw out at least one section - for placement - and then simply encourage them to build from that. After the directional lines and parts were established, I had them just start penning their scriptures over and over again and in whatever color palette they felt drawn to use. It took a LONG time for the students to overwrite the fingerprint lines with scripture but they were very invested in it and the further along they got, the more intent they were to keep at it. As encouragement, I urged the students to use the kneaded erasers provided at each table set-up to erase the underlying directional lines so that the scripture lines took center stage. When all was said and done? Every piece that was completed (there were a few who didn't finish due to time management issues) was truly remarkable - hence the name that I dubbed this project reMarkable.

This was the second major project of about 8-10 total that we will do for one semester. Considering the level of challenge and difficulty that was presented with regard to their own limited experience, I definitely feel as if they rose to expectations that were set forth for them. Their next project is focusing on color theory, form, shape, and space in watercolor media and I think they will do very well with it.
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