I went to art school so that I could learn my “craft” and broaden my own knowledge, before presuming to teach others. Later attending the university arts education system – I realized that I really did want to teach…not just supervise and discipline a class of unwilling, hormonal teenagers. So to my joy and unending creative wonder, I began teaching people who really want to be there and learn something from me. They are paying to sit there in front of me – and I had better deliver.
I have been teaching now since I was about 22. Drawing and painting classes for adult education. It fascinates me that you can put a number of people in the same space, with the same art supplies, and the same subject…and everyone ends up with a different result.
Age and life experience have nothing to do with it. You can be a beginner at 84…or really talented at 14. Some teachers claim they can teach anyone to draw. Well from my observation a 2 year old can push a pencil…but the challenge is interpreting the 3 dimensional subjects onto that flat paper.
I think some of us have a highly tuned “spacial” intelligence. We think in pictures, read plans and do mind maps to organize our lives. I have honed my natural abilities and developed a skill set to back it up, with a thorough knowledge of materials and techniques. My job as a teacher is to help others to see, and pass on that knowledge – so that they have a new “tool kit” to back up their own creative interpretation and style. I do not want them to paint like me.
I believe that a little – or a lot – of planning actually provides MORE creative freedom and spontaneity in the painting process. It’s kind of like creative writing…write about what you know. So get to know your subject, with good observation, photos and references. Draw it first. Think about the composition. Then you don’t have to stop and think later while you are splashing around in pools of paint and color!
With so many students of various skill levels, natural abilities and experience, I try to treat each individually. A beginner is given simple instructions and basic technique. An intermediate student is challenged to look closer, find more information, master the materials. An advanced student – less detail, bolder treatment, experiment. It always depends on their skills and intention.
Each student is challenged at their own level. And I never touch a student’s work. (I hear horror stories of instructors grabbing the brush and dashing off corrections) I use my sketch book as I work with each individual, drawing and pointing out the details that hold the secrets of form, space and light. I help them to see.
I don’t agree with group critiques or holding up someone’s work as an example. Being a student should be about experimenting and making mistakes – not masterpieces. I have no expectation of finished paintings in my workshops. I would rather see practice sheets, full of color tests and brush marks, than something ready for the frame.
I celebrate the student who paints right over the last piece to try something new. People tend to get too attached and precious with their work – building up expectations that block us and make us hesitate. There aren’t really any clear rules – more like guidelines.
Lastly…I love doing demos. It generates questions and spurs discussion about so many aspects of the creative process. I am open to dialogue while working and invite comments and observations. It is a valuable learning time…and inspires my students to loosen up, have some fun, and not take it all too seriously. And there will be laughter. ..guaranteed.