In the week since I wrote about the Map Play class I took with Valerie Goodwin, I read two posts about art classes. The first by Jane Davies responds to a student’s comments that she wanted to play and have fun at a workshop and then had a meltdown when she was asked to dig deeper.
From Jane Davies’ blog.
Making art IS about play and it IS fun, but that is not all it is, usually. If you are always playing and having fun, with no angst or frustration, and you are also generating images that really speak to you, that you find compelling, then that is just GREAT! Congratulations. Most of us also have moments of frustration and occasional meltdowns or at least self-doubt. Learning how to navigate these skillfully is part of the process.
The second, Chris’ Quilting Universe post, Am I Addicted to Taking Classes?, reviews all the quilt related classes Chris has taken and the work that resulted from them. She has taken a wide variety of classes, ranging from year long master classes to online multi-lessons to one shot workshops.
Do you take classes to learn a process or leave with a product? Do you want to learn to make art like that made by the instructor? Do you want a two hour class at a quilt show or a five day immersive course? Do you want a deep dive into one teacher’s methods or a potpourri of many teachers’ approaches?
A further permutation is in-person versus online classes, and a distinction between live online and prerecorded. An additional nuance with any online class is the amount of interaction possible with the teacher and other students. I have taken classes where I had access to videos with no interaction, to videos with a class blog, and to videos with some sort of proprietary discussion forum. Some classes use Facebook.
These are very different animals, and I believe one’s expectations should reflect the differences. For example, I took a three hour Zoom class on sewing paper collage with David Owen Hastings. I learned a well explained technique that required a minimal amount of supplies. All interactions occurred during the class, with no subsequent followup.
I also took Elizabeth Barton’s year long master class that required a deep commitment to developing designs and executing them each month. While the students could and did comment on each others work, the main focus of the class was improving our designs through Elizabeth’s critiques, which were copious. Each month we developed sketches in response to a theme, chose one to turn into a quilt, and then made the quilt.
Right now I’m taking a year long set of mixed media classes called Wanderlust. The classes are loosely organized around basic art supplies like gesso, acrylic paint, modeling paste, etc., but each instructor pretty much presents her own thing. (I have yet to see a male instructor.) While I have learned a lot about materials and techniques, I find some of the instruction to be overly focused on “playing and having fun” and what I call greeting card art. To me the missing element is learning to evaluate your work. With so many instructors and students, comments on anyone’s work is pretty much limited to “great,” “nice,” “how sweet,” etc. It’s hit or miss whether the instructor comments on student work.
Such an approach is great if your goal is to play. I have to say I had hoped for less overlap of techniques and more building on previous techniques. Again, that’s probably not doable with so many instructors. I have learned there are as many ways to glue paper as there are teachers.
This week I’ve reflected on all the quilt/art related classes I’ve taken thanks to Jane and Chris, and decided that the ones I benefited most from were process related, with a critique/feedback component. The absolute worst class I ever took was on paper and cloth marbling. All the students shared one container for marbling and we were to take turns. Let’s just say there were some interpersonal issues. I figured the two fat quarters I marbled cost $25 each, and they were ugly. I won’t try to name the best class I ever took as there are too many candidates.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with art classes, both in person and online. Do you have any recommendations for outstanding classes/teachers?
The Original Selfies
It seems you can’t escape people posing for selfies wherever you go. Most selfies show a fish eye lens view of their subjects, often in carefully rehearsed poses. I have run into this celebration-of-self behavior at restaurants, museums, hiking trails, and tourist attractions. I even saw one mother trying to take one of herself and her child on top of a wild buffalo in South Dakota. The buffalo didn’t cooperate.
But my snobbishness was brought up short when I realized that artists have been producing selfies for centuries. They’re called self portraits. One of my favorites is by Elizabeth Louise Vigee LeBrun, an 18th century French portrait painter. I love it because it is by a successful female artist from a time when such creatures were as rare as unicorns. Then there’s such panache in her hat, though her hair looks a bit unkempt. Finally, she proclaims her calling by showing her palette and brushes.
I am not someone who takes selfies, in part because I hate to have my picture taken even by myself, but I needed one for a Wanderlust class exercise. We were to paint self portraits using the three primary colors plus white. To give us a start, we were to take a selfie, posterize it to get the main blocks of values in our face, and trace the outline of our face onto paper or canvas.
At first I thought I’d skip this exercise, but then I changed my mind. It didn’t require butterflies, birds, or inspirational sayings, so it stood out from many other assignments. I duly took a selfie, posterized it in PhotoShop Elements, and transferred an outline to watercolor paper.
Then I began to mix skin tones from my four paint colors. My initial doubt turned to amazement when I saw how to do that thanks to teacher Christa Forrest. In fact, after a while my paint palette looked like I had been smearing it with makeup samples.
The first passes were crude, with uneven skin tones.
Once I was satisfied with my skin, I added collage paper to the page bottom and coated everything with clear gesso. After that dried I used colored pencils to fine tune details. The gesso gives enough tooth to grab the pencil lead and add texture.
I spent more time on this exercise than on any other ones to date, but the teacher broke down the process and made it doable. To judge from the work posted in the course forum, I don’t think as many students did this exercise compared with others. As was noted in last week’s discussion about classes, sometimes you learn more when you reach beyond just having fun.
Filed under Commentary, Completed Projects, Techniques
Tagged as Christa Forrest, Elizabeth Louise Vigee LeBrun, self portraits, Wanderlust