I teach art to a variety of people from ages 10 to 50+ at a private college prep school and a community college. Most of the students I teach would be considered to be at the foundations level, regardless of age. The artistic backgrounds and exposure to art vary tremendously across all ages, and this affects student’s ability to try new ways of making art or making new types art.
In response to this varied background/cross-‐generational teaching situation, I have attempted to develop a curriculum that teaches technical skills & concepts in the context of making individually imaginative artwork. The curriculum is adjusted only slightly for different age groups. Importantly, the curriculum has grown directly out of my own interdisciplinary studio practice and varied experiences as an artist.
Using simple instructions, the projects generally cover the connection between real and depicted space through shading, linear perspective, isometric perspective, line weight, observational drawing, symbol studies, personal color studies, texture studies, and 3D paper constructions. The media is generally limited to graphite, colored pencils, gouache, watercolor and ink.
While the instructions I give are fairly straightforward (“Draw a line, fill every shape with a gradient, make a shape with 3 different line qualities…”), they can be interpreted and applied by the students in an infinite number of ways. I like to think of this method of teaching as asking objective questions that can be answered with multiple correct and subjective responses. These instructions also reveal the malleability of language and the unique ability of visual art to simultaneously communicate seemingly contrasting ideas.
The instructions are often in the form of changing or erasing something that has already been drawn. For many students, they have never thought of erasure or covering as being a meaningful and intended mark. But this process of erasure and experimentation carries with it the echoes of all the past work that went into the final work. In a sense, it is integrating layers of time into a flat picture.
The projects are sequential. When a project is complete, it forms the basis for the proceeding project. One of the reasons for this is so that students actually make a cohesive body of work that grows organically and allows them to develop a personal style through the discovery of personal tendencies.
This way of teaching reflects the ideologies and tendencies revealed in my own studio practice: a continual attempt to make and re-make some thing into a new thing, where processes and ideas merge within a single medium in a search for beauty through material inadequacies. In my process, things fall apart, but ultimately come back together in a dance between design and chance. In a sense, a striving for perfection with the acceptance that imperfection will continue to exist.
Jay Henderson, 2014
This painting is an example of a recent group of small pieces I have been working on in the studio. I start these by laying down blocks of color. On and into this field, I draw (with the brush), usually layering two or three different drawings on top of each other. I edit and erase into the ground and the drawing, paring down the form into a linear, dimensional structure. The painting gets resolved when the color, light, and structure synthesize into one thing. It is generally geometric and abstract, but also exhibits much of its own history, as well as hints at representational elements.
In and around my studio time, I walk around the neighborhood in northwest Brooklyn. On the weekends, I often take day trips to the perimeters of the city, places like Jamaica Bay and Pelham Bay Park. During my breaks from thinking about my work, I inevitably come across things that come back to the studio with me. Signage, colored lights, odd things found on the street, and strange encounters with nature. I am interested in what filters into a mostly formal vocabulary in the studio. The process of drawing is a way to make sense of things I see and experience, and to help build the forms I use in my paintings.
Jason Karolak, 2014
(Images courtesy of the artist and McKenzie Fine Art)
Inspiration for me comes from research into modern art history and design; this research sustains me, keeps my practice fresh, and provides me with ideas. Combining new ideas with playfulness and a fun-ﬁlled approach is what keeps my painting alive. The interlocking, curved shapes of my painting ‘Say Hello to the New Pink’ might come from multiple inﬂuences, from my study of Matisse to my interest in textiles.
I also ﬁnd that sense of play in scarf design, which began for me with research into the history of scarves. My favorite designers are Emilio Pucci and Vera Neumann, and I wanted to bring the beauty, bright color and playfulness of their scarves into my painting practice. The inﬂuence infused the high-minded seriousness of painting with the sense of fun I was seeking.
Then I began designing my own scarves. I quickly found out how difﬁcult it is, as difﬁcult as making a good painting, but for different reasons. Incorporating a border and making it visually balanced from all directions, these are things I work out with many drawings before I get it right; my ‘Caffé Roma’ design began with many preliminary sketches. A beautiful scarf can ﬁll the heart with joy in much the same way that a painting can, and this is why I plan to turn my ‘buddies of work’ into silk. –Jessica Snow, 2014
When I started this painting I had a fixed plan. I’ve learned over time that having a fixed plan is detrimental to my painting process, but I have a natural propensity for order and it’s always a challenge–and a goal to let go and free-fall. I’ve always admired people who are unselfconscious and fearless, and lucid in their thinking; it’s the polar opposite of me. Yet I’m a closet show-off without the natural bravura, so I’ve managed to find a way to express myself in all my split-personality glory. I like dichotomies. My work is full of them. I found this photomontage of these women and their hairstyles and instantly knew it had to be the buddy image for my painting BIG HANDS. It isn’t the natural order of things for the companion image to inspire a completed artwork, but this particular photo embodies the energy and driving force behind my work as a whole.
