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Vignettes Of Terrible Art Teachers 2

She’s standing in front a TV playing a creepy video of a gender neutral hair model with a dinosaur bone in front of it wrapped in birthday present wrapping paper.  “What do you think of this piece?”  Art is always a piece.  Artists are never “popular”, they’re always “important”.  Every piece by anyone moderately popular is important and must be taken seriously.  This piece is by a student, so I’m not sure what the rules are here.  Will I still be required to prostrate myself at the altar of artistic expression, or can I say what everyone is thinking?

I go for the latter, “It seems like the artist is just doing things at random and is making fun of video installation art.”  Immediately the teacher gets visibly upset.  I’m being cynical. I have no idea what I’m talking about.  All the other true believers attack my statement.  I have no right to be so cynical.  I don’t know why this artist made this so I could be criticizing someone who was raped and this is their expression of their past experiences.  I just stand there and take it, since I’m outnumbered 1 cynic to 12 true believers.

The teacher is looking at our paintings in a critique class and praising everyone.  She’ll ask them why they painted this road, or that building, or their face, and the experienced students know the game.  They effuse wildly about their personal connection to the subject.  How deeply the construction cranes in the Dogpatch move them to tears and impact their life in deep meaningful ways.  Before that this student was into a ceramic bird that changed her life forever.  Another had pasted some flowers onto a photo of herself, but the real meaning was her ever changing views on feminism.  Another talked for 20 minutes about how this trip to Muir woods changed her life in profound spiritual ways so her paintings of roads are an expression of her deeply moving experience.

The teacher comes to my paintings and asks me why I painted them.  I say, “I wanted to practice noses.”  She scowls at me and says, “It seems like you aren’t personally attached to your subject.”  I confusedly pause then ask, “I’m not personally attached to my face?” She completely misses the absurdity in this question and fires back, “Yes, it seems you’re just painting it because it is there, not because you truly love it.”  I look around all the other true believers are staring at me with a mixture of sadness and incredulity, except one.  She’s rolling her eyes with a look of, “Sorry dude, she’s an idiot.”

I’m in a class billed as a figure class that will make me more expressive and find my “true” artist inside.  I actually don’t care finding my true artistic expression.  I just want to get more figure classes in, and this sounded like a lot of fun.  The class would teach us to apply different techniques in a situation where a nude model would pose while different color lights are cast on them with music playing to set a mood.  The teacher was also really nice and a very good painter so I figured I’d learn something.

During the class I’m just sucking ass and can’t figure out why.  I’m trying to paint the figures but the music is distracting, the lights make no sense, and the teacher is constantly waffling between “be loose, don’t think” and “why isn’t that drawn correctly?” I try as hard as I can to satisfy both goals of not being accurate and also being accurate but it’s impossible.  On the final day I realize that, given the models are all white skinned, then the crazy color lights mean there is zero flesh tones.  Aha! Why the hell didn’t the teacher just tell me this?  “Because you have to discover that for yourself.”  Well then why am I paying you money?

About half way through the course I ask why we’re doing the lights and the sound.  She says so we can’t think about what we’re doing.  So I ask then why are we expected to be accurate in these conditions?  She says if you’re really an artist it’ll be accurate.  I ask if she does this with her paintings and she says, “Oh no, not at all.”

 

Copying & Repetition

You ever hear parents complain about their kids TV habits?  “Oh my god! If I hear Blues Clues one more time! Timmy plays that damn video over and over and over.”  What Timmy is doing is learning.  Timmy probably also mimics his parents and siblings actions, copies their speech patterns, observes their habits, and repeats them over and over.

Copying other people and repetitive training is the foundation of education, but in today’s education this has been thrown out in favor of “conceptual learning”.  The idea of conceptual learning is if you expose someone to the concept of a subject then they’ll have a higher more refined understanding of the topic than simple copying and repetition (what they call “rote learning”).  The reality is conceptual models of education simply find students lucky enough to naturally know the topic, and then leave the rest to fail and flounder.

