Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Was I really taught so little - or was I just not paying attention?

I made a second version of this Father's Day card without the text because it occurred to me that maybe only a teacher would appreciate the 'my dog ate it' excuse - one of the standard excuses for non-submission of homework assignments that a teacher is stretched to dispute, along with 'my little sister scribbled on it' and 'Mum left it in her car and she's gone off to Cardiff with it'.

And on the subject of teachers, I've been trying to remember what I learnt from my first proper Art Teacher but have only come up with three things, even after at least five years of 'double Art' once a week! I'm sure I learnt a lot more than those three things but in a less definable way. Things to do with confidence, as with my sister.

My Art teacher between the ages of 11 and 16 was a distinctly gentle, and genteel, lady, soft-spoken, a little nervous, with her silver hair loosely and elegantly swept back to a bun in the nape of her neck. And she always wore a beautiful powder blue smock, apart from on special occasions like Speech Day, when she wore a black one trimmed with bands of coloured braid. In spite of her quiet ways, nobody, as far as I remember, ever dreamt of misbehaving in her class. If ever she needed to raise her voice slightly, her cheeks became flushed and dimpled but that was rare. Evidence of her 'control' of the class was that, when it came to the end of the lesson, all she needed to say was, 'When you come to a good stopping place...' and we knew what she meant. She was a 'Miss' and there was some speculation about her having been engaged to a soldier who had fallen in the First World War, but that was the case with many of our teachers. She was affectionately known as 'Speckled Parrot', which vaguely rhymed with her double-barrelled surname.

So what did I learn from her? The first thing that comes to mind is that it is generally a good idea to make a thumbnail sketch before starting a painting. Since I've had access to a computer and Photoshop, I've stopped making thumbnail sketches before I begin a painting - it's all taken care of by cropping and playing around with 'adjustments'. But I do still often make a 'thumbnail' of ideas for greeting card designs when I'm working from my imagination.

Secondly, I clearly remember a specific lesson in which we learnt about perspective. 'Speckled Parrot' made charcoal drawings of a seascape with cliffs and a horizon which changed position according to whether we were viewing the scene from the beach or from the clifftop. And I still occasionally find that useful !

The third thing I remember being taught was how to stretch watercolour paper. We used drawing pins to hold down the wet paper all around and it was a terrible job getting all those pins into the drawing board almost touching one another. I have never bothered to stretch my watercolour paper since! But I've always felt a bit guilty about it - until one day, quite recently, I was browsing through a forum on an Illustration Course website. Some brave person asked whether anyone else left out this apparently vital step - and to my delight and amazement, everyone else owned up and said they never bothered to stretch their watercolour paper and the sky hadn't yet fallen in!

So that's two useful things I learnt and one not so useful! But there was something else that was taught by example rather than explicitly in those Art lessons. And that was to respect each and every 'artist's' work by not interfering with it! Miss K-B never, ever drew on my work - if she wanted to suggest a better way of doing something she would sketch her idea on a separate piece of paper but never on my work. I think that must have really stuck in my mind because, years later when I went on an Art Therapy course and a huge, round piece of paper was set before us and we were asked to 'make our marks' on the piece nearest to us and then - horror of horrors! - to move round the table and continue mark-making on our neighbour's work, I nearly had a nervous breakdown!!!! I did, though, persuade myself to give it a try and it all ended well enough when I could see what we were trying to achieve in this particular context. In fact it was quite fun! But outside of that setting, I still think there is an almightily important case for recognising 'ownership' of one's (and other people's) art.

It would be interesting to hear whether anyone else feels as proprietorial about their 'mark-making' as I do!


Michele said...

Judy, that method of stretching watercolour paper sounds like torture. Takes me less than 30 seconds to do it with the method I was taught (see future tutorial I will get round to writing one day!) As for if it is necessary, that all depends on how much water you intend to chuck on it. I would never miss it out personally, but each to their own, if it ain't broke...

JudyAdamsonArtandDesign said...

Interesting that you say it depends how much water you intend to chuck at it, Michele. I hadn't thought of it like that. With my pen and wash cards, there's actually very little water involved, whereas with my watercolour flowers the whole thing is 'flowing' because I spray both sides of the paper with a plant spray, shake off (or blot off) any actual water and then just drop the colours in. So 'barely wet' and 'very wet' probably applies to what I do, and I'd imagine it's the 'in between' kind of painting that might need stretching? Look forward to your tutorial!