Monday, March 16, 2009

Brighter days ahead...

Mid-March and we in Fairbanks have been blessed with (hopefully) one last brutal cold-snap of –30 degree temperatures, with an additional, and comparatively rare for this region, wind-chill advisory in effect - forecasting –55 gusts over the hills, where I happen to be. Coming at the end of a particularly long and brutal winter, these wonderfully crazy reminders of where we live can cause no end of depression and wild mood-swings amongst locals … “when you’ve reached the end of your rope, tie a knot, hang on, and swing.” Between S.A.D. and basic cabin-fever this is a particularly nurturing environment for artistic endeavors; all things being relative, at least from the warped perspective of the partially insane, this is perversely inspiring. The return of daylight fuels an almost manic energy that can be potentially channeled into some projects languishing in my sketchbooks and cluttering up the back of my mind as well. It also really helps alleviate the despair to think ahead to the upcoming semester and summer, knowing that this’ll all soon end, fading like a bad dream; and I’ll be way too busy to worry about how miserable I feel and how much I really hate this place. Ha ha, seriously now, time to ladle some more delicious fat into the crock-pot and grab another pint of Ben & Jerry’s

So registration opened up a few weeks back for the two Summer Session courses that I teach; a combined studio art class for Beginning/Intermediate/Advanced Drawing, and another one for Cartoon & Comic Art, offered at both Beginning & Advanced levels. The cartoon one is already filled up, which is a great indication of the interest and enthusiasm this far in advance, and the drawing class is well on it’s way as well, with a good balanced spread of all levels. There is a unique dynamic with having mixed levels all in one class; beginners have the opportunity to benefit from the examples set by the more advanced students, who in turn I increasingly rely on to not only set the bar but also pro actively assume a higher degree of participation (such as spearheading the critiques and giving supplimental demonstrations). The age spread of attendee’s is greater also; with aspiring, talented high-schoolers all the way to retired folks, or teachers seeking credits to maintain their certificates, and even some local professionals looking to stay fresh and experiment thrown into the mix. This sets up a great system of in-house role models and mutual support (more like the classic phenomenon of lifeboat psychology), facilitating a creative symbiosis rarely experienced otherwise.

The combined classes are something I look forward to for many other reasons; I get a chance to work with students that are more advanced, more mature (sometimes), also not half asleep (this is an afternoon and evening schedule), and by default tend to be a tad bit more devoted, since they are sacrificing what amounts to half the precious summer season here in Alaska. This attitude rubs off on everyone, raising the overall quality, expectations and professionalism for the whole class. The commitment is a serious one, since an entire semester’s work is compressed into six weeks; we meet four consecutive days a week for three hours a day, and with an equal amount of hours (at least) spent on homework, it amounts to a heavy load of responsibilities. Already I’ve NOT given “instructor permission” to a few interested queries from folks attempting to register for both courses, as that amounts to simply too much, and in my experience results in burnout and/or failure, or at the least sub-par work. The rhythm is paced out easier during a normal semester and is more accommodating to someone that has a full load of courses, plus maybe a job, and even a life on the side. Maintaining the frenetic momentum is a tricky balancing act; I personally love being able to stay on top of them with the benefit of successive days – too often there’s other distractions and demands made on everyone’s time during the spring & fall semesters and it can be easier to lose that momentum over a weekend. This grueling regime is the equivalent of boot camp for artists, and so far it’s been extremely rewarding for most everyone.

The energy is a lot more focused along with the hectic, balls-to-the-wall pace, but once over the initial plunge, the juggling of different individual needs gets easier to handle. I also spend a lot more time out-of-doors, taking advantage of nicer weather to incorporate even more field sketching at many resources around the campus and community; like the Georgeson Botanical Gardens, Large Animal Research Station (ie the Musk-Ox Farm), Alaskaland and Creamers Field. After the same drill of learning the fundamentals, and getting a working familiarity with materials and techniques, our little posse of artists saddle up and ride around looking for stuff to draw. That’s basically about it, in a nutshell.

I highly doubt I’ll be able to maintain blogging during all of this – the "Ink & Snow" experiment was initially conceived as a way to document first-hand an average semester teaching one beginning drawing class, posting maybe twice a week. That’s already gone well by the wayside, ok, out the damned window, with it sprawling over into other events and activities. If I feel that I still haven’t addressed some of the key aspects by the end of this semester I may extend over into the summer sessions – the cartooning class in particular might be a worthwhile endeavor to blog about. I might have to invest in a laptop, change my style of posting accordingly, and maybe even learn how to actually type. We’ll see…

In the meantime, things being as they are in my whacked-out world, this has been neither a “spring” nor much of a “break,” so the resumption of class tomorrow represents somewhat of a relief to get back into an established routine (think I have that backwards). Already prepped the schedule and roster of activities for the upcoming week, and been still waking up plenty early even without setting an alarm clock, so presumably I’ll be bright-eyed & bushy-tailed first thing in the morning, much to the annoyance of many…

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