Art History 101 Reflection

What can I say about the way the 2020 school year ended that isn’t already being said by hundreds of other educators. I am not even going to make an attempt to deconstruct all of that.

This past teaching year (2019/2020) I worked on contract at North Island College in the Comox Valley. In the Fall, I facilitated Creative Processes (one of my favourite courses), Modern Art History, and two sections of a first year painting course. The following Winter semester I was contracted to teach a first year Art History survey course and Screen Printing.

I also don’t intend to disseminate everything I think is wrong with the way we educate (see Jesse Stommel’s work for more on that), but I think it is that dissatisfaction with the status quo that drives innovative ideas.

As I looked at the pile of midterm exams for the Fall Modern Art History class (a course for which I had no say in the textbook selection, nor the topics covered, plus just one week to prepare) I felt a little bit of my soul dying. If I dreaded marking these exams, what are my students thinking as they write them. Ugh. What an awful scenario.

I thought about some of the ways we have students engage with ideas and material in Creative Processes and decided to change the midterm exam from a written exam into a physical or material practice exam for the following term’s first year survey class. I don’t claim to be the originator of this idea. I must have read about it somewhere and it’s an idea that I also implemented in another academic class I co-taught for Emily Carr in 2014. It was time to try it again.

Anthropologist Trevor Marchand states in The Future is Handmade (2019), “[we] really must expand our understanding of what knowledge is. Knowledge is not merely book learning, knowledge is being able to perform tasks beautifully with the body. This embodied knowledge needs to be re-evaluated by our society and given the status that it deserves. Making something beautiful is an expression of that knowledge.”

I asked the students to select an art work from the assigned text book and create a material response to the work. They were able to choose whatever form they wanted for the work. I did ask them to meet a minimum size, but other than that the field was open to them. I wanted them to think about what they would respond to in particular. Would it be a response to the content of the work? Or to a formal aspect of the work? Or to the materials used? The exam also had a one page written analysis with guiding questions for them to articulate to me what they were thinking.

I was blown away by what they made. I think I cried.

I had 26 students in this class and on the day of reckoning I asked that anyone who felt comfortable sharing what they made with the class was invited to share. So we spent the first part of the class looking at artworks and talking about what motivated them to choose a particular artwork to respond to and some of what they learned through the process of making.

Every student met my minimum expectation for the project with at least a third of them going far beyond my expectations. I made sure they understood from the outset that, especially since some of them were not art students, that they were not to stress over the execution of the project (although I did expect care) as much as they could articulate the whats and the whys. Most of the artworks were small drawings and paintings, but there were also collages, stitched wall hangings, and 3 dimensional works. One student taught himself to make egg tempera paint and then created a painting with it. Another student painted the crucifixion and tried to make Jesus different than what she sees in European crucifixion artworks: sexy Jesus. I loved that. The students taught themselves how to make sourdough starter (the bread smelled fantastic!), constructed elaborate boxes, made books, used humour, embroidered, and sewed.

Many of the students reported to me that it was the best academic exam they had ever done. Now some might think, “Oh yeah, making art, how easy is that? Of course they liked it.” I would argue that making art is very hard work. However, the written portions along with their excited talk about how they worked through the project tells a different story.

This kind of academic exam is a definite keeper.

I have asked permission from some of the students to post images of what they made and they also had the option of using their name. So what follows is a selection of some of the work that was produced for the midterm exam.

Bran Mackie, various textiles, embroidery and beading, 2020
Responding to Hildegard von Bingen from the lost folio from the Rupertsberg Scivias-Codex.
branmackie.com
Kat Cearns, Hildegard von Bingen, gouache and gold-leaf on paper, 2020
Responding to Hildegard von Bingen from the lost folio from the Rupertsberg Scivias-Codex.
www.katcearns.com
Demara Wilding, colour vinyl on tee, 2020
Responding to St. Matthew from the Ebbo Gospels.
Instagram: goodboy_vinyl
Student Work, arán braidithe do rí (which translates to “braided bread for a king” in Munster Gaelic dialect), sourdough bread on decorative platter, 2020
Responding to Sutton Hoo grave goods.
Mibu Matsuda, brooch with watercolour diagram, 2020
Responding to a pair of Merovingian looped fibulae.
Lora Stockand, acrylic on paper, 24x36in, 2020
Responding to Head of St Alexander reliquary.
Instagram: loraliszon_art

Squeegeerama – 2019

This summer I attended Squeegeerama. A week-long screenprint workshop in the Comox Valley at Wachiay Studio.

Bobby C. Martin was the guest screenprinter, and other artists were Max White (UWW), Klehwetua Rodney Sayers, and Emily Luce.

Emily and I worked on a 5 hour collaboration that we dubbed the Punk Print Posse.

Screenprinting Studio

What goes on in the print studios on campus?

If you’re a local you may sneak a peek into the windows as you walk from one part of the campus to the other. Here is a little of the magic that happens in the screenprint (serigraph) studio.

