Cece and her self-portrait in progress.
Cece has been working on her self-portrait for two weeks; Jingwei  for a week. This is a laborious process of learning to measure, learning to model, and then assembling these techniques into an autobiographical whole. This is the hardest assignment I give to high school seniors, and their ability to buckle down into it says a lot about their future prospects.
Sandy’s charcoal self-portrait of this week.
Since Sandy Quang was here and we weren’t painting, she decided to do a fast charcoal self-portrait as well. This gave me a great opportunity to compare her drawing to the one she did for her own portfolio in 2008.
Sandy’s graphite self-portrait of 2008.
The biggest difference between a teenager and an art school graduate is assurance. Sandy whipped this drawing off in an hour, and her mark-making reflects that. Her measurement and transcription were painstaking in 2008; they’re automatic today. That reflects hundreds and hundreds of hours of drawing in the interim.
Jingwei’s unfinished graphite self-portrait.
Every plein airpainter is used to certain comments from passers-by. One that I’m sensitive to is, “I used to paint, but I don’t have time anymore.” Another is, “That looks like so much fun!” Yes, art is fun, but it rests on a solid foundation of instruction, learning and practice. If you’re not willing to do that, you’d be wise to choose an easier career path.  Most successful painters I know have spent years learning their craft. When youngsters come to me to study art, the first question is whether they have the tenacity for an art career.
Cece’s unfinished graphite self-portrait.

I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August. Message me if you want information about the coming year’s classes or this workshop.

Facing up to it

Cece (who’s really being a good sport about these photos) starts by measuring her features and their positions.
Almost every high school student who expresses an interest in going to art school is proficient at one thing: drawing from photographs. When I introduce them to the idea that they have to learn to draw from life, their reaction is always the same: they don’t want to do it because it’s hard.
Drawing is such a fundamental tool that every high school student should know how to do it, but they don’t. And this is true of kids from every high school, so I know it’s a general trend, not a problem specific to one place. (And, by the way, this is nothing new. In my public high school in the 1970s there were three art teachers, only one of whom taught traditional methods.)
It’s a good likeness but any competent reviewer is going to know she did it from a photo.
The difference between a life drawing and a photographic drawing is something a trained artist can pick off at twenty paces. Life drawing is going to give kids an edge when it comes to portfolio review, and it’s going to make the transition to college easier. By the time I get them, most of these kids are already advanced enough to get into the college of their choice. My goal, therefore, has to be to help them get as much scholarship money as they can muster, because art school is expensive.
Finally, the measurements are done and she can start working on the modeling.
I have three high school seniors in my Saturday class, and they are currently doing an assignment they all loathe: a self-portrait done from a mirror. This requires that they suspend their idea of what they look like, which for all of us (but adolescents in particular) is a litany of things we don’t like about ourselves. It also forces them to use the first technique of drawing: measurement and angles.
We started this with practice drawings in charcoal. From here they go to carefully-rendered pencil drawings. I had hoped to work alongside them, since my ravaged old face hasn’t been immortalized in a while, but alas, I’ve been too busy.

I will be teaching in Acadia National Park next August. Message me if you want information about the coming year’s classes or this workshop.

Heading off to art school

A typical day in the studio means a mix of youngsters and not-so-youngsters.
Tomorrow, two of my students are skipping class to attend National Portfolio Day at Syracuse University. I wouldn’t be encouraging students to pursue a career in the arts if I didn’t believe it was a viable career path.
Ever since President Obama said that “folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they with an art history degree,” educators have been falling all over themselves to point out the value of a humanities education.
If you’re not willing to work hard, it’s best to major in something less demanding.
Anyone who has ever paid a plumber knows that, strictly speaking, the president was right. Very few kids are encouraged to go into the trades in modern America, and these jobs pay very well. Nor should they have any stigma attached to them; a craftsman is a craftsman, no matter what material he’s working with.
There is nothing more fun than working with youngsters.
But money is only part of the job-satisfaction equation, and art majors are among the happiest of all professionals, scoring higher than lawyers, financial managers, and high school teachers.
Sadly, a recent comprehensive surveyadministered online to arts alumni seems to indicate less satisfaction among recent graduates than among old-timers.  This is no surprise, since they’re graduating into the worst job market since the Great Depression, and I’d wager that lower job satisfaction is true of recent graduates across all disciplines.
There is nothing more fun than working with youngsters, even when they are eating a deep-fried turkey leg in class.
Student debt is a specter haunting all new college graduates, but can be particularly crushing for those with arts degrees. Less than a third of recent art alumni graduated with no debt, whereas half the older students reported doing so. About 14% of recent graduates finished school with more than $60,000 in student debt.
So I want to see those high school seniors on the hunt not only for admission, but for scholarship money. The best way to do that is to produce outstanding portfolios. That is tremendously hard work. If they’re not willing to do it, it’s better for them to major in something less demanding. The art world is a ruthless culler of the unmotivated.

Message me if you want information about the coming year’s classes and workshops.