I’ve been teaching adult art classes now for a little over four years and one of the things I found with my students is they rarely venture off the well worn path, they stick with what they know and how they paint but seldom will they take a leap of faith and try something different whether it is a different kind of paper or support, a new technique they’ve seen me or another artist do or just a way of working that might have great benefits to their art if they would just try. That said, I think we can all fall into that trap if we aren’t careful, myself included.
A few semesters ago, at the request of students, I started having projects for my classes so they could follow along with me if they wanted. Not really my preferred way to do business but I’m there to help my students and if they find following along helpful, who am I to criticize? I have to find projects that I think they can do that are not too difficult – at least I don’t think so – and I hope will help them when they are doing their own projects. I also like to include “something different” in a demo after we have completed the project to give them something to try or that we may not have covered during the project. (If you are interested in some step by step instruction, click on the “classes” link below then on the class blog link and you will find watercolor and acrylic projects I’ve done with my classes the last couple of semesters along with a pictures page.) The problem for me with these projects is I tend to get into old familiar habits and I can about “phone it in”. I enjoy what I’m doing but not excited, this is why I started trying to find different things to show my students besides the tried and true.
When I am doing my demos my students will “Oooo” and “Ahhh” and are convinced that I don’t use brushes but magic wands that only I know how to use. Sigh. Some do actually try things they see me do but if their first attempt doesn’t appear to be working, more often than not they will go back to what they know and stay out of the uncharted territory. I have yet to convince them that nothing earth shattering will happen to them if it doesn’t work out because it is just a piece of paper or they can use gesso and start over and conversely, I can’t convince them that good things can come from trying something new.
When I say “something new” I mean something new to the artist. Most of the techniques I show my students I’ve learned from watching other artists or got out of a magazine or books and I try to pass along what I’ve learned in the hopes that something will turn the light on in one or more of my students and they in turn will run with it!
This past semester in my watercolor class, I think I hit a home run with a technique I found in “Watercolor Artist” magazine (www.watercolorartistmagazine.com), at least for my watercolor class. In an article by Wendy Hill (June 2008) she talked about changing up your backgrounds to create excitement in your paintings by using a combination of splattering and old tea bags, she created some wonderful paintings that were a mix of abstract with realism. I have students who could really use a bit of loosening up and this seemed the perfect venue because it gives the artist freedom in the background but allows for a more controlled handling of the main subject that most of my students seem reluctant to experiment with. Not that I blame them, as I have said before, I’m not a big fan of abstract but there are exceptions to every rule and this technique is one of them.
I usually try a new technique out at home before showing my class because I don’t like fumbling around trying to find my way when showing students something I want them to try, if it looks too hard, they won’t try it. I chose an old truck I had taken a picture of when I was out in Death Valley for my first attempt at this technique and I felt an excitement that I hadn’t felt for a while as I was painting it. When I got done with my truck (see example) I couldn’t wait to show my students and do some more for my self.
This was a great find for me on several levels: As a teacher I found something that my students could experiment with as well as have some fun with it , plus it give me something different to do when painting local scenes something I sell a lot of but subjects that have become a bit tiresome for me. Finding a new twist to do an old familiar subject has added some life and excitement to my watercolors like discovering some lost tropical isle or hidden treasure. This is what art is about creating beauty and seeing things just a bit different than the rest of the world. I hope that I have success with this new look because it is a lot of fun. I know my students are having fun and success with this so I accomplished what I set out to do and they have one more technique in their artistic arsenal.
Whether you are a new artist or an experienced one, amateur or professional painter or some other art form, you can benefit from breaking out of your box every once in a while. Don’t be afraid of making a “mistake” chances are if you do, you will be the only one who notices and you might just find something that takes your art to a new level, as Jerry Yarnell (http://www.yarnellart.com) would say “Fear will get you nowhere!” You won’t know until you try and what you find may be something wonderful!
Until next time, keep painting.
To find out about the classes Lerri teaches through the Torrance Parks and Rec. Department, go to: http://www.tprd/torrent.com/9087.htm
Lerri is now also teaching classes at the Palos Verdes Art Center.