Thursday, June 5, 2014

Umbrella Installation

Quite recently our grade 8 students began working on what has come to be refer to as ‘the umbrella project’. This involved the purchase of some 120 umbrellas to be decorated and collectively hung as a collaborative installation. It would be possibly our most ambitious collaborative project when complete and would fill our schools normally grey entrance area (genkan) with an amazing sense of colour and pattern.

We began the project by looking closely at positive and negative shapes before undertaking a series of exploratory exercises with particular focus on the use of symmetry in cultural designs. The class was also inspired to a degree by the Christo and Jean-Claude Umbrellas project that was undertaken in both Japan and the United States between 1984 and 1991. While our project would be very different and considerably smaller, there was something to be learnt by using umbrellas as the basis for a large-scale installation.

After careful planning and after the production of a full-scale template to trace around, the students each began painting their own umbrella, using commercially available house paint rather than normal classroom acrylics. House paint seemed to apply well to the water resistant surface of the umbrellas and certainly reduced flaking when the paint was dry. The students clearly enjoyed the scale of the project, although fitting all of the umbrellas into the classroom when fully open was at times sometimes difficult as was their storage as he paint was drying. In choosing black combined with only one colour it provided each design with a bold colour scheme.

Each of the participating classes had each chosen a different colour providing six distinct shades in addition to the common element of black. Once complete and hung on mass, the impact was immediate and the reaction of the school community was very positive. ‘The Umbrella Project’ had been quite a lot of work, but the end result certainly emphasized the power of collaboration in producing strong installation projects.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Astro Boy Wall Murals

When considering collaborative projects the Grade 8 students might undertake this year, our attention began to drift toward iconic contemporary images of Japan that may be relevant to our students. Here in Osaka, one of the most iconic artists is Osamu Tezuka who created the animated character of ‘Astro Boy’ during the 1950’s. This popular series introduced Japanese anime to the world and in doing so effectively opened the floodgates to the overwhelming range of manga-style characters that continue to emerge today.

With five class groups undertaking this particular collaborative project, it was decided that each team would work on a different classic Astro Boy pose by following a standard grid system to enlarge the selected illustration to an oversized format. Each student was responsible for two of the enlarged grids and begun by firstly outlining the line work with black paint. For a suitable decorative element, we began to investigate the more recent works of Chuck Close and were inspired to develop interesting coloured patterns that would completely fill the image.

The use of bright pastels allowed for some interesting colour combinations. By using cool colours for the outside and warm for the character itself, the students were able to achieve a striking impact through the use of contrast. As these five pieces were to be placed in the vast area of the largely grey Genkan (the entrance foyer to the school), it would eventually prove to be a wise decision. The completed final pieces were placed on their own separate wall, providing a bold introduction to the school and its visual art program, which effectively demonstrated the collaborative artistic efforts of our talented Grade 8 students with this project.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sculptural Illusions

My grade 10 sculpture class were recently investigating the visual illusions that can be achieved by artists who effectively use the element scale. We were looking at the works of sculptors such as Ron Mueck, Antony Gormley, Jeff Koons and Claes Oldenburg who have often used scale to great effect. In the process we also looked at media and noted how its selection can also provide its own sense of illusion…lightweight materials can be used that give the illusion of weight, while familiar forms that appear lightweight can sometimes be made of quite heavy material.

The project we chose to represent this notion was inspired by the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade where hot air balloons are led through the streets of New York. The students carved from compressed foam then painted it. This would in turn represent a lightweight balloon. The sense of scale of the object was derived from the human form (constructed of wire and tissue paper) that was holding the balloon. With both the balloon and the figure constructed, the students used fine wire to link the two objects in such a way as to create the illusion that the carved form was floating like a balloon.

The students had to consider balance and the length of the wire that could effectively support the wire object. This was an interesting exercise, with the students realizing that the longer the wire the less stable the sculpture would become. It was a fun project, which involved quite a bit of problem solving. Since the pieces have been on display there have been many positive comments with viewers often smiling at the novelty of this visual illusion.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Cubist Approach to Watercolour Painting

One of the aspects of painting that my students generally enjoy is experimenting with media and in particular, watercolour. Most have used watercolours before, but have long since moved on to acrylics. However, with their drawing and painting skills now reaching a more sophisticated level, it was nice to return to watercolours to compare the differences in technique. My students recently spent some time investigating watercolours and the variety of approaches that are possible.