In the united states, there is even a slight racist tinge to the attitude of conceptual vs. rote education.  I’ve heard many people say that “Asians really can only copy others because they use rote education in school.”  If you’ve spent any time studying Asian art and culture you know this isn’t true at all, and is a very racist attitude.  Whether it’s the Ruby Programming language, or BABYMETAL, or Old Boy, it’s entirely wrong to think that Asians are unoriginal little robots because they learned by rote.

There’s also a strange fear associated with rote learning that says if you learn rote you’ll somehow be less “creative”.  The problem with this is that nearly every creative thing you do requires rote practice.  The idea that I’m going to learn the major scale on a guitar by just learning the concept of a major scale is laughable.  Nobody who teaches music thinks that.  I learned guitar from repetition and copying other guitarists.

Painting might be the next discipline someone who believes in “concepts” puts forward as an example of avoiding rote learning.  Again, there’s a very long history or repetitively copying the works of other artists. There’s even a term for it: “Master Copy”.  Every great artist and almost all art schools have copying other artists as a way to learn to paint or draw.

If doing rote copying turned painters or musicians into unoriginal robots then all of them would be that way.  Painters and musicians are frequently put forward as the pinnacle of creativity, so clearly rote copying doesn’t impact your originality.  In fact, the dividing line between amateur and professional is how much they practice, and practice is repetition. Artists do small studies in a formal way. Musicians play scales their whole life, again repetitively copying.

How about writing?  Again, you learn to write by first copying the alphabet, then small stories, then trying to write on your own, and reading and trying to emulate your favorite authors.  Copying and repetition is all there.  Memorizing a poem is copying and repetition.  Reading and pulling out quotes and phrase structures is also copying and repetition.  Every author who is any good copies other authors and repeatedly writes almost obsessively.

Martial Arts, Dance, Singing, even Mathematics is full of copying and repetition.  Denying the role of these two practices in education denies what is a foundational aspect of human learning.  This is even the foundation of non-human learning, so why is it that people in the computer science field think there is no role for copying and repetition?

Rote in Computer Science Education

Copying and repetition is necessary in education because it builds instinctual basic skills someone needs to understand the more abstract conceptual parts of a discipline.  Nobody thinks you can memorize all of Jazz, but they definitely know that if you can’t instinctively play a scale then you’re probably not going to be able to play Jazz.  Nobody thinks you can memorize all of art, but if you drawing or color isn’t instinctual then you are going to struggle.

I believe Computer Science education could benefit greatly from copying and repetition at the beginner level and possibly later.  Copying is how a vast majority of programmers learned to code, but many CS educators deny this fact.  If you’re imagining yourself at 12 trying to learn to code, then I’m betting you had either a book or website with code that you copied and made work.  This should just be how we start people in programming, and not the current method of conceptual “weed out” classes.

Repetition is a mostly un-researched aspect of CS education that I’d like to explore more.  I believe that repetition happens naturally if you have copying as a base part of the educational experience.  However, I feel that drilling and repeating aspects of a language that need to be instinctual would improve retention.  For example, if students had to memorize all the lexemes and syntax structures of a language while they’re copying small working programs.

I think the main reason why this is ignored or vilified in CS is the same reason that most programmers simply can’t teach:  They are so far removed from their beginner experience that they forget that they actually learned to code via rote learning.  We see it all the time when a programmer attempts to teach non-developer and immediately tries to get them to use Vim and write C code.

The experienced programmer has completely forgotten the nights they spent repeatedly copying other people’s code and writing and rewriting buggy code to make it work.  To them this isn’t “rote” because they were so deep in it that they can’t see all the implied rote work actually being done.  They were also 10, so their brains were very bad at meta-cognition and can’t really say why they thought anything, so how can their recollection of their self-education possibly be accurate?

Hopefully Computer Science will adopt the educational style I’ve found in Music for beginner, and painters for intermediate developers.   I believe an early training that involves a mixture of rote (scales, chords, ear training) followed by copying and modifying (learn a song and try to improvise) will benefit beginners.  For intermediate programmers I think the Painting style of education would work well:  copy master works and create your own studies of simple subjects.