My initial plan for this painting was to fill up the canvas with found text that I’d assemble and paint in a specific way. But as the painting progressed and the idea fell flat, it evolved into something else—like a giant robotic figure. Once the painting was done I began to research intergalactic images which led to funk music and its fashion styles. I stumbled upon this photo during my search. I feel a kinship with these hairdos. There is nature versus the artificial; the loose versus the hard edge—recurring elements that are also at play in my work. Their hair has been painstakingly styled into precise sculptural and geometric forms in bright, saturated colors. It’s a deliberate process, yet daring and dynamic in its spirit and final resolution. I’d like to think of it as a type of free-fall—in a controlled-paint-drip-kind-of-way. Erika Ranee, 2014
About three years ago letter forms started creeping into my paintings. At first I had an obsession with X not because it was a letter but because it could be read as a negation. It lead me to think about other letters in terms of their compositional iconography. Then last winter I thought: well, why not words?
I think about words, phrases, the structure of language, and the making of meaning in a practical way on a daily basis. I have worked as an English as a foreign language teacher for seven years. At first that work was separate from what I do as an artist but over time there have been some interesting cross-overs.
Even though I’ve been starting with letters and words to inspire the composition (and sometimes color or texture) I don’t mind if the painting takes over and the whole thing becomes illegible. I’m sometimes hesitant to talk about the words in the painting because I don’t want to impinge on whatever meaning the viewer has constructed for him/herself. The compositions are a kind of visual game, so even if the viewer can’t immediately see a word, perhaps over time a message can emerge. Or not, and that’s fine. That’s one of the way my work as a teacher and as an artist differs; I’m always trying to get my students to communicate clearly while in my own work I’m happy to cultivate interpretation.
This is a painting I made in the spring of this year titled Loves or Leaves and a discussion worksheet I made awhile back for my students in Art Club. -Nichole van Beek, 2013
There’s a well-worn path between my studio and the kitchen in my live/work apartment. When I’m not in the studio making paintings, I’m in the kitchen cooking. In both places, I engage my interest in material transformation, and satisfy my impulse to make things by hand. Sometimes I unintentionally set up still-lives as I cook that find their way into my paintings. Other times, the visceral qualities of the cooking process end up being translated into painting somehow. More often than not, a problem I have been trying to solve with a painting gets resolved as I’m chopping or stirring. As I move back and forth between these two physically proximate spaces, the psychological pathway between them fosters my best thinking, which, for me, happens when I’m using my hands.
The first image here is a small acrylic painting on paper from 2011 called Claimy. Below it is a picture of Julia Child eating an oyster, cut out of a 1979 cookbook that has been on the wall in my studio for about seven years. I have a collection of vintage cookbooks I look at often, but this image has particular resonance for me. One of the things I love about it is that even though the scene is quite self-consciously staged for a photo shoot, Julia is clearly experiencing joy and sensual pleasure- a real immersion in the moment. I like how the 1970’s color palate and staging provoke my own questions of taste, while the lusciousness and abundance of the oysters in their propped-up bowl stirs appetite and desire. I always paint from reference in some form, but it wasn’t until long after this painting was finished and hanging on the studio wall that I could see its clear relationship to the picture of Julia and her oyster tablescape. –Susan Bricker, 2013
My color field text paintings began incorporating imagery over a year ago. This reintroduced some of the problems of traditional painting into my work, such as figure ground relationships. I have become preoccupied with creating fine gradations of color in what would be the “negative space” of the painting. However, I find it ironic that such a distinction can be made, for, while an image/composition is created, it is also simultaneously an “all over” painting, devoid of compositional hierarchies, consisting of evenly spaced word blocks. Regardless, it is fascinating to me that it is possible to create spatial tension through color relationships alone.
Making the large text/image paintings can leave me physically and mentally exhausted, so I sometimes like to blow off steam and make smaller, more experimental pieces on the side. On one recent occasion, I decided to “loosen up” a bit and play with gradations of color without the text, devising the tapering diagonal stripes and a simple system of where each color would go. I’m very interested in Op Art, so it was fun to create my own take on it off the cuff. The color relationships in this painting ended up being a big part of California Dreamin, so in this way it was also a color study, albeit an unconscious one. –Erik den Breejen, 2013