Thursday, January 15, 2009

Opening Ramble

This blog is an attempt to document what goes on and why during my 2009 spring semester’s Beginning Drawing class. I hope by trying to write down everything it’ll give folks ideas and inspiration along with some perspective for myself on the whole process of both teaching and doing art. Comments are welcome and I look forward to sharing ideas and getting feedback from prospective talents along with established artists in the community.
The goal is to post on alternate days, which ought to be interesting, as I have never journaled anything aside from an ever-present sketchbook, which while is a repository of doodles and ideas, never follows any logical narrative, much like my thinking process. So keeping notes like this should prove to be a novel if not amusing experiment.

I’ve taught this particular studio class (ART F105) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Fine Art department fourteen times now since 2001, plus an integrated (Beginning/Intermediate/Advanced levels) drawing class over the past five summer sessions. Over the years a lot has changed in my approach to the classroom as well as my own personal abilities as a teacher and an artist, I wouldn’t necessarily use the word “matured” but it has streamlined and become more focused, definitely not a trait one could apply to my work in general. While at the core not much is any different about drawing than making marks on cave walls, some materials and techniques make it easier to understand if not produce better work. The internet and digital technology is easily the biggest influence to have happened since I began teaching, and “Ink & Snow” is one of many efforts at incorporating new concepts and adapting to changing times.

I base my entire philosophy on teaching art around the simplest and easiest possible way to make it doable for anyone. I am convinced by my experiences that anyone can make art and that there is no mysterious secret, and that you don’t have to be born with any special talent. It really isn’t all that different than wanting to be a decent cook or an auto mechanic: just takes the time spent learning the tools of the trade, and the time spent using them. I tend to stick to a traditional model - the linear acquisition of basic skills – before gradually opening up and focusing on concepts and content. But at the outset, it is pretty much a nuts-and-bolts affair, which can be a relief to someone who needs clearly defined and objective parameters for learning.
But I’m not only teaching the craft, the particular skills of creating art, I’m simultaneously selling the students on the value of art (both personal and financial), maybe even convincing them to change their majors, abandon friends & family, and give up any notions of financial security and emotional stability. Seriously though, there is an assumed responsibility that comes with this territory; while it is perhaps the greatest joy to validate someone else’s creative work and see their own vision take root, change their world and see everything differently etc. the harsh practicality of choosing to make art is a concerning factor. Part of my job is to make making art relevant and real to each person, and instill at the very least some sense of belief that it is and will always be an option for them to explore. Being painfully aware of the ratio of beginning students who are taking this class in hopes of scoring an easy “A” (not gonna happen) or earn the required three credits of a humanity elective towards a degree, versus the relative few who are actually interested in the field of art as a legitimate career presents a challenge. I think with my particular experience as a practicing artist that manages to support himself with a range of related endeavors, from works displayed in galleries, freelance illustration and published exposure in the print media I offer an honest, no-bullshit approach to making art that satisfies many of the motivating reasons for doing it (i.e. expressing myself + paying the bills).

Well, more on all that later… in the meantime, before the class actually begins this semester, I’ll shuffle in some random posts that’ll hopefully lay a bit more groundwork insofar as where I’m coming from about all this. Then we’ll get out hands dirty and get down to it.

Welcome, thanks for hanging out and enjoy...


  1. Welcome to the blogosphere, as I'm told they call it. I just call it a convenient way to share ideas. It's somewhere between a think tank and a bathroom wall.

  2. I never took art classes looking for an easy A, I'm not talented enough for any art class to be easy. But I enjoyed the heck out them since the classes made me stretch my noodle, develop skills, and learn some new perspectives.
    Perspectives, hah! Perspective drawing was one of the few things I could actually do fairly competently.

  3. Hi Jamie, Thoughtful post. Just to keep things interesting, let me disagree a bit. I think there is such a thing as talent. It is a spectrum or. Perhapsmore accurately a bell curve with a fat middle where most of us are. But it is not mutable. Desire
    , practice, and luck can and does propel lesser ability past greater regularly. Laziness is one of the greatest enemies of art, joy one of it's greatest allies.


  4. Crap! In the previous post the word "mutable" should be " immutable"

  5. Talent can determine how much time a person requires to produce presentable art. My lack of talent makes me look for the simplest composition that gets my point across. That in itself is a talent, but only within the limitation that I have trouble producing an elaborate composition even if the idea would benefit from it.

    Perhaps my perception of the excessive time I require comes from the fact that I have not been able to put art at the forefront of my schedule. I need to render things clearly in a hurry. I know more talented people who can whack out quite a layout in jig time. Winsor McKay was no hack, and he was reputedly quite fast. I ain't no Winsor McKay.