Adopting these two models would make CS accessible to more people, and make it easier for beginners to transition to intermediate and then advanced skills.

Today’s Portrait Painting Class

Portraits are definitely my most difficult subject so I attend as many painting classes as I can. Here’s today’s class progress shots:


Just a simple drawing and then basic painting of the head, did this in the first two settings. Next shot:


Color and exposure isn’t very good on that but shows the progress.


The final painting at the end of class. Actually I was done last session but then decided to goof off with the tattoos and background for no real reason.

A Day at The SF MOMA

I’ve been into using the features in my camera to take photos and directly post them to the internet. To do this I set up the buttons to make transferring easier. Then I made it easy to access all the buitl-in effects.  I have a Sony camera so it comes with most of the Instagram effects.


This is with B&W but allowing green through. 

While doing this I found I can use a couple settings to take better photos for paintings.  I can use the High Contrast B&W filter to look for interesting high contrast shapes and composition, then take a RAW image with high vibrance to get color and detail reference.

I can then load it into Lightroom Mobile or one of the Photoshop apps to alter it real quick if I want. 

I decided I wanted to use the HCB&W filter to practice composing shapes. I went to the SF MOMA to take photos. 


All I’m doing is finding interesting shapes. The high contrast makes it easier to see them.

Modern art museums are great for this.


People standing around mixed with art sculptures and piles of garbage have great shapes.


No idea if I’m violating copyright but whatever.


I was actually suffering from a throat infection that kept me from talking so I got tired.


I try to make it difficult to identify the object I’m photographing. When it’s a random metal wall that’s not hard.


Playing with depth of field.


The time of day was perfect for contrasting shapes on buildings.


I used people to alter the shapes in the scene.


Love Chuck Close.


Neon looks great in B&W.


The shapes can come from anywhere:


Neon tends to just be pure white.


Done at the Museum.

Morning Foggy Pastels

I haven’t been able to paint outside in a while, and the fog was looking great this morning, so I decided to go do something small and quick. I hit Fort Mason and took some photos:


And the same guy in color:


I need to get my sensor cleaned I guess. 


I settled on this little scene to practixe things fading into the fog. In pastels this is a little hard.


First I did a little valur study to figure out what I wanted.


Then this tiny little pastel. I didn’t want to be out there forever so kept it tiny. Here it is up close:


Just a simple impressionist study.

Watercolor Creme Brulee

I was doing more watercolor practice copying paintings out of books and I burned this one:


Burned it?! That’s right. Rather than use a hair dryer to dry watercolor I use a creme brulee torch. Since the paper is wet you can run a torch over it rapidly and it’ll dry really quick. But, obviously if you don’t pay attention or do it for too long or get too close, well, you burn the paper.

Here’s one I didn’t burn, but it had too much sizing so the color wouldn’t stick:


Sizing is a glue or sealer on the paper that lets the color soak in some, but not too much, preventing the paper from buckling. Here’s my final one for the night:


Just a simple painting with not too much color.

Practicing Watercolor and Ink

I really like sketching with watercolor but damn is it hard. Watercolor is the inverse of other paints because it’s transparent so you build paintings from light to dark, using the paper as your white “pigment”. In other paint it’s easier to go from dark to light because the pigment is opaque.  The other thing making watercolor difficult is you have to controp the amount of water on thr paper vs. in your brush. If you don’t it will run and bleed around.

The easiest way to get used to this is to paint with just ink and water or any transparent black paint. To get back into it I did a copy of a painting from a watercolor book:


I just used an ink that’s fairly transparent and water soluble. I have a brush pen that makes it easy to paint, and then some little water brushes to change edges.

The way to think about these paintings is like this:

  1. Identify every shape that’s whitest white. Paint everything else with a very wash of light gray.
  2. Identify the shapes that stay lighy gray, paint everything else mid gray. Now you have your whites, light gray, mid-gray. It might be done here.
  3. Now identify all the dark shapes, paint those in. You should be done at this point.

