Archives for posts with tag: Learning

An early show, after I'd recovered from school.

This morning I found myself reminiscing a little about things that art instructors have said to me that stuck in my memory. I was probably doing this for a few reasons:

I taught a class last night in which a student (who is also a teacher) mentioned “you are a good teacher”.

there was a lot of strong light pouring in through my closed blinds.

I was thinking about character and strength of it.

I recall a drawing instructor who went over the idea of Chiaroscuro. This method of modelling, using dark and light to create form, was invented or at least defined as we know it during the Italian Renaissance. My instructor truly “went over it” in that we didn’t practice or learn anything about this technique. Well, he did make this (paraphrased) statement: “This was important for artists in Italy to learn, but it’s not important for us. We have different light. It’s not as harsh, it is a soft light.” Then we went back to drawing leaves and stuff.

At least he mentioned that Chiaroscuro existed, so that I could read about it later. One thing I gleaned from the thirty-second lesson on Chiaroscuro, is to pay attention to different kinds of light. I’d not really thought about it before, only simply accepted while observing. It was true that where I lived then had a hazy, blue light that meandered over objects and made them sort of softly glow from within. Beyond artificial light, there were normally no harsh shadows or light effects.

However, when learning the fundamental basics of drawing, one should learn all that one can. It is unrealistic to expect one’s college-aged students to stay in their small city for their entire lives, painting outdoor landscapes and nothing else. At least not all of them.

I got an A+ in that class.

Chiaroscuro actually works well in any type of lighting, in that you can form the object, and simultaneously (or after the fact) paint the shadows and light effects too. So, for example, say you have a sphere. It is round. The middle comes towards you, and the edges recede. By this theory, the edges are darker than the middle. However, if there is any sort of light source, that would have a highlight/shadow effect on the sphere. Ambient and atmospheric lighting play a part, as do reflections on the sphere. Try painting an egg. You’ll see what I mean. Actually, an egg will be one of the things we will paint in the “How To Paint: Stuff” series.

Painting is what I love to do best.

Another memorable moment during my time as an Art College Attendee was when a painting instructor (who I admired greatly) reduced me to tears when I dared to critique an exhibition of paintings. A famous artist was showing in a major gallery, and I was finally able to see her work in the flesh. My instructor and I talked briefly about it. Paraphrasing:

She: “Did you see the So-And-So exhibition?”

Moi: “Yes I did. I found her brushwork to be too careful. It looked un-natural and laboured over.”

She: “You and I have VERY DIFFERENT IDEAS about painting… ”

Conversation stopped. Closed door.

What did I learn from this experience? Students will take what a teacher says seriously, and students sometimes don’t express themselves as clearly as they would like. If you are a teacher, and one of your students says something you disagree with, or even find offensive, ask them a question about it rather than making a statement and closing the door to communication. Also, sometimes people we look up to have bad days and say nasty things too. Don’t always take them to heart, if you can help it.

I managed to get a B+ in that class.

Cast Over, a painting from way back in '99.

An Art History instructor told me (in front of his equally well-known and somewhat famed friend) that I would “need to learn and memorize names and dates of paintings so that I would be impressive and knowledgable at parties”. Paraphrased. He nailed directly on the head one of my biggest combo-insecurities.

I am terrible with names and dates, and I don’t like looking dumb at parties. I learned from this that I should not care so much what others think.

I got a C- in that class. 

2157 Trees. In 1999 I painted an imagined tree pattern on the imagined drapery and then used a rough calculation to describe how many trees there would be here. I also counted the ones depicted "outside".

I’ll finish with a really good thing that my Book Arts instructor told me. Paraphrasing: “Be ready for success. Don’t get stuck and depressed. People will simultaneously want you to produce what you’re well-known for, and be disappointed that your work isn’t developing.” She thought I would be famous, knew some people who were famous, and famous famous famous.  Famous etc famous. Basically, I had to stay true and genuine to what I needed to make, to my forms of expression. My muse is a changing thing.

