Portfolio Program – The Figure: Extra Sessions & Reflection

I can’t believe class is over! This has been such an amazing and… interesting… experience. Obviously it was a wonderful teaching experience – I had a ton of fun and I think my students did some FANTASTIC work. But it was also full of model-less sessions, snow-storms, and derailed plans that were rough to work around. Regardless, though, it was a great success and I’ve definitely learned a lot.
As I mentioned in my last post, we decided to have two make up sessions in lieu of the two we had to cancel. These were not required, though they were highly encouraged, and we ended up having a great turnout! I structured these as open studios. I wanted everyone to have the time and space to fully resolve any of their works for the exhibition, as well as have time to document their work. I do still wish we had had more time to have a group critique and a more formal discussion of next steps, but I think it was more important for them to utilize the time on their artworks. I did get a chance to go around and have some great one-on-one discussions with students about their work, college plans, and even scoped out a few candidates for our Lab program. One student, for instance, was feeling very discouraged with her work in the class and feeling like she had not really been able to strengthen her drawing skills, as she’d hoped. Which was really a huge surprise to me because, personally, I considered her a great example of a student who had really developed a body of work through this class, and hand grown immensely because of it. During week 3, for instance, she had been introduce to ink as a new medium, and had created this piece: I remember spending some time with her and talking about how much I enjoyed the added elements she’d included and how they could begin to define a style that she could explore in each of her works. And with each class after that she kept developing these wonderful drawings that explored what she could do through ink. And by the last class she’d really made a huge leap and had even brought in color! Through our conversation I could see she was comparing herself to students who had stronger rendering skills and feeling like she didn’t measure up to them. I’ve always hated that students judge their abilities as artists by how well they can draw something realistically. Plus, I noted that she evaluated each day independently and judged each piece by how well she rendered the figure. But when I put all of her work together, and we talked about the amount of growth she’d done – from starting with a medium she’d never used, to experimenting with composition, layering, and value, and arriving to this final piece that took all of that and brought it to a new component through color – I honestly considered her to be one of the most successful students in the class. And, quite frankly, I think she had decent rendering skills to begin with that only got better by the end of the class. And, more importantly, she had discovered individual sense of style and had begun to develop a unique artistic identity! To me, having a student leave my class having found a way of creating art that is very much their own is 1000x more important than if they leave knowing how to draw ‘realistically.’ And my hope is that I can start to get students to feel that way about themselves and the work they create as well. All in all, I really think this class accomplished what I’d hoped for. Compared to the work that had been created last summer, I really saw students explore personal ideas and styles on a greater level. They really took this opportunity to make these drawings their own. A few of them even got a body of work out of this class! And even when their personal goals were just to get better at rendering, I still feel that they allowed themselves to dig a little deeper. For the final component of my assessment plan I developed a end-of-term survey that asked the students to reflect on the class. I really wanted to see if the structure of this program had accomplished what I’d set out to do and I was very happy to see that my students also really understood the value of what they had learned and experienced. The survey questions were as follows as well as some of their response. I’ve gone through and highlighted a few that I found extra informative: 1. How did this class measure up to what you had hoped to get out of it?

  • “I learned to draw the figure better overall.”
  • “I learned so much, I worked with materials that I haven’t worked with in my school.”
  • “It was better than I thought. I wanted to experiment drawing the body using my favorite medium
  • (charcoal) and it worked out great & I got useful advice.”
  • “Measured up fairly well. Not so much emphasis on the figure as I’d like, but that ended up being a
  • really good thing.”
  • “Yes, I produced great work, I only wished we got to work with the model a little more.”
  • “This class taught me to work faster and be open to new techniques.”

2. Were you able to achieve the personal goal you established at the beginning of class? What contributed towards the accomplishment of that goal or what obstacles/challenges inhibited it?

  • “I think one challenge I had was thinking too much. Being afraid of what people thought of my work.
  • Once I let that feeling go I did better overall.”
  • “I didn’t really have a goal. I just wanted to learn & experiment & make a good portfolio[…] I like [that]
  • the teachers showed us artwork – it inspired me.”
  • “No, I didn’t get to finish a piece in my series. However, my figure drawing skills have improved
  • greatly.”

3. Having completed the program, do you feel you have a better understanding of how to use the figure as a tool for communicating your own personal vision? In what ways did this class, and your instructors, help you in coming to that understanding?

  • “Yes, I feel that this class helped me understand that its okay to make mistakes and if your work turns
  • out good or bad keep going.”
  • “Yes, I know how to express the body in my signature way. [The instructors] gave me advice, different
  • techniques, inspiration & lots of focus time.”
  • “My instructors taught me that it’s not all about how well you know the figure, it’s also how you can
  • make it ‘you’.”
  • “Yes. They brought work that showed a different way to look at work being done with mood, a word
  • or feeling.”
  • “I don’t think pharmacy tech degree online I’m better at using the figure as a tool for my own vision yet, I really want to though.”
  • “The sketches that we had to do in under a minute really helped b/c I had to pick and choose what I
  • draw in such a short amount of time.”
  • “After taking this class, I realized that the figure can be manipulated in many ways to create different
  • looks. A figure does not have to be drawn in a specific way. My instructors pushed me to try new
  • things everyday and go beyond my limits.”