The advantage of watercolor is you can control the edges on these shapes if you dry the paper or not between each layer of paint. If you have more water then the edges will be soft and out of focus. If you dry it then the edges will be hard and in focus.

Do these kind of monochrome paintings for a while and you’ll get the hang of water as an edge control and using layers of watercolor to build the painting. 

Next I tried a few with color, using mostly the same process. But, one thing I always never really figured out how work pen and ink into my watercolors so I tried that too. First try:


It’s like, some rocks and stuff. I don’t know.  Let’s try that again:


It’s some more rocks and an orange bush. Sure. That’s…close enough. Ok something with dark black so I can use the pen and ink without it being weird:


Nothing beats backlight on trees for dark silhouette shapes. Those are birds or mosquitos or something annoying and tiny.

I really like ink for drawing and a brush pen to do monochrome paintings, but still not sure about it in watercolors.

Bob Ross Light at The Summit

Painting along with Bob Ross again I did this:


When you see the progress shots you’ll notice I added that one tree right over the top of the best part. I knew I should have stopped but like Bob I love doing the trees. I started off with a silhouette of sky and mountains.


This time I used water soluble oil paints. These work mostly like oil paint but you clean up using water instead of solvents. The reason I used them is I wanted to speed up my painting the way he does with big buckets to clean the brush and then banging it on another bucket to dry it. If you watch Bob’s painting, he does this many times, laughing about coating the studio with paint thinner and wiping it on his pants.


During his life he probably washed brushes like this hundreds of thousands of times. No gloves, solvent everywhere, soaking his skin, clothes, and studio with dangerous chemicals. People scoff at this, but he was using massive amounts of solvent and spraying it everywhere. This is different from a painter with a tiny jar and drying a small brush with a paper towel.


I believe Bob Ross died of lymphoma at 52 because of repeated and prolonged exposure to large amounts of solvents. Others will point at painters who don’t get cancer and say it’s not possible, but again Bob was exposed to crazy amounts of it, and early solvents that were not very refined.


When I try his methods even with just water it’s a mess. I’m trying to be careful too so I don’t have to clean paint off my floor. I have two buckets with water and another plastic can for banging. The water still gets on my gloves, floor, and legs in small quantities.  Just based on my experience painting like him with water and being careful I can see he was soaked in it.


It’s too bad that painters are told these solvents are as harmless as water. They are definitely not, and there’s nothing macho or painterly about soaking your skin with toxic chemicals. Numerous painters eventually have to stop because constant exposure gives them rashes, allergic reactions, and breathing problems. The few who say they’re fine after 30 years are just falling for survivor bias.


I try to always wear gloves. It makes cleanup easier and protects my skin. Other painters make fun of me, but then I just grab my paper towels, invert my gloves over the garbage like bags, and walk away all cleaned up while they’re washing their hands and dealing with irritated skin or worse. It’s even more important with pastels as the binder and pigments are an irritant too.


Sometimes painters will claim gloves ruin their sensitivity but I just point out how doctors all wear gloves and operate on delicate organs. I’m pretty sure if a doctor can operate on an eye or a heart while wearing gloves you can fling your shoulder around a shitty oil landscape.

Bob Ross’s Misty Foothills

I did another Bob Ross last night, mistly using the knife but not entirely:


I love using the palette knife to paint like this but I don’t get much opportunity to use it with the classical realism I do. I think my next Ross will be all knife.

Here’s the progression:









Mastercopy of Bob Ross’s “Camper’s Haven”

I love following along with Bob Ross so tonight I spent a few hours doing Camper’s Haven and here’s the results. Keep in mind I’m in the heat of battle and just used my phone real quick for all but the final shot. That shot uses my nice camera so looks correct. Here it is:


Now the progression:




Had to do those damn trees twice. Just couldn’t get them dark enough.

And then finally:


I’ll let it dry and the do something about those violently green bushes and water in the bottom right. Fucking Pthalo green.