Should I stumble upon a super-successful trick, I shan’t remain a one-trick pony! Oh, and I got an A+ in that class.

Natasha Henderson, Montreal

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some of my earlier experiments

One of the benefits of teaching to fully engaged students is the challenges that they present to you. I am teaching a weekly course on felt-making; the first class for this new group was last week. All of the students were keen to learn, to do, to make. Outside of the enthusiasm that they brought to the class, they had all done research beforehand on the craft of wet-felt-making.

When we started the class, I gave them a brief run-down on how felting works, what the science is behind it, the basic stuff. Then we talked a little about what we would do over the next twelve weeks. Some of the students were very keen to try out some specific techniques; techniques that I’d seen others do but, admittedly, haven’t done myself. When the internet offers such a wide array of videos, blogs, and instruction manuals, it was a pre-educated group of crafting students who entered my classroom the other day!

a student in the beginning stages of making a hat

This presented a challenge and an opportunity for me to grow. While the class is on, I am “on”. I am engaged fully with the students, I guide and help and demonstrate. Sometimes I must step back and allow them to discover things on their own. During this work-time, they are concentrating and I am quietly watching what they do, or I am preparing for the next step. While this is happening, I think about what we will do in the future, what would serve my clients/students best.

Much of art-making and maintaining a practice in it is about editing. Editing specific works, editing time so that the media of choice fit into one’s life, and editing things that might not seem to fit together until they do. I have, classically, fancied myself to be a bit of a trail-blazer type whenever I’ve started something new. I would quickly learn all I could about it, see what appealed to me, then go off on my tangent to experiment with what I chose. This is normal, I think. However, when I have students who want to try out all the different things that one can do in a chosen medium, I need to be ready to teach them these things I’d seen, not tried, and had previously discarded from my own milieu of work. Because of this, over this weekend I performed some experiments with feltmaking.

there are many ways to make felt, and many potential things to teach

There is a funny thing about this situation. By prescribing myself time to experiment in things that I’d not really been personally interested in before, I have been actively pushed to make use of my new knowledge. An example: felted soap. I make and sell felted soap, now, because I needed a little something to fill in about an hour’s worth of class. Felted soap seemed interesting, sort of cool, and something easily portable for students to make and take home in one day. Now I sell my little bubbly creations in many shops around town, and on my Etsy page. Benefit!

fabric-enriched scarf - the successful experiment

A second example of a recent experiment is building fabric into the layers of wool. A student last week was keen to try this, so I agreed to teach it. I took some time to try it out, and last night I made a very beautiful scarf using this technique. A little back-story is due; as I’ve mentioned before, I once had a job in the fashion industry. While working in a sample-making room I saved scrap pieces of fabric. I prevented good, small bits of fabric from stuffing the landfill. I have many little squares of printed cotton, and I’d been trying to force myself to sew out patchwork bags and skirts out of them. I like sewing from time to time, but not sewing boring things like grid squares. Last night I took two of these squares, and ripped them into strips. I added the fabric into the scarf, and presto! It was a success. I will be making more of them, and adding another aspect to my scarf-making business!

I am looking forward to the next couple of experiments I’m planning… a large vase, and sushi jewelry in felt. Who knows what will be after that! I’ll certainly keep the dialogue open with my students, that’s for sure.

Natasha Henderson is a painter and fibre artist based in Montreal. She teaches art and felt to adults and kids. You can check out her Etsy page and personal website if you’d like to see some of her work.

Painting from Koehler's Medicinal Plants (1887)

Salvia officinalis

This is a sentimental entry as well as somewhat of a departure from the typical ‘Fleurbain concept’.

In the last few days, I have thought about the folks who have got through to me.  These people have been my teachers.

I am overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for the people in my life who have not seen knowledge and skill as exclusive, a commodity, a rare resource.  Instead, they have had the energy and time to teach me.  They were able to teach me things I did not even imagine prior to knowing these things.  I feel rich in my experience.