4. Which components of this class (exercises, themes, structure, check-ins, etc.) provided the most useful support in the development of your artwork/portfolio/personal style? How so?

  • “Looking at the different pieces of art.”
  • “The different techniques that they encouraged us to try was fun – It made me want to try new things. I
  • like when they walk around the room & tell us advice & when we walk around the room & see
  • each other’s work.”
  • “The 5 minute warm ups – the way that the warm ups lead to the actual final piece.”
  • “Yes, it’s really helped improve my ideas for my portfolio. The poses I make my characters do now
  • consist of more than just standing around. The live models really helped.”
  • “I liked the exercises because they were quick and interesting. When I was forced to do the exercises in
  • short amounts of time, I discovered how to use my brain quickly when making art.”

5. What changes or additions would you recommend to improve the program?

  • “I wouldn’t change anything. I think this class was perfect.”
  • “I would like this program to be longer.”
  • “I wish we had different or more models to make more pieces on that.”
  • “Have school on snow days. Don’t cancel. I was actually at the front door.”
  • “More model time! And even though I don’t like being told exactly what to draw, I think it’s good every
  • once in a while.”
  • “Focus on proportions a little more at the beginning of the term to help initial skills first.”
  • “I would recommend to go over the basics of drawing before diving straight into it.”

I, 1) have to say how grateful I am for how constructive these students were with their surveys, and 2) how emotional I got when I saw how they’d identified A LOT of what I’d hoped they’d get out of this class. It was so rewarding to see that all that planning and careful consideration that I’d put in had all payed off, and how much this class had resonated with a lot of them. Granted, I definitely think there’s some things I can improve. I found it very interesting that students found that they would have like to have spent more time focusing just on proportions and learning how to draw. I can see that some of them would have appreciated some more structured parameters around some of the drawing projects. It makes me realize that I do need to provide more guidance for students who are not yet ready to jump fully into working more conceptually. It was actually interesting to also compare this to the Student Voice Survey that every class takes for Marwen. Unfortunately, there was a glitch in the survey engine we use and I only got 5 responses, but here are some highlights of that (note that the numbers indicate how many students selected that response): Before(and then after) taking this course my knowledge of the subject matter was:

  • Beginning – at start 3, at end 1
  • Intermediate – at start 2, at end 3
  • Advanced – at start 0, at end 1

I know what my teaching artist expected of me each day – 5 (100%) I improved my ability to talk about art – Yes 1, No 3 This class encouraged me to try new things – All the time 3, Most of the time 2 I got helpful suggestions from my teaching artist to help improve my work – All of the time 3, Most of the time 2 I got helpful suggestions from my assistant teaching artists… – All of the time 5

  • “This was a very fun course. I really enjoyed myself everyday I came to class.”
  • “[I’d sign up for another class with this teaching artist] because I really enjoyed the class & teaching
  • artist. The class was so much fun & I really got a chance to look at myself as an artist and ask
  • myself ‘what do you want to do and why?'”
  • “[I would] include more basics of drawing the figure towards the beginning of term.”
  • “I got inspiration from the work they showed us.”
  • “[Explore the] relationships between abstract concepts & the figure.”

These responses further supported the fact that some students needed a bit more structured support and would like to have had more of the class focus on learning how to draw the figure. I also saw the effects that came from not having had a critique and how that could have helped students in their ability to talk about art. Though it also makes me realize that I need to incorporate more instances throughout the program where students do that so that I am not relying on one day to get that lesson across. It also makes me grateful for what an ideal assistant teaching artist I had in Alex. In looking at how students felt about the suggestions they received from both of us, and trying to decipher what could have caused the differences in our evaluations, it dawned on me that a lot of what I’d observed Alex doing was providing support on helping students improve their rendering and drawing skills. While I, on the other hand, really focused on providing more suggestions on how to develop ideas and concepts, and how to move beyond representation. So I realized how the former is useful to all, but the latter is only useful to those who are prepared to make that jump. This made me incredibly grateful to have had Alex who was a great balance to my own focus and teaching style. But it also makes me realize that I need to provide a more balanced curriculum that ensure that both students are fully supported, especially because I may not always have that balance in an ATA. And in so doing I am still helping move the whole class in the same direction, while allowing for students to get there at the rate they are able to.

All in all, a VERY enriching experience. I am so proud of the work that my students made and the growth that they demonstrated. And I am also extremely excited to take all this and apply it towards the next class (which I’ve already started teaching as I finish this post). If you are interested in seeing the final work up close, then I invite you to come down to Marwen this Friday, April 12 for the exhibition opening to our Winter Term Exhibition. It is truly one of the most impressive shows we’ve ever had (thanks to a brilliant photographer/educator/installer Matt Austin). Here’s a sneak peak of our class’ display, and stay tuned for the next installment of the Portfolio Program as we explore Portraits!

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Christian Ortiz About Christian Ortiz
Christian Ortiz has been a part of Marwen since 2001, first as a student, then teaching assistant, teaching artist, and now staff member. As an artist and educator, process, research, and discussion are a major component of both his studio practice and classroom environment - Practices which he uses as he helps Marwen develop curriculum and programming around students' artistic development. You can learn more about his classroom and studio experiences on his blog christianortizart.blogspot.com.

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