Thursday, June 23, 2011


Playing Ketchup:

Even though I'm trying to catch up on a year's worth of posts, I wanted to interject with a little blurb about what I am currently working on. Last year... (or was it two years now?) I created some digital collages for my nieces and nephew. I have to admit, these digital pieces of art were not true to my nature. I would say that I'm a bit of a traditionalist in many forms. For example, when I paint, I feel that it is of utmost importance to stretch my own canvas. To me, it is the complete process, from start to finish, that makes my piece of artwork... mine. (Plus, being that control freak that I can be, it allows me to control the quality of the ground, which is the very foundation that that paint settles into.) Last fall, as I began teaching photography at the high school level, I found that I was very blessed to be working in a traditional darkroom setup. In these digital times, it is rare to find a full darkroom and developing lab in the classroom, not to mention that we also teach color processing (minus the film)! Most colleges do not offer this! So, it was not too surprising that on "Meet the Teacher Night" at school, I was baraged with questions like, "Where do you see photography going?" "Isn't it getting hard to find 35mm cameras?" "Aren't supplies and materials becoming very expensive?" "Why not teach digital?"

My answer is always the same:

I'm a traditionalist. Photography is a very young medium, and digital comes directly from everything that we have learned from traditional lab work. I believe it is incredibly important for students to learn traditional darkroom techniques. They truly get a hands-on approach to manipulating and discovering the true process of photography. In our digital era- one of instant results, it is imperative that we give students the opportunity to slow down and truly learn about this artform. Learning is more about the process than it is about the results. (Besides... we still draw and paint, don't we?)

This is how I feel about my own artwork. Right?

So here I am... a hypocrite! Ok, so I'm not solely a traditionalist. I do believe in advancing and growing with technology. I just believe there is a place for both- and an even more exciting harmony that can come from merging the two artforms together.

Back to that digital collage. I really enjoyed searching for materials and creating those digital collages as holiday gifts that year. It took a LOT of time, just as any piece of artwork does for me (did I mention that control freak part of me?), but the really easy part was that I could just print it out, frame it, and give them as a gift.

So what am I working on now? When I started those digital collages way back when, what truly interested me was the use of various materials- fabrics, papers, translucence and opacity, three dimensional and two dimensional, etc. I just simply did not have the time to find exactly what I wanted. What really excites me, now, is the prospect of incorporating all of these aspects. I am currently working on children collages by first digitally manipulating and planning (Thank you Photoshop and Illustrator!), and then printing the correct sizes of those images I'm including, using various papers and vellums. My "grand idea" is to then use found/purchased objects and various other materials to create that traditional aspect of collage that I love so much- texture!! (Who doesn't like to touch artwork and feel the textures? I have a really hard time viewing that luscious texture of Van Gogh's artwork that taunts me on the museum wall with the guard peering at me... just waiting for me to reach out and... )

Well, I must leave it at that for now and will post when complete (as not to ruin any surprises- though I may have already.)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lesson: Photo Flipbooks

Inspired by Edward Muybridge?
So was I...and so was our class.

Making FLIPBOOKS from your Contact Prints!

grades 9-12 (photo 1)

Ok, so it's not like you're going to cut up a bunch of your old contact prints and "WHALA- You have a flipbook!" But, it's almost just as fun. At the end of the year, for the students' FINAL shooting assignment, I had them create photo flipbooks thanks to the suggestion from my coworker/mentor Mary Lee Moore. Students focused (no pun intended) on simple, tiny movements, good focus, and perfect CONSISTENT exposure to create this effect. I found some fun basic digital versions of flipbooks on the web just by googling, however Melissa Lloyd found a great link to a really funky flipbook video that really stoked my students' creativity.

Have I piqued your interest now? That video certainly made ME excited! Basically, the students went out and shot their "scenes," developed their film, made really good (or as good as possible) contact prints, then cut those little photos up, glued them to individual 2" x 6" pieces of posterboard, taped the pages together at the end, and flip away!

Here are a few examples of what my students came up with. You will notice the following- some really simple but very successful flipbooks, some really creative flipbook examples, some really creative flipbook examples but poorly put together (poor layout on their indivdual 'pages', not anticipating drytime of glue which then made all the pages stick together or the little photos moved), some cool flipbooks but not the most consistent exposure or focus. Overall, I was pleased with their results and the kids had a really fun time making these... especially since it was their last assignment. (I even had one student get so into it, he made digital versions on his DSLR, printed out the photos which you will see in color below, and I counted it towards one of his portfolio pieces.)