Printmaking is a technical process and the students are learning not only the technical aspects of the process, but also how to solve problems when they encounter a challenge.

Preparing an idea for a print.
Once an idea is worked out, the paper needs to be cut to size.
Individual sheets then need to be registered so that the image is printed in the same place on each sheet. Each layer of the image will also be printed in the correct place using this particular method (pins and tabs).
Stencils, or film positives, can be made in various ways. By hand using a black marker as in this example, Or…
…paint. Or…
… rubylith. Or…
… a halftone prepared on the computer and printed out on a transparent film.
Photographic images can also be created by splitting an image into four colours: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK). These are just a few methods for preparing film positives.
Frames with a fabric mesh stretched over them are what constitutes a screen printing screen. Here the screen is being degreased to prepare it for coating.
Once the screen is cleaned and dried, it is coated on both sides with a UV light sensitive emulsion.
Students are checking the instructions to ensure the proper operation of the vacuum frame and the OLEC Lamp.
Film positives are set on the vacuum frame bed. Here two film positives are used for each screen to make efficient use of the screens.
The emulsion coated and dried screens are set on top of the film positives.
A narrow cord is used to create a break or channel for the air to be drawn out from between the inside of the frame and the glass bed.
The vacuum is then turned on to draw the air out of the bed to hold the frames in place. Once the air is drawn out the bed can be raised and the OLEC lamp moved into position.
After the timer is set, a curtain is drawn and the lamp does it’s work to harden the emulsion on the screen.
When the lamp is finished it’s job, the screens are moved to the washout sink to wash out the emulsion that was protected from hardening by the film positives. This creates the area that the ink will then be able to pass through to create prints.
Once the screens are washed out, they are set to dry.
Areas, including the edges and/or small pin prick holes, will be taped off to prevent ink from seeping onto the print where it is not wanted.
The screen is then set up at a print station. NIC has two vacuum tables and two other stations where Brush Tac can be used.
Printing at the vacuum tables.
Printing and set up at a non-vacuum table station.
NIC also has a parallel press for screenprinting. The student is working on registering their print so that each print and layer in the run will be aligned and the same.
Demonstration prints in the drying rack.
Other effects can also be achieved with different printing methods. Here a split fountain, or colour merge, is being printed. It takes anywhere from 5 to 12 prints before a merge is blended.
A split fountain print.
Brush Tac needs to be cleaned from the table surface after the printing is complete on a non-vacuum table station.

Ridges & Valleys

Most of the day was spent in the studio pulling prints.

Learning the collagraph process involves making several test plates. The following three were printed from a test plate made from combed gesso.

Printed with stiff ink, intaglio wipe
Printed with an intaglio wipe, two colours (applied à la poupée), and chine-collé.
Printed with an intaglio wipe followed by a relief roll.

Throwback Thursday

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I took an oil painting class in 2004 with Gerald Steadman Smith at the Ottawa School of Art. Gerald had the class bring in a photo for the first class and we used that to paint from.

During the class a student asked Gerald how to put the paint on the canvas. She had never done it before. I was now wondering what golden nugget of wisdom Gerald would provide that would alleviate my own rising anxiety.

He said, “You take your brush, dip it in the paint, and then put it on the canvas. I’m not going to do it for you, or even show you. Do you think anyone in any of my studies ever showed me? No. You just do it.”

Be still my beating heart.

January Drawing Challenge

For the month of January, I participated in the Comox Valley Arts, a community arts council, 30-Day Drawing Challenge. I used a free app: You Doodle, and my finger on an iPad. This is a selection from the 30 days.

BPSR6878
Prompt: a resolution or a dream.
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Prompt: a comic strip.
UGWR2386
Prompt: light & shadow – practice your shading.
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Prompt: something scary.
MBOB2051
Prompt: a whale.
AOQG7536
Prompt: a place you’d love to see – try using perspective.
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Prompt: something retro/vintage.
BCGF1101
Prompt: something from the utensil drawer.
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Prompt: a day in the snow.
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Prompt: your comfort food.
GYBJ4085
Prompt: something tropical – a flamingo perhaps.
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Prompt: a monster.
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Prompt: a haiku (make or borrow one) – text art exercise.
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Prompt: things you find in a river.
Prompt: a chair – try using foreshortening.
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Prompt: something drawn while blindfolded or using blind contour.
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Prompt: a treasure map, and something in flight (combination of two prompts).

The Sides of a Canvas

I don’t paint the sides of canvases.

Because:

It indicates that the painting is finished. I don’t consider my work finished. There is always something that can be improved or changed.

It can prettify the work. I’m not interested in pretty (unless it’s a device to lead you to something else). Beauty and pretty are not the same thing.

It’s a painting. I’m not interested in trying to make the painting into something it is not. It feels like it is trying too hard. That’s not to say that paintings are not other things. It will become what it will become.