Today, I introduced an activity to help my senior students notice the differences between lines and values. I had been sifting through Clara Lieu’s playlist, “How to Draw a Portrait with Charcoal & Cross-Hatching” and thought that Clara’s tip to begin a drawing by coating it in a layer of charcoal was a great idea. Her reasoning that it took the pressure off was excellent: a blank white page can indeed be very intimidating!
Alas, most of my students didn’t enjoy the activity. Of the 12 students who were in class (some were attending a meeting), maybe 2 or 3 admitted that they enjoyed what they were doing and were quite happy to share their work with me.
Did this hurt my feelings? Did I worry that they might not learn how to use this particular skill? Did I cringe when I saw some exercises tossed in the garbage bin?
This activity wasn’t accompanied by any sort of evaluation or anxiety. It was an activity. A way for students to see what it was like to work with a material. Without pressure. Without an expectation that they needed to get better next time.
This was my way to share an option with them, to see how they liked it. That’s it. If they like it, great. Perhaps this may be the start of a new exploration for them; a way to share the way they see things. Maybe this is a way they can further refine the skills they want to acquire. But maybe it isn’t.
You know what gave me a sense of peace about the whole experience? Knowing that one of my students dug up some very thin tree roots this weekend just so that he could strip them of their outer layer and find a way to work with them throughout the semester, connecting him to the land that he loves. Sharing a conversation with a student who is hoping to use a program to help him learn about architecture. Exploring how-to videos with a student who is hoping to become a better photographer so we both need to learn more about aperture, ISO and shutter speed. Sitting next to a student, mesmerized as I watched her practice calligraphy on magazine images because of her passion for literature. Glimpsing at an independent student who rummages for wooden frames and stretches her own canvases so she can continue to paint.
I have a lot of learning ahead of me. Thankfully most of my students forgive me for my faults while we try to figure out a lot of things together. Their interests, abilities and hopes are the focus of this year’s curriculum, and I am merely the person helping them as they sort through their thinking, explore their curiosities, share ideas with others and develop as artists.