Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Teaching and Learning

Rust Against the Sky
12" X 9"
Ink, Watercolor, and Prismacolor

Sometimes a piece flows like magic. Others are more difficult. The result is just fine and dandy and may appear as effortless as a mallard gliding across the water. Yet underneath, I had to paddle like hell to keep that painting afloat.

The last three paintings have required sharpened observation and drawing skills. For me, mechanical components aren’t as free form as say, leaves or rocks or clouds. You can paint a cloud any way you want to as long as the viewer perceives it as a cloud. I suppose you could do that with mechanical components if you knew your components well enough—but I don’t, not being an expert on stamp mills.

It’s funny how my work parallels the lessons with my art student, Morgan (very talented—far more so than I at fifteen). For example, when I was painting boots, Morgan was painting shoes. When I began painting rusty mining equipment, Morgan was tackling a still life arrangement that included a rusty railroad spike. And most recently, when I had Morgan use a grid technique to transfer a complex drawing from tissue to canvas, I found myself doing the same thing.

Rust Against the Sky is actually #4 in the series, however, #3 turned out to be a dud. Initially, I was happy with the #3 drawing, however upon closer inspection, I'd found several key components were not in the right place. It had all the right elements: a good composition, interesting shapes and striking values, but sadly it was an inaccurate portrayal of the subject. Thinking, “oh, no one will notice”, I continued with the piece, transferring the drawing to watercolor paper and madly going to town on it. After I’d spent several hours on the piece, I took it downstairs to share with Clint, who immediately said, "Something’s wrong with that one.

Dang. Deep down, I knew it too. It just wasn't working.

So, back to the drawing board, as they say. I chose a new image; and to be sure I nailed the elements into the right places, I drew a grid over my photograph. As I drew, the patter I subject Morgan to was going on in my head: "Compare your proportions...look closely at the junctions where the shapes come together...is the width of that element proportionate to the height? I think you are still missing something...is that component really that flat?” I probably drive her nuts.

Teaching is learning—I learn as I teach. As I guide Morgan through the exploration of media, methods, and techniques—and even more importantly—how to see and absorb and recreate and express your subject, it takes me back to the basics and strengthens the bones in my own work. It’s made me a better artist and made me rethink the way I approach my work. Sometimes, I wonder if maybe I should be paying her for our lesson time...

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