Teaching portraits

Teaching portraits-1

I’ve recently given a series of lessons as a guest teacher for Year 11 and 12 art students. It’s been amazing to meet kids who are serious about art and hungry for knowledge. I’ve enjoyed sharing my process and tips for how to make it as an artist in the real world.

A lot of my art comes from my heart – it’s about the issues that are central to me at the time. I asked the students what was going on for them, to trigger ideas for artworks that would be meaningful for them to make. I was struck by the common theme in their answers: they need to decide, NOW, what they are going to do for the rest of their lives, and for many of them, what they want intuitively doesn’t fit with what their families want for them.

This makes me sad. The pressure we put on kids to find their path, the RIGHT path, at a specific time. I could never have forseen what would lie ahead for me after leaving school. I’ve been a computer programmer, a circus performer, a puppeteer, and artist and now a writer. To me, that makes my life rich and meaningful. But each time I’ve changed careers, there’s been a slight sense of disapproval from the world around me, as if the change is indicative of my inability to really stick with something and follow it through. I don’t see it like that. To me, all these different careers have made my life richer, more exciting, more challenging and more interesting. I don’t think I have the right personality to specialise in one thing, forever.

As I chatted with the students, I hope I was able to pass on a bit of that message. That while the world around us wants us to do just one thing, it IS possible to find your way as you go, to mix an artistic life with earning money, and to do it all without seeing a clear path in front of you at the age of sixteen.

In addition to talking about their futures, and the process of making art, I gave them lots of hands on demonstrations. The most confronting for me was painting this portrait. I love painting faces, I do it all the time. But here was the pressure to paint quickly so it’d be done before the bell went, and to give a running commentary to my audience of students as I went. Gulp! I honestly wasn’t sure I could do it.

But I was pretty happy with this face which came out, and my students were thrilled with watching her emerge from blurry outlines to a face with depth and dimension. I’m so hard on myself though – all I see are the asymmetric points! But I didn’t take the time as I went to analyse and correct that as I normally do. When the bell is going to ring in 20 minutes, you’ve got to sacrifice something!

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