Hmmm... I'm having difficulties posting the videos so I have posted them to my website:
(click on the link or copy/paste, then scroll down until you see "Flipbook Examples")

Scenic Art amidst Teaching Art

Backdrops for Once Upon a Mattress
Maine South High School
9-12 grades

Right around that moody January/February slump, I found myself itching to create. We had just finished all those lovely holidays, complete with 1st semester finals. Even though I began the second semester with highlights of what we'd be creating in class (you know, "Now that we've worked our butts off with all the technical mumbo jumbo, now we are going to focus on CONCEPT and ARTSY FARTSY stuff), I still found that my students were in a funk. Well, quite honestly, so was I! So what better way to get inspired than to get back to your roots.

ROOTS: Scenic Art
I didn't think I would miss scenic art as much as I have. There is something to be said about being handed a painter's elevation (a piece of artwork that a designer hands over for the scenic artist to interpretively replicate), letting those problem solving gears take over, and then WHA-LA! A masterpiece! No one asks you questions, no one constantly saying, "Mrs. Taylor! Mrs. Taylor!" You simply... create. Ahhhhh.

Integrating Scenic Art at the High School Level
A few years ago, I worked with Walter Payton High School in the city to design and paint their set for The Importance of Being Earnest. It was then that I really got the taste of how to integrate scenic art for high schoolers. I realized that, instead of scaling down my expectations of the students, I simply had to scale down for time. When all was said and done, the kids really worked their creative magic. The biggest challenge for me was to figure out what to do with so many students. Because I was able to put 5 students to one task, I really found myself back in the task manager chair as the students heavily collaborated on this project.

Backdrops at the High School Level
Backdrops are a tricky thing for this skill level. Mostly, because I really
wanted to bring my expertise to this project. I was so very grateful that Pat Sanchez, Technical Director at Maine South, was able to provide
me with MANY luxuries that most high schools cannot provide: a brand new drop, hand pump sprayers, lining sticks, bridges, creative talent, lots of helpers, time, space, support, support, did I say support?... the list goes on and on. In this process, I met with the paint crew ahead of time to feel out what the varying strengths are within the group.

Drop #1: Far far away...
The first drop (of two) that we painted was a landscape with the directive- "Far away
mountain/hills... you know, sort of SHREK like." No problemo! Even better... we were painting from an existing drop. I could really shoot myself for not getting BEFORE and AFTER photos of this drop. Regardless, this was a really fun way to start working with the kids. I set some off to mix colors, talking about the use of cool and warm colors to really play with the stage lighting, as well as saturated and desaturated colors adding to foreground and background. While I drew out how we would adapt the existing mountainous landscape, I had the kids plop their brushes on bamboo poles, which they LOVED working with. I thought they'd get frustrated and drop to their hands and knees painting with tiny brushes. I expected to be constantly telling them to STEP BACK and use the darn bamboo, for crying out loud! But, alas, they really did take a liking to the tools and did quite well adapting to this new style of painting. Students brushed in texture, used plastic baggies and sponges to create grassy and flower textures, as well as hand pump sprayers to soften areas and push scenery back. We painted this drop in 2 afternoons (4-6pm).

Drop #2: Castle Hallway (and outside courtyard)
The first day we began, I gave Pat instructions on
how to mix starch, while I worked with the students to properly lay down the drop. Students starched the drop using a 2 gallon pump sprayer and brushes on bamboo. I made them do 2 passes as they had many "holidays." I'm sure they were not happy with me at that point (it is a LOT of work!), but I was concerned about making sure we had a nice ground to start from.

The following day, we gridded our elevation and our drop, and we began to draw. The students worked with jumbo charcoal on bamboo and a "homemade" muslin flogger to "erase." They did a fantastic job picking up how to use the grid to enlarge and transfer the drawing, and I was very impressed how fast they laid everything out! Also- I was blown away at how they really didn't ask me questions at this point... they asked each other! You can see in this one photo how the students talk to each other about the gridded
elevation and problem-solve together.

While some students were drawing, I set others
to begin mixing our colors for us. We had such a fantastic "store" of paint available to us- mostly scenic paint (Rosco Off Broadway or Super Sats), but also some leftover latex that we used sparingly.

We began painting on the 3rd day with our "grounds:" scumbled interior and exterior stone, sky, dirt, tree, etc. On our 4th day, I was lucky enough to have the kids work with me for an entire day from 9am-1pm (1pm being our pizza lunch, and then cleanup after). On this day, we tackled as many of the "details" that we could, leaving some final touches and sprays for the following Monday. Here is the finished Castle Hallway Drop! Total time to starch, draw, and paint this drop was 10 hours.