Thursday, September 29, 2011

Look and Look and Look Some More

My 11-year-old CoachArt student finished this drawing/collage today. I'm very proud of her. We meet once a week for only one hour and she jumps in with both feet, eager and ready to work.

We looked at a simple glass vase with some ivy, bird of paradise, and other plants that I have no idea what their names are. And this is what she created!

At one point, she pointed out an ivy leaf and asked, "How do I get my leaf to look just like this one?"

I told her the secret:

You look, and look, and look. You draw a little bit. You look again. Then you draw, and then you look some more. You'll see what you missed the first, second, and third time. You'll find that you LOVE that stupid ivy leaf. And you'll NEED to show someone - show them what you've found to love in that simple, seemingly uniteresting thing.

Artwork used with permission.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

52 Weeks of Mail

I have had my best friend since 2nd grade. That's a long time - 1968-ish.

But we go long stretches without hearing from each other. We rarely speak on the phone or email.

A few years ago, my Christmas gift to her was a handwritten letter each week, for a year. I know she loved receiving those letters. And I know that I was changed, for the better, by the entire process.

And so, this year I am joining in with many others at "52 Weeks of Mail." and committing again to a year of letter writing.

I have started making little collages on file cards and other discarded/unwanted casualties of the digital era. I'll probably be using a few of them as cards for note writing.

I haven't yet decided who to give this letter-writing gift to this year. Should it be you?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Is It Just Me?

One of my long-time teaching gigs is a beginning drawing class for highschool and early-college-age artists. Although open to anyone, generally they are students who are planning on applying to art college. Besides giving them info on observational drawing, I help them begin, continue, or round out their portfolios.

I've been teaching this and similar classes for a long time. In the last few years I've noticed that the level of skill that students are bringing to my class has leaped forward exponentially.

For example, take a look at this drawing from last session's beginning class:

It's not just me, right? It's amazing! This kind of drawing has become more typical than atypical.

Every semester it astonishes me, the level of work coming out of these people (average age 17). I was nowhere near that level of skill at their age. Where is it coming from? I'm flabbergasted.

But then, I remember what I tell my students, explaining why I work them (and myself) so hard, expect so much out of them:

Yes, class is all about them. Our goal: great drawings, fabulous portfolios, exploring art in new ways. But really, I tell them, bottom line it's all about me. Their wonderful drawings make me, as their teacher, look good.

Is it just me? Sorta. I like to think so, anyway.

Student drawing used by permission.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I volunteer with CoachArt.

Their mission:
CoachArt improves the quality of life for children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses and their siblings by providing free lessons in the arts and athletics.

Today was my second lesson with a brother and sister here in my neighborhood. We had a good time, drawing, talking, laughing. Our time was up, and I could not believe it had already been one hour.

At my car, I fumbled with my gear, trying to find my keys, when I heard a voice calling. I looked up and saw my young student's happy face in the window. He called down, "I could go to college. I could be an art teacher!"

I called back up to him, "And I bet you would love it!"

(Next week I'll share their finished drawings. They're doing some great work.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Happy Anniversary

On Saturday I began teaching a new session of Portfolio Development classes at Otis College of Art and Design. These classes are geared for young artists hoping to attend art school. We mostly concentrate on observational drawing (think still life with crazy objects).

As I walked around the classroom, giving instruction on how to achieve correct proportions and create interesting compositions, I told my students, "It's all about relationships between the objects." I went droning on about "Relationships, relationships, relationships, rela . . . ." When it suddenly dawned on me.

"Hey, Monday's my 29th wedding anniversary."

Relationships indeed.

In drawing as in art, relationships are the key.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Counting Peaches

As many of you know, I’m a homeschooler. Er, I was a homeschooler.

Last year, my son chose school - brick and mortar school with homework, principals, and fundraisers.

I was sad that our homeschooling adventure was coming to an end, but I must admit that my son chose a wonderful school with devoted faculty and administrators.
And although the course load has been demanding, sometimes overwhelming, he has made a pile of faithful friends, and learned much about himself. (That's him in the above photo, with his zipper pants, at his school's art show.)

As for me, I was left to reinvent my role in the family, and to re-examine my personal goals.

By spring my son was successfully navigating his way through his first year in school. I, on the other hand, couldn’t seem to find my way. I continued to bumble along, wondering each day if my actions had been fruitful, if I was making the best use of my time.

On the first day of spring, alone in the yard, I noticed our little peach tree suddenly full of tiny peaches, still with purple-pink flowers attached. The next day, I stood by the tree again and began to count them. After having counted six or seven, I scolded myself for wasting time in so obsessively frivolous an occupation. But then, I imagined myself a child, counting the fruit buds so I could tell my mother. I imagined her surprise, eyes opening wide as I triumphantly told her, “There are 51 new baby peaches on the tree! Did you know that?” She would say no, she didn’t know that, and would praise me for counting so well, for being so clever in noticing the beginning of spring.

Standing by the little peach tree, this seemed reason enough for me, now at age 48, my mother dead for 20 years.

I stopped scolding myself and continued counting . . . 29, 30, 31 . . . many more still to count, when I imagined a different voice in my head. It was my 14-year-old’s voice, with an accusing, “What DO you do all day while I’m at school, Mom?”

I heard myself answer, contentedly, “I count peaches.” And hoped I would actually have the courage to do just that.

(Excerpt from article originally published in California HomeSchooler, a publication of the HomeSchool Association of California.)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Reworking my blog

I'm reworking my blog to be more about the teaching/mentoring side of my life.

Mentoring with CoachArt

Yesterday was my first day as a mentor with CoachArt.

I have a brother and sister, sweet as can be. We spent the hour making squiggly marks on paper, talking about our favorite TV shows, and making textured color rubbings by laying our paper over everything bumpy or lumpy that we could find outside - the walls, the sidewalk, the trees, the stairs, the car tires, the trashcans. (Cool numbers and letters from the trashcans.)

Next week we are going to use our textures to cut, glue, and draw to make collages like the one above.

As I was getting ready to leave, the little boy asked, "Can you come back tomorrow?"

I wish.