I have a positive outlook, most of the time. Other times, I can be stubborn and have my doubts.  I think this is a good thing; it means I have a brain and I have an opinion about my reality.  In the end, however, I feel lucky when I look back and see that people have stuck it out with me and have helped me adopt new understandings or take on new skills. They helped me out of my mud, the sticky clay fixing me to ‘what I know’, and they did this even when I may have been initially filled with doubt that there was anything new in a particular direction.

These people have confidence and skill.  This helps in keeping my attention.  They care about people and they are not afraid to share.  They are not threatened by others having these skills and information.  They want me to know, because they care that I succeed.  They also don’t act like they own me just because they taught me something. They are happy to pass it on for the sake of passing it on.  I like that.  I hope that I can do the same.

Here is a tea that will help you stay alert and ready for new information while you are with your teachers.

Mix together:

1 part green tea (Camellia sinensis promotes a calm mental focus)

1 part peppermint (Mentha x piperita is excellent for nervousness, anxiety, mental fog and lethargy)

1/2 part rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis is a well known memory aid and circulatory stimulant)

1/2 part sage (Salvia officinalis. I occasionally add sage and drink the tea cold when I want to stay cool and alert while under pressure.)

Put one teaspoon of this mixture in a teapot or mason jar.  Add two cups of freshly boiled water.  Steep for 10 minutes and enjoy.

Tammy Schmidt, Montreal

Crafting something from basic materials is a rewarding activity for anyone. When you have made something “from scratch”, you develop a sense of intrinsic accomplishment and pride. In addition to the pure joys of making, there is the final physical object that you can use and display. Crafting and art-making is good for you, and can be used in a therapeutic manner.

A child makes a piece of felt.

When people make new things, they need to focus. When people learn new crafting skills they coordinate their minds, hands, and memory to work in synch. People with short attention spans, various levels of learning abilities, or who find it difficult to connect with the world can develop their focus and connections. I have seen this seemingly magic process in classrooms, where I have taught workshops in felt-making and sewing. Little children with major problems really do love learning, and hunger for the sense of accomplishment achieved when they learn a new skill and have something exciting to share with their parents after class. This sort of craft-therapy is useful to increase children’s engagement with the idea of learning. Focus is a skill that can be exercised like a muscle. The more a child uses the “focus muscle”, the better they are able to use this “muscle” in “sports” other than crafting… it really becomes one of their skill-sets.

A child shows off his weaving.

Crafting in a therapeutic manner also increases a person’s ability to connect with others, to adapt into the role of being a student (or a teacher, for that matter). Problem-solving as one navigates learning the new (yet often traditional) techniques of crafting creates team-building, forms human connections, and encourages storytelling. An example: A group of teenagers get together to learn how to knit. There are problems at first, some of the kids don’t want to be “Grannies”. One of the kids becomes a bit of a leader, saying “Well, I loved my Granny. She was cool.” The kids settle down, reminisce, share some stories, and help one another with their knitting. They have formed connections with their past and with one another, and are acting both as students and teachers as they learn their new (old) craft.

Very young children learn how to sew by hand.

Development of fine motor skills and hand/eye/mind coordination is another benefit to crafting and art-making. Obviously, if one takes a pencil or paintbrush in one’s hand and applies it to paper, there is a cause and effect. The artist is making something. The artist sees what happens when they move their hand a certain way. They try it again, a little bit differently this time, and see the changes. They register this change, and with practice the movements and effects become skills of which they are more in control.

Through art and craft therapy, people learn new skills, feel pride, and reconnect with traditions and a sense of history. They develop hand/eye/mind coordination and learn to focus. Crafters can work in teams or groups to teach others their skills. Crafting is social, fun, and a beneficial activity. As a person who has led several arts and crafts workshops with all sorts of people, I must say that the idea of a career as an Art Therapist is an exciting one!

Natasha Henderson, Montreal

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