Friday, June 21, 2013

2013 Visual Art Academy: Highlights & Notes

Just wrapped up my first time teaching cartooning at the UAF Visual Art Academy (one of the many such summer camps offered in the Interior community): what a kick in the creative pants those kids were! There were some absolutely fantastic works by a wide range of different styles and skill levels - including some truly astonishing abilities by a several students in particular that it was a genuine joy to see the work of. The two morning classes ran an hour-and-a-half each for two weeks, five days a week, with 8-9 students per session, from 6th-grade to juniors in highschool (from Lathrop, Hutch, Ryan Middle, Hunter Elementary and homeschooled).

Big thanks to Lee Post (esp. for the Ivan Brunetti tip) and Robin Feinman for the assist: after getting called up on short notice I was apprehensive on being prepared, but with some helpful tips and culling reworked/scaled-back exercises from previous cartooning courses and workshops I think it went well enough. Extra-special thanks go to all the behind-the-scene folks who helped facilitate the academy and Director Todd Sherman - it's a huge endeavor especially condensed over such a comparatively brief time. To pick just one highlight, it was awesome to see the reaction of four of my students whose classwork adorned the annual tshirt design (and great job on such short turnaround Trademark Screenprinting).

True story: You know your cartooning class rocks and everybody's really really into what they're drawing when there's a freakin' earthquake and nobody even notices. Most days I got the distinct impression that most of the students attending this camp would have been more than happy just left alone to draw whatever comics that they had cookin' up on the back burners in their brains.

I usually spent time after class making copies and posting student work up in the hallway display cases. Cumulatively this meant a veritable wallpapering of the department, and we didn't even need to have submissions to the gala gallery exhibition on the last week of camp, we just showcased the collaborative script/pencil/ink/color pages in the main hallway, and kept up a smorgasbord of samples from other assignments in the secondary cases.

Spreading like an infection throughout the department halls

Random things learned: My beaver "chop" logo actually looks like a cyclops with buckteeth; "gag" cartoons are called that because if you eat them, they will in fact make you gag; a front/back/side and 3/4's view of a character design doesn't work all that well if your character is an egg; also got turned onto Ross Campbell's "Wet Moon" and Guy Delisle's "Burma Chronicles."

I did an informal poll during the second week, to ask specifically "What do you wanna know/learn how to do/get out of the class" so as to maybe better inform my lesson plans in the future, and got back a wide variety of responses: how to draw people (not stick figures), how to be funny, panel arrangements on a comics page, how to make people laugh their pants off, nothing in particular... just everything, draw human people and faces in proportion, the business of cartooning, how to draw people kissing each other, and a whole bunch of "nothing, just draw cartoons."

Random poll of their personal favorite cartoons was revealing in its breadth and depth: Miyazaki's "My Neighbor Totoro," Garfield, Kibuishi's "Amulet," Pearls Before Swine, Calvin & Hobbes, Scott Pilgrim, Cartoon Network's "Samurai Jack," Kishimoto's "Naruto," Zits, Shan's "Cirque du Freake," Kagesaki's "Chibi Vampire," The Powerpuff Girls, Spongebob Squarepants, Tom & Jerry, and My Little Pony.

More notes below the fold...
The Starting Line

I backed up each session with "overflow assignments" for the more advanced: the diversity of skill and range of abilities became readily apparent after the initial skill assessment doodle done on day one. It always helps to have a few aces up the sleeve when it comes to keeping everyone working, especially folks who finish up early and start to get squirrelly: the chaos of herding cats while juggling classroom tasks is a rare skill. Playing continual catch-up left me with only a few hours of sleep each night by the end of the first week, but as the in-class projects lengthened so did my roster of activities to prep for begin to dwindle. The in-class work (there wasn't any "homework" per say except to "start thinking" about story lines and ideas) was structured sequentially so as to give plenty of material to draw from (often literally) for each successive assignment.

I always tried to have a couple demo panels of my own work going so as to show the different stages from concept/doodle > to pencils > to inks > to watercolor and digital print versions. Also kept playing in the background and up on the projector screen my YouTube "Cartoonists" channel (a reminder to always preview for appropriate content, as is the case with most cartoons). The daily schedule kept changing from day to day in accordance with time constraints and class enthusiasm: I pushed them pretty hard to accomplish a lot - nowhere near as much time to cover everything I wanted too (like I had to triage the caricature lesson) but at least if there's another opportunity to do a similar series of workshops I'll have a better grip on the logistics and expectations. That said, getting up and going to an 8am class on summer vacation during some of the nicest weather all year speaks a lot to these student's interests and passion.

For those of our viewers keeping score at home, here's a general breakdown of the two-week schedule, with specific assignments hyperlinked to back-posts for more detail:

- introductory show & tell (portfolio + slides of my own work) + sample books for inspiration and demonstrating the wide range of styles, formats (comic books, web, graphic novels, syndication etc.) and uses of comic art.
- self-portrait doodle (initial skill assessment)

- materials & techniques/demo panel + care of tools
- character design + texture exercises (hatch/xhatch/stipple/scumbling)
* ask questions/prompts as per character development topics sheet
+ front/side/back and ¾’s views, silhouettes w/distinctive, prominent features (on one sheet of paper)
+ six basic expressions (on one sheet of paper)
*overflow assignment: add props and environments

- single panel gags
- “Think Before You Ink” timed team game + “Mad Libs Comic Panel” exercise
* lettering + composition lecture
*overflow: Alootook Ipellie show & tell

- “Def Gag” + “Gag Charts” group exercises (+ create their own panel)
*overflow: “Index Card cartoons” exercise

- cartoon jam exercises (horizontal 4-panel + vertical 3-panel formats)
*overflow assignment: “Images Playing Off Words” + “Show Time Passing” exercises
*weekend homework: start thinking about idea for simple script for one-page story or excerpt

minicomics: samples (use “Six Word Stories” exercise for idea material)
*editing/timing/pacing lecture

– collaborative: student #1 writes a simple script for a one-page piece (3-5 panels on 11x17")
– collaborative: pencils: student #2 pencils page from student #1 script
+ in-class assemblage of copies for minicomic exchange 

– collaborative: inks: student #3 inks page from student #2 pencils
– collaborative: color (wash/marker): student #4 adds wash/colors page from student #3 inks
*showpieces to gallery

– start vignette: script > pencils
*overflow assignment: use "Start To Finish”exercise for idea material
* history of sequential art lecture

– finish vignette
*copy class comic book
*overflow assignment: “Wrong Planet” exercise 

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