K  A  R  E  N     K  I  E  F  E  R

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                                      Implementing Studio Methods in Traditional Environments

     We understand that the studio method covered in this book is an ideal way of teaching art that may feel overwhelming to educators and parents seeking to bring the heart of art to the center of your students and children’s lives. This chapter aims to review and pin point key areas that you can focus on to make the most of your facilities and abilities.

     Make choices, even if limited, the center of the art curriculum. Remember that if the kids supply the what, and the teacher supplies the how, the student will ultimately experience a more meaningful sense of self expression.

     Teachers should try to develop at least a few skills in each of the different genre’s so that students can experience the empowerment of choices. Even just a few choices will be far more inspirational to students than being told what to do. Although fine art skills in drawing , painting, and sculpting are ultimately essential in developing the confidence of students as artists, craft oriented projects less based on observation and rendering skills can be used to flesh out a choice based art environment for less skilled teachers.

     The most important thing for teachers nervous about teaching art is that it is OK to not know “How” as long as a student is never made to feel inadequate. When a student understands that all art skills can be learned, and that “failures” are most likely the result of an inexperienced teacher, the experience can be taken much more lightly and should not affect the students self confidence. Honesty is the key.

     Multi age groupings of students is possible with supportive administrations. It really is a fantastic way for kids to feel connected to their larger community. Younger students get to see where they are headed, and older students get to see where they have come from.

     The Team teaching approach can help to implement this kind of grouping. Flexibility of group sizes and dynamics always promotes creativity in teaching.  

     Grading and competition are essentially damaging when applied to the essential nature of art as self expression. If you must grade, base grades on effort, not accomplishments- avoid comparisons of student work .

     Work art into the center of collaborative or interdisciplinary programs. Bring kids back to the feeling that what they have to say is most important

     Develop your own skills as an artist so you can teach with confidence. Be honest with kids about what you do and don’t know how to do so that they don’t feel unable if you cant teach a skill.

     Know the developmental stages of young artists and create curriculum to be supportive and nurturing. If you are a regular classroom teacher, supplement your curriculum by keeping art present on a daily basis.

     Think of visual language skills as learnable, and have visual aids around the room to reinforce this.  The lesson, “ How to draw everything in the universe” at the end of this chapter is based on the simple question of what shapes make up any and all things is an excellent first step. If we could change one thing in the classrooms, it would be to give teachers this sentence when a student says he or she doesn’t know how to draw this or that: “ What shapes do you see?” , or “What shapes is it made of?” Empowering people to discover the answer with simple observational tools is just so much more than saying, “ Just go and do it”.  Also, however possible, either via the computer or actual pictures, have visual resources available for research and add to them as often as possible. Have students participate in growing the file. Students age 10 and up will almost always be concerned with realism, which is only achievable through observation.

     A middle school (6,7,8 ) curriculum we created at a midsized private school in Hawaii is a great example of leading a large, homogenous group into a successful studio art experience.

- year 1- exposure of whole group to  basic technical concepts in different media .  Group lessons taught with focus on individual creativity. An example of this is that all the student learn pinchpot construction, but each makes their favorite animal. Or each student learns to paint a blended silhouette sky, but then renders the subject of their own volition.  Tell the kids that they are working towards total independence by eight grade and they gratefully participate. Its in the acknowledgement of their desire to create from their will that is cherished. Most people just want to be known, heard, understood.

- year 2- continued development of basic concepts with added flexibility (more choice of media by students)

-year 3- ability or mastery of basic skills achieved , independent studio work emphasized. Every student doing his own thing.

*New students introduced along the way start out at year 1.

     It is easier to implement this structure with older students as they tend to work more slowly on project, freeing up a teacher to multi task in different media and lessons.

     For younger students, simply creating an environment where media can be chosen and pursued independently, like an art cart or corner, can be created with minimal experience or instruction. Emphasis is on care of materials/ keeping facility ready for everyone.  Based on stations concept. IF a child doesn’t ask for help, they don’t need it. A smile and the question “Are you having fun?” is all that is needed for an engaged child to keep his talent. Very young children exposed to older student work sometimes might ask for assistance as they can fall into comparative, judgmental, thinking. This can be so damaging, so whenever possible, say, “ Ohhh, I so want to see how YOU do it.” If the child persists, the simples version of shapes can be dialogued. Just remember, the student is just right just as they are, and the more deeply we believe this of them and of ourselves, the more we will communicate calmness and loving appreciation.

How To Draw Everything in the Universe

This is the most important lesson in art for all students to start learning as early as the fourth grade. Although the statement, “How to draw everything in the universe” is in some ways a generalization that can go into far more detail as the previous list of lessons demonstrates, it is essentially a way to actively be able to render anything one is able to see. Because of this, we have dedicated a whole chapter to explaining this concept, so that every teacher, student, and artist can begin their visual vocabulary in a most empowering way. By understanding and practicing this method, we can all draw pictures that we would call good because we have a language that helps us define and change what’s “Not good”. It’s simple and fun and disarms that misconception that only the talented can draw. At the center of this method is the mantra, “It’s not done until you love it”.

