As an artist in this day and age no one will even look at your work unless you know someone or have at least a Master’s level degree, so I have decided to get my MFA in painting. I’d really like to teach beginning art as well as actually work on personal projects, which I think is probably the smartest way to be a teacher. I think it is important for a teacher to practice their skills and learn new things. And I say screw the people who say “those who can’t, teach.” That’s a bogus limited attitude from people who don’t have the patience to work with others. And I can teach. I may not have a teaching certificate, but I taught 17 and 18 year old males who had never sewn a stitch how to create their own historically accurate costumes for re-enactment purposes, and baby that is no small feat. Those guys wanted to play with swords and shields and chase girls instead of fiddling around with costumes! What young man wouldn’t rather have fun? But they completed their gear and were ready to participate in activities and could boast that they had worked on and created their own gear.
So my motivation is similar. I want to have fun and do what I am good at. I want to create art and encourage others to reach their potential. But I need the right credentials to get my foot into the door, and I am pleased to say that I gained acceptance into a graduate program where I can pursue a MFA in Painting. With that big obstacle out of the way, my next task was to find funding for my education, which for some reason feels more difficult than being accepted to art school. At least submitting my portfolio and grades was something I could actively work on and the better work I did, the more likely I could succeed, but the money aspect is completely out of my control. I have no money to pay for this. No scholarships are available to me, no jobs so far, and the whole student loan stuff is not going to happen. How can one get a loan without a job? And there is no guarantee that once I get the degree that there will be a job waiting for me somewhere. So how can one pay for their education? I come from a tradition where one does not go into an agreement without being able to fulfill the obligations entailed. To me, it just seems wrong. In an ideal world the tough part should be doing the course work and pursuing excellence not hunting for money. But this is the way it is.
With some Christmas money, some money saved, and my Mom willing to pay for the remainder of the semester, I will start my first semester at my new art school. It’s online because I could not afford to move to San Francisco, CA. And this will be the very first online course that I have ever taken. I am really nervous. So much is riding on all of this. I want to get good grades. I want to improve my skills as an artist. I want to have my own little star shining bright in the night sky. I want to be a respected artist in the art community.
So to make sure that I am ready for the rigors of a MFA in Painting the school advisors scheduled me to take a drawing course that will hopefully reinforce and enhance skills that I already have. A strong understanding of light and dark in order create a 3D look on a 2D surface is one of the basics of fine art creation. It’s a basic skill that all skilled artists should understand. All of the computer 3D animators need to understand light and dark shading as well as anatomy. It helps to create the illusion of reality or at least of something seeming to be solid and substantial.
Because this first class is so important to me, I have decided to share my progress in my Observation Post 42 Blog. This Blog is all about the creative process and sometimes that means the stress and nervousness that one goes through to obtain their goals. I am going to take the reader through my journey of this class and perhaps through my whole graduate study. We shall see if I still have the ability to take courses. So the first drawings that I have shared here are before I have started my instruction, and I am using some of the tools that my instructor has required me to purchase. I don’t normally draw with charcoal, and actually hate the messy stuff. The first practice sketch is for me to get more comfortable with the tools. This resulted in this bird doodle with a mysterious naked girl – she was actually a mistake that I transformed into a small human figure. In the drawing I wanted to see how the charcoal pencils reacted to the paper that was required of me to use for the class.
Then the second practice drawing I did was to get an idea of how to control the charcoal pencils enough to be able to create shades of dark and light. I fought with them and obtained unsatisfactory results. I even experimented with the different levels of softness that the pencils each had, but I still could not achieve any real effective light and dark shades. Graphite and charcoal pencils will come in a variety of hardness of lead such as 5H to HB to 5B. The softer leads are the Bs and the harder ones are the Hs while the HB is kinda akin to the standard No.2 pencil that we all used in grade school. Unfortunately my practice sketch looked dark and grainy to me. In the past I had used Ebony pencils to create shades from dark to light, but the charcoal hits the paper in a different way. It’s scratchy or rough compared to an Ebony graphite pencil, which glides across the paper in a rather smooth manner.
The third practice picture was started with the mindset that I needed to try smearing the charcoal to get the desired shading effects. Simply controlling the pressure of the charcoal pencil against the paper surface was not going to allow me any of the results that I desired. So I dug out what my art teachers in undergrad school teachers called a stomp or what the company that sold the item called a tortillion. The packaging of the product has both names printed on it, which is probably a story in itself. According to HeritageArtStudios.com the stomps are the larger tools made from spun cotton and the smaller tools called the tortillion are tightly rolled paper.
The third practice drawing resulted in better shades of darks and lights, which made me feel better about using the charcoal pencils. I am hoping that this practice will make me not so nervous and potentially frustrated by a medium that I am not very fond of. I am also hoping that I will be able to create drawings that don’t make me cringe by the time I complete the course, not to mention that I really really want a good grade.
Gretchen Winkler © 2012