It’s tough. I get it. Once you have something that works, why change it? It was this attitude that left me creatively bankrupt as a teacher. I found that after twenty years of teaching, I had creatively pushed every mater project as far as I could for students, but had left microlabs and introductory learning lessons in the dust. Microlabs, exercises that lead up to a project, lacked creativity, originality, and more than anything, fun! These mini-lessons we all should do found their way to the trash can every time. How could I challenge students to make small works of art that had purpose, and that technically resolved a skills?
No doubt, you’re familiar with microlabs—color wheels, value scales, blind contours, thumbnails, and all the little assignments that are the oil that keeps the engine going. I set my course to revitalize these old standard exercises into something students would love and others would love to look at. In the process, I have reworked most of my labs, but here are a few of my favorites for drawing, design, and painting:
Drawing Lab Revamp: Blind Contour with Flare
In the past we have done a very simple blind contour. Students never think they “look good,” and I acknowledge they lack pizzazz. This year we did two overlapping blind contours and emphasized each with bold opaque shapes.
To begin, students adorned their faces with goodies from a bag of props ranging from yarn and string to silly glasses. Once they created their new and improved “crazy faces,” they drew their first blind contour. This brought humor and a much-needed boost to the range of line on their faces. Next, we discussed pattern and filled in the spaces with a limited palette of water-based markers. Students loved the exercise and felt great pride in their finished product.
Reinvention of the Intensity Scale for Painting
In the past we have done a standard intensity scale with six to eight boxes using complementary colors. This is one of my favorite skills to teach because it creates beautiful rich colors, but unfortunately, the product is boring and uninspired. This time when my students began their color scheme masterworks, I requested that they take their leftover paint and use it on a large sheet of paper. They added to this paper each day as I introduced small techniques such as sgraffito and washes.
At the end we looked at artist Rex Ray. His work is very graphic and uses large shapes to define space. Students put their large painted pages into a community bin and selected ones they would like to use to create their collages. The directions were simple: Be inspired by the artist, fill your space, and create a strong composition using a range of paint intensities and values.
Reinvention of Composition
If you ask, they will come! I am talking about old-fashioned transparencies. Teachers have them in filing cabinets, under desks, and in closets. In fact, I was shocked at how many amazing ancillary transparencies I received. For this lab I introduced the idea of compositional depth. We frequently teach basic composition rules such as filling the space, over- and underlapping and going off the4 edge of the paper, but rarely do we talk about how important depth and layers are to a composition.
I provided old magazines, donated transparencies, and permanent markers. Students were asked to create five small compositions by recomposing the same layers over and over. They took a photograph after adding each layer. This was a lesson series, variety, and reinventing. This did not scare students due to its lack of permanence. They knew they could always adjust and make it better.
Starting Over Again and Again
We all have labs that lack excitement yet we blithely move on, and the status quo is accepted. I challenge you to use these labs to inspire you. Maybe you could adapt two new labs a year and reinvent what has become stagnant in your class. If you are not fully up to the challenge, ask students to submit ideas after the old lab is complete. How would they revamp this lab? Form share groups with other teachers and create an art teacher challenge. This is all about letting go of our comfortable ways and moving forward to labs that have purpose and inspire us!
|Old Microlabs…||New Microlabs…|
|Don’t product artworks||Produce finished, displayable works|
|Limit creativity||Have a variety of results.|
|Tend to be boring||Give purpose and refine craft|
|Limit risk-taking||Engage students|
CREATING: Conceiving and developing new ideas and work
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