Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Painting: Trying to Loosen Up

Once upon a time, I stopped painting. Frustrated that I couldn’t get my paintings to look “right” (read: real), I stepped away for a while. 
Most of the artwork to which I’d been exposed was a realistic style so in my mind that was the kind of art that was good. When I was given the opportunity to learn and see more of art history and realize that there are lots of different styles I was able to loosen up and come back to painting. 

This is my 5th year in my current teaching position and I have observed the majority of students working on paintings being very tight trying to force a realistic style. The students also struggled to work with acrylic quickly enough and ended up frustrated with trying to blend dried paint. One of my goals for introducing painting this year was to encourage them to loosen up, move more quickly, and understand their options for different styles and approaches. 

With watercolor we tackled landscapes. I gave students the option of following along with me in a guided painting or working on their own landscape. I wanted them to have a basic understanding of landscapes without spending weeks on an acrylic painting like has been the tradition. We used wet on wet and other techniques to get the main composition laid out the first day then the 2nd was spent on adding layers for definition and texture. I asked the students to only make a few lines with pencil for a guide before starting opposed to drawing every little detail and talked about embracing the nature of watercolor- water likes to stick to other water!

Before the students started on their 16x20 canvas paintings, we did a couple of exercises with opaque paint. First, we did a one class period “speed painting” challenge. I brought in a variety of miniature gourds with different colors and textures and students each chose one to observe and paint. Here are the rules- use only primary colors plus white and black. No pencils or drawing before painting. No washing your brush. I did about a 2 minute demo mixing paint directly on my paper and using my brush handle to make marks with a Sgraffito technique. While the students were hesitant at first they relaxed and had fun with it after a few minutes, besides a few that I’m still trying to help break free of perfectionism.

The 2nd exercise was a simple technique sampler. Students folded their paper into quarters and made tiny paintings with different techniques in each section: palette knife, dabbing, scraping (using a piece of mat board), and sgraffito. 

When the time came for students to begin their final paintings they had learned some new techniques to have at their disposal. I gave the themes of “object” and “shoes” as starting points but some branches off in different directions.

I feel like intentionally practicing techniques for loosening up, in addition to introducing different styles of art in the art genres unit made a big difference in the students’ confidence and willingness to try new approaches. 
These paintings were created by a couple of freshmen boys who were not very comfortable with painting before.

A few students decided to paint candy still lifes. I pulled in Wayne Thiebaud when they were trying to figure out what to do with their shadows.

Not many takers on watercolor, but the couple that used it did a nice job.

This is the wall in our front office where I can display 10 16x20 inch paintings.
Do you find that your beginning students are stressed about realism? How do you help them to loosen up?

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