Teaching watercolor to my 8th grade accelerated Studio in Art students was probably the most significantly beautiful thing I have done at school all year. I gave them each their own palettes and set of Koi brand watercolors. They began by painting on small sheets, practicing four techniques: saving the white of the paper, glazing, wet-in-wet and dry brush.
Then I gave them Arches 300# watercolor paper. They drew landscapes with barns.
Paintings took weeks to create. Many, many days of thin coats of glazing culminating in dry brush details. These kids are extraordinarily talented. I guided them, but really, they were on auto-pilot for much of the lesson. My job was to remind them to utilize formal principles consciously – rhythm, balance, emphasis…and to insist that they trust their own hand and intuition, so that their style could emerge. My goal and hope for them, as they mature as artists in high school and beyond, is for them to stay true to who they are and what they want to evoke in their artwork.
I am beyond blessed to know these talented über-amazing young people!!!!
I’ve been thinking about this paint landscapes thing, which led me to bring my camera on my last “walk about”. Here are some pictures I took at Green Lakes. It is a New York State park not far from my home. I’m there nearly every day because I <3 it there. There are two lakes: Green Lake and Round Lake. They are meromictic, which means the water on top doesn’t mix with the water on the bottom or something. Formed by glaciers and seemingly mysterious. Very, very deep. I’ve heard that Round Lake is bottomless or maybe just so super deep that it can’t be measured easily. Something like that.
It takes about an hour to walk around both lakes, about 3 1/2 miles of time to think, meditate, clear your head, enjoy nature, etc. The other day as I walked this little kid stopped me and asked me if there were coyotes in the woods, and I said probably. That was mean. I don’t know why I scared that kid like that. I’ve never seen a coyote. Doesn’t it just look like a dog? How scary can it be to humans? I don’t know. I’ve seen other critters – turtles, snakes, owls, deer, fox, groundhogs, and lots of squirrels and chipmunks….
It’s really beautiful there. The water is more turquoise than green I think, and it is probably my favorite color even though I don’t particularly use it in my paintings, in home decor or wear it in a garment. I don’t think pictures do the place justice to tell you the truth, but at the same time, I can’t see myself ever doing a literal translation of these photographs and the fifteen or twenty more I took that day. Maybe as an art project for school, but I think that it would be better if students used their own compositions and probably more amazing if there was a way to do a plein-air field trip.
But that is just a fantasy because when you teach eighteen or more students at once, things take way longer than you think they would if you were doing it yourself. For example, it takes me about 20 minutes to capture someone’s essence in a portrait drawing – pencil only or crayons only, which is fun to do at parties until it gets too weird and you end up feeling like a hired clown. It takes middle school students about three weeks to do the same work. You kind of learn how to organize your class lessons after a while of teaching, learn how much they can accomplish in a given period of time – just saying if there are any Art Ed students reading this.
I went to high school with Syracuse artist Michael Cody. He is known for his Green Lakes paintings, which he has done in both oil and acrylics. He showed them in the library art gallery at my school and did a talk that illustrated the fact that George Benedict was a great art teacher, because a lot of what he talked about regarding composition and mixing paint was information I have taught to my students that came from the horse’s mouth (Mr. B.), and so he really kind of reinforced what I had been teaching. Of course, that does not always happen with other artists who have spoken to my students. Sometimes there is a giant difference of opinion regarding the vernacular of art.
I have this thing about figure and ground vs. negative and positive space. I only use negative and positive to describe form in a work of sculpture (the negative space is the void) and refer to figure and ground when discussing two-dimensional works. A lot of art education has to do with how you were taught, as though all of the college stuff goes out the window for some reason when you teach. This isn’t just me talking, I read it in a bunch of research papers when I took a graduate course two years ago and again when I worked on my papers for National Board Certification this past year. I feel lucky I had great art teachers when I was growing up, but then again, someone else in the art world would be more than willing to dispute my knowledge and share their knowledge/expertise/opinions when given a platform.
So here are some paintings by Michael Cody.
It would have been so cool if I had photos of the exact same locations – like in a perfect world I would be the super blogger of the universe, but, oh well. I think you can see that it is the same place only so much better in Michael’s work. Aren’t they so good?
I don’t know if he is represented in a gallery. I will have to let him know I shared these here and he can give out the details of how you can contact him. He is the real deal.
As for me? My abstract landscapes are still hanging in the Sullivan Library in Chittenango, NY. They will be there until the end of August. I was lucky that their August person cancelled because as I told you before, I just think one month shows seem too short. So there are a couple more weeks if you want to see them.
I’ve booked the next person for the school library show and it is Karen Kozicki. She’s a photographer. I’m so excited to work with her. Booked the show a year ago! We are meeting at the end of August to install. There’s still plenty of summer left before then and plenty of days to enjoy the lake.