In my blog, I have been writing out the exercises that I use with my students each week. I thought I would explain the “how” (and perhaps the “why”) of these exercises.
Children are fairly forgiving as learners. If something is a hot mess when a child is done, she remains content as long as the experience was fun. In contrast, the majority of both younger and older adults are driven to complete a finished piece, from the very start. The feeling of pressure to have something to “hang on the wall” is often palpable in the classroom atmosphere. The sense of personal failure when something doesn't work seems absolute. Occasionally. when a beginning class fails to produce an immediate success, one’s personal disappointment is so complete that an adult student quits (deciding that the teacher didn't meet their particular needs).
While I was “desperately” trying to learn to paint, I spent a fascinating day in a workshop lead by an artist employed by a gallery a couple of hours away. I was a last minute addition to the class (I filled a late cancellation). The format was that the gallery sent out a notice with a date for an upcoming workshop accompanied by a photograph of the painting that would be demonstrated and painted in that particular workshop. The class often filled quickly if the subject of the painting was appealing (good color, accessible subject). A gallery representative accompanied this artist teacher for the one day workshop and was “available to frame the completed paintings at the end of the workshop day for the added cost of the frame”.
How I remember that day.
Each student was supplied with a canvas, a refillable palette of colors, a cup containing solvent and a brush. This was an “arrive as you are, paint, and leave with a completed painting day”. I am very type A. In addition, for me, this was a “large cost” day. Therefore, I arrived very early (actually before the door was unlocked). (My other excuse for arriving way early is that I have a visual handicap, so I always want to get a place where I can see). When the teacher arrived, he invited me to join him as he set each prepped stretched canvas at each student’s place, put the completed painting up front so that it was visible to all, and set about putting out his paints and his unpainted canvas for the demo. I was surprised to see that every canvas had the exact same cow drawn on the canvas in the exact same location. The same cow was also ready on the teacher’s demo canvas. I asked him about the cow drawings. He explained that most adult learners that he taught using this format (he also taught in other surrounding towns) were uncomfortable with their drawing abilities. He had found that too much time was wasted as his students struggled with “worrying” about the drawing. Furthermore, he found when he helped individuals with their drawings that some students remained unhappy: comparing their drawn demo subject with his or another in the class: unhappy that their drawing wasn't exactly the same size: unhappy that theirs was placed differently etc. Therefore, he developed his template and predawn idea. Every subject for each painting was now marked precisely onto the same place on each canvas and traced by a template.
When class started, our teacher demonstrated the color mix that he would use for a particular passage, wait while we mixed it, place his color onto the appropriate spot on the painting and wait while we each did the same. He went canvas to canvas once or twice in the morning, corrected paintings that were way off the mark, and suggested improvements (without touching paintings) to students who were not is as much trouble. As the day ended, he visited each student’s canvas and corrected the cows that had stretched the templated legs into the shapes of giraffes or gazelles, or had trotted across the canvas (I couldn’t figure this out. Despite “color in the lines outlines”, it happened). He fixed the color mixes that turned a sunny day into foggy overcast skies. He talked through each correction as he painted it back into place on each canvas. At one student's place, this student insisted that their painting have “thick brush strokes” (“Impasto” he replied. “This is not a painting done with “impasto” brushwork” he explained. Until it was. She persisted. He finally took out a palette knife and repainted her entire painting, masterfully, with impasto palette knife work (this is how I learned that you can paint over a thin underpainting completely with thick paint). Meanwhile, the gallery lady was ringing up frames and clipping the paintings into place after the teacher had visited each painting.
This workshop day was not a complete “wine and design” day. I learned to mix colors. However, I mostly learned about the expectations of adult learners.
Later, in my learning quest, I attended a workshop lead by Dreama Tolle Perry. I discovered that she deals with “results-orientated” pressure by spending time doing some modified mindfulness exercises with her students. She asks her students to tap into painting as an experience, a process and a joy. She acknowledges and asks her students to quiet the critical voices in our adult learning minds. Her students appear to love this and find this resetting of expectations almost as important as the" learning to paint like Dreama" piece..
Me, I am a scientist. I want to know the “whys’ and the “hows” not just “recipes”. I believe that even while supporting someone scared to draw, there must be ways to make drawing accessible until that learning piece happens. While I can understand and identify with the desire to complete a finished piece, I am more excited to teach my students to see the world with new eyes. I want them to understand how the illusion of painting might work. I hope they learn how painting can become a complete obsession with endless questions. Lots (most) of my paintings are scraped, wiped,, overpainted or just thrown out. I also hope that my students learn to be able to toss out at least a few of their own. Was this an interesting blog topic or just too personal?