In kindergarten our teachers taught us to use symbols to draw, much like they taught us to use the letter Aa to represent a sound. Images of suns and flowers and houses and stick people and M mountains and W birds filled our world. Likewise, we were at an age where  we draw symbolically from our perspective of the world  At around age ten, human brains change to see the world very differently than earlier years. At this age we start putting great importance on what things actually look like, rather than our experience of them. Things like recognizing the planes of the sky and the ground, and becoming aware of how things look beyond a symbolic, experiential level can cause great frustration for artists if they are not helped to understand why things look the way they do, and thus how to recreate them. Learning to draw is really 99% about learning to see. Most people think drawing is some magical talent that lay in the hands of a lucky few.  But really, it lay in our ability to understand what we see. Most people go through life thinking they know what things look like. The truth is that more often than not we remember a general impression of an image where most of the details and essential information are missed. The good news is that learning how to see, and thus how to draw is a very simple task that, through repetition will carry any person into a world of seeing beyond their previously simple, symbolic, level.

In a nutshell, the key to being able to draw what things actually look like comes from being able to see what simple shapes they are made of. Shapes like circles, ovals, squares, rectangles, triangles, half circles, diamonds, hearts, footballs, pie wedges, and the last fancy one, sausages.  All things are pretty much made up of these shapes, save a few more complicated subjects like machines which often have parallelograms. An artists visual “Alphabet” can include any shapes that they can draw with ease. Parallelograms, trapezoids, octagons can be added as their skills increase. Its a great incentive for students to practice their shape skills. Building images from shapes becomes a game.

For the sake of ease, drawing animals is a great way to start. Have the files of animals pictures available and pull out several different images. Look at them closely and see what shapes you can see. Is the head an oval or a square? Is the body a triangle or a rectangle?  In effect, you are creating a simple language that we all understand to specifically describe what you see. The beauty of this process is that there is never one right answer. One student might see a body as an oval, another as a rectangle. The variations are subtle, and are only significant to each individual artist. This process reinforces that everyone is right in art. And how you see something is the right way. It’s very empowering. If you ever have as student frustrated in why his drawing doesn’t “look right” you can use this dialogue of what shape do you see to help her problem solve.

Creating animals from shapes is a fun activity and can be used as warm-ups for any project. Practicing this skill is as important as practicing one’s letters before learning to write. It is the foundation of all future successes. It can also be applied to elements in landscapes like trees and architecture, and people.  However, for people there are other specific lessons in proportions that will be explored later.

Creating an image out of shapes is called mapping. An artist’s map simply tells them roughly what things look like. It does not engage in the details of light and shadow and texture. These elements should be layered onto the map after a student feels successful with his or her proportions. It’s easy to change a lightly sketched shape when a horse’s triangle neck is to short, unlike the agony and frustration of making changes when things are drawn traditionally. For some students making this change will feel awkward at first. Often patterns of drawing are established that are based largely on repetition and copying.  Gently encouraging adding this technique to a repertoire is the best approach. It is never effective to tell a student that what she is doing is wrong. Just be prepared to offer the method when this student finds herself dissatisfied with her work. She may be very comfortable drawing a horse from a side view because she does it all the time. But if she wants to try something new, like a horse from the front, she is going to have to establish a new language of shapes to be successful. There are a few people who have a natural ability to assimilate the mapping of proportions while doing contour line drawings. Usually, these are the kids that are labeled as talented, and all the others who stand by watching think there is some sort of magic going on. In reality, they just need to learn and practice the mapping technique.

An important aspect of successful mapping is drawing lightly with light leaded pencils. In the finished drawing most, if not all, of the mapping lines will be erased or covered over with detail. Many students will take time to learn how to draw lightly.  This is why I encourage practicing mapping quite a bit so those early on dark lined efforts do not cause any frustration. They should be kept in the student’s portfolio or sketchbook of progress. Students can always choose to go back and finish a map. It is important to remember that many students will be so afraid of failing because they care terribly about the outcome. Be prepared to help students find the shapes in the beginning so that they can be shown how to look. It is so vital to support every artist in their development without comparisons. Some will take longer than others to warm up to this technique. Be patient and always celebrate even the tiniest accomplishments.

Adding details and finishing the work is again all about seeing. Encourage each student to actively ask questions about what they are looking at. Where is the pupil in the eye? Is it in the middle or in the top? What direction is the fur growing? Is the fur all the same length or are some short and some long?  Is the body the same on both sides, or is one side darker than the other?  It is a process of questions and answers rather than innate talent. And always encourage students to draw lightly until they are sure they want to keep what they have done. Tell your students that work is not done until they love everything abut it. Tell your students to keep figuring out what is wrong by looking for shapes and elements of the details that he or she missed. The process is essentially a problem solving exercise and makes for powerful brain development.  An interesting side note is that most students are happy about how the work comes out as long as the mapping is successful. Simplistic coloring and detail or an unfinished quality are often viewed as final and successful in the eyes of a student. Encourage, but do not demand, taking the time to develop these areas when focused on mapping.