Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Lesson Idea: Drawing from the Abstract

This lesson idea originated from that one book I love so much Drawing Lab for Mixed-Media Artists: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun.

I believe (in the book) this one was called Imaginary Creatures or something of the sort but I decided to call it drawing from the abstract because that is exactly what it instructs to do!

What students do is they watercolor paint abstract forms in three colors - the book suggests limiting the palette to the primary triad, waiting for it to dry and then turning the finished painting around and about until you (the artist) can see forms within the painted abstraction.

The book suggests this as an exercise and not necessarily a full project but I adapted it's instructions so that it is something of a much longer running project endeavor. I did this by taking the general idea of it and adapting it into an inquiry-based learning experience. This is because I am learning that the best practices for the art classroom I am teaching in is when it is 1) inquiry-based and 2) allows for the following stages of learning to occur in order for them to understand what their own individual creative process so that they can ultimately become more independent and autonomous in their visual art idea cultivation and creation. I came up with this framework just this year and it is working so well even with their second project that I am going to use it the whole year in the studio classroom at least with the plans to come up with something for the digital classroom ASAP. The names are just what I like to call them though there might be a formal name for them that I am unaware of...
  1. Explore & Experiment - When the student artists get their hands immediately on and into art mediums and can try them out with little interference of direction from me other than, "I don't know. What do YOU think it does? Maybe you should try it?"
  2. Figure Out & Focus - When the students are starting to have a better of what the medium does (or doesn't do) and they take that and align the project objective with it in order to make informed decisions about what they may (or may not) want to do in order to achieve the results they are striving for. This process involves peer review and critique of work that has been done in different stages, me doing demonstrations of possible best practices, and answering questions they may have formulated based on the Explore & Experience stage.
  3. Stick or Scrap - This is basically the single defining stage that either forces them to go back to Explore & Experiment a little bit so they can go through the Figure Out & Focus at least one more time (that's usually all it takes) OR for them to know and believe with confidence that they want to go in one direction with their project or another. It is usually known (by them individually) subtleties as much as how they should be holding their paintbrush to achieve a certain effect on the support they are working on, what exact color palette they will use, etc.
  4. Know & Go - This is the final stage of their creative process where they are confident to step up to using finally and high-quality/grade art materials in order to create something intentionally that will be complex in it's presentation and also show evidence of good technique that is obviously apparent, the subject matter will say something as much as show something (meaning they are being a visual communicator instead of making something because "it looked cool"), and, finally, they will be completely confident to stand by their work and defend it as a successful work even if someone challenges it and calls it unsuccessful.
Definitely, this approach to teaching/instruction/learning is student-centered and requires a LOT of time for it to happen as it does. I have the time to do it though (or rather I am permitted that sort of luxury) because I work in private school education and I teach high school student artists (who are incredibly high level in their abilities and understandings already). I have found that doing long-term projects is better and teaches them more than shorter ones. It allows me plenty of time to do demonstrations (as I did for this project already) without leaving out opportunities for them to do speed painting that forces students to let go of themselves a little especially when I know they are having a hard time doing it.

The students worked through all of the above stages and this is what they came out with. This project is considered mixed media since the bottom most layer (that informed the top layers) was water color painted freely and then the top layers of ink, marker, charcoal and wax/crayon were applied because of what the watercolor layer looked like initially. The supports I used were the following and in this order - white drawing paper, watercolor paper, and then aquabord.

None of the student artists knew what their pieces would look like in the end and that was the point because I wanted to kick off with a project that would require them to throw a little caution to the wind and TRUST both me for asking them to do "outlandish" things as well as themselves that they could create and not just make. Enough of all of my verbosity - Want to see their finished works?

Overall I believe this project was successful and I would definitely use it again. The final pieces were only 5x7 but I would love to try it on a larger scale and adapt it to be less about just living creatures and more about their environments as well. A larger scale would make this creative endeavor even more like the long-term project I was going for initially and it would certainly demand a lot of investment of each student artist both in the way of thinking very creatively as well as demonstrating solid technique to make sense of the "mess" that they might see before them.

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