I was asked during the summer to make a fall presentation to members of a painting group located in the North York Region of Toronto. I enjoy the opportunity to share ideas and my process from time to time. It is beneficial to the learning growth of others... but at the same time, forces me to re-think and work outside my usual framework... stretching my own learning and growth as an artist as well.
I have always felt that the term "teacher" itself is in fact... a misnomer. I feel that that the word infers superior knowledge and a power base and somehow... and unrealistically, sets up a false expectation that learning... when directed by the "teacher" is guaranteed to occur. Having been placed in both the "learner" and "teacher" roles many times over the course of my life, I have personally felt the disappointment of that expectation's failure to take place in both roles.
Readiness is an important ingredient and factor in most learning situations that we encounter in our lives. Human growth and development clearly demonstrate this truth on every level. Walking... talking... reading... writing all appear on their own... at differing rates for each individual. Each of the activities of growth mentioned above is governed ...I believe by an underlying Creative Spirit. If that spirit is piqued... encouraged and appears to be valued... it continues to thrive and develop. Conversely... if it is devalued... it withers... and disappears... and is replaced by either indifference... or fear.
I have always felt my role as "teacher" could be more accurately described as facilitator or resource person. Combined with an enthusiastic... non-judgemental and inviting approach... learning seems to progress... at whatever individual rate is possible towards achievable individual goals. When "students" observe that even the "teacher" is simultaneously open to assuming an equal role of "learner" ... learning seems to accelerate and there is less inhibition for all learners to risk becoming actively involved in the learning process.
This approach is also valid for the "adult" art classroom. If one is aware and sensitive to the fact that in a workshop situation there exists a diverse space between individuals in terms of experience... motivation... confidence and willingness to risk publicly. Despite this diversity... each individual has decided to participate... hoping to move ahead and to become more capable.
I consider this fact very seriously when I am preparing my presentation. I try to employ the K.I.S.S approach to delivery. Simply put... that means..."Keep it simple stupid!" In other words... find a median level to work from... move slowly... use your ears and eyes as much as your mouth. Allow for question and answer opportunities... even at the expense of a finished demo piece. The initial start and lay in are the backbone of success for any painting... at any level. All the rest is a small part of a piece's underlying success.
The single most important emphasis to establish a starting point is to select a subject that presents strong elements of structure in the subject. One can choose to set down structure using line... or to look for shapes or blocks of colour to form structural building blocks. The sum total of these "found" elements will result in a successful lay in state for the painting.
To simplify the process, I created a simple vine charcoal line drawing... using only the strongest basic lines in the subject... noting that the variety of different types of line.... horizontal... vertical... diagonal and curving lines provide different visual effects. A good drawing and subject will usually contain examples of all types to create a dynamic visual expression. This entire process required only a few minutes of drawing and erasure to arrive at a simplified guide to begin the painting process.
In the second stage, I began by thinly blocking in the darkest dark areas... followed by the lightest, being sure to apply the pigment thinly. I emphasized working over the entire surface of the canvas... as opposed to concentrating effort on one particular area. The goal of this method was to cover the entire canvas with colours and values that would require further consideration and treatment as the painting progresses.
My reference for the demonstration was a finished field sketch from my last visit to Algonquin Park. I chose it because it had a very strong vertical strength... good colour and very defined structural elements. I was able to reach the conclusion of the lay in stage within a half hour... even with having to field many queries along the way. Before breaking for refreshments, we had a short question and answer period... that actually carried on right through and beyond the actual reserved time for the break.
Most of the questions centered around my methods to paint indoors safely using oils... given the smell and use of harmful solvents in a closed environment. In this case, I was not using any solvents to avoid this potentially dangerous situation. I substituted Winsor and Newton Wingel Medium to help the flow and malleability of the pigments. I used only good quality shop towels to clean my brushes. I offered suggestions that brushes could also be cleaned using baby oil or vegetable oil. Brushes could then be washed at the conclusion of a painting session with dish washing detergent and warm water. Some artists use latex gloves... but I do not like the feel of those. I prefer to keep my hands clean and brushes out of my mouth and away from my food.
Time ran a bit short because of the numerous questions surrounding my use of alkyd titanium white and Wingel medium... both quick driers and how that could replace the need for solvents entirely. I promised that the finished canvas would appear on my blog... but life has gotten in the way for a week... so it's still staring back at me from the easel. Actually... it was timely because I have an idea to "push the envelope" on my usual method on this one- might translate into something new. Who knows?
Good Painting to all!