They initially began by working quite traditionally by painting a series of close-up still life pieces and flower studies inspired by the works of Georgia O’Keefe. However, for their major piece we looked at other approaches to seeing the world around them by investigating the analytical approach to painting that was adopted by the Cubists. By using multiple photographic views of a selected scene, the students began to cut up their printouts and recompose them on A4 paper. The finished product was then enlarged by photocopier and traced through with pencil onto watercolour paper. Emphasis was placed upon clearly delineating the various facets of the composition. As they painted, the students were encouraged to combine various watercolour techniques (i.e. wet on dry, wet on wet and the use of salt) and not to feel bound by realistic colours schemes.

The end results were both bold and vibrant. By adopting this approach, many reflected that their final piece was in most cases completely different than what they had imagined and allowed them to see their subject matter through fresh eyes.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Tessellated Sculptures

At some stage throughout their school experience students encounter the wonderful world of tessellations. These are mathematically constructed interlocking shapes that can create a myriad of interesting patterns. In Visual Art the introduction to tessellation designs usually comes through the works of famed Dutch artist M.C.Escher who was the master of these form of works. This was certainly the case with my grade 10/11 Sculpture class who were investigating tessellations as the inspiration for abstract sculptural forms.

The process of design began with two-dimensional paper cut outs that allowed students to experiment with the possibility of positive and negative shape. At times students focused on a single shape, while others chose two shapes that would form the basis for their design. Once the design ‘units’ were decided upon, the student then enlarged the scale and began to ‘extrude’ each shape individually into a three dimensional form taking inspiration from the works of the American artist Robert Indiana. The final construction was done with a combination of cardboard and tissue paper.

Each student constructed 8 units with which they could experiment further to achieve the final composition. A colour scheme was considered (one colour for front and back and another for the sides) which would enable the sculpture to be viewed alternatively from both front and back. Once these were painted, the final construction was assembled using hot glue.

The final compositions were all very considered with the end results being not only colourful, but also reflecting a certain sense of order, which is the hallmark of tessellation design.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Fish Sculptures in Metal

It is always interesting for students to explore the use of texture in art. Both in our Mixed Media and Printmaking courses this is a significant area for experimentation for creating visually interesting works. Likewise, the students undertaking the Sculpture course are also exposed to a range of textural possibilities when creating three-dimensional forms. Recently my Grade 9 class applied their investigation of texture into a sculptural piece based upon fish.

Following a number of research tasks and media experimentation exercises, each student began to develop an idea based upon a series of line drawings. These were then adapted to the use of wire to create a central outline, which was then given width by adding loops of wire around the body of the fish. In this process students were taught basic techniques in wire cutting and soldering. In the end this provided the skeleton for the fish, which could then be clad with a range of metal textures and surfaces (ie copper, brass and aluminum). For the most part these materials were simply bent around the wire frame with pliers resulting in only minimal glueing.

The eyes were added using metal washers and the final sculpture was attached to a single metal rod, which was then set into a wooden base for stability. The students seemed to like the way that the original skeletal structure wasn’t always totally obscured by the added surface materials. Most of the works were confidently executed, with the bold scale of the works resulting for some impressive finished pieces.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Drawing a Neo-plastic building in perspective

When tackling any type of design project that is rectangular in nature, I find looking at Neo-plasticism is often a very good place for students to start. These principals which were the hallmark of the De Stijl art and design movement provide not only a good starting point for discussion, but also a framework from which students can gain confidence in creating their own designs. Such was the case when my Grade 10 Environmental Design students began to investigate our modern cities and the influence that De Stijl continues to have upon them.

They were given the task of designing and drawing a city building that followed Neo-plastic principles (the use of vertical and horizontal line and a limited colour scheme of primary colours plus black, white and grey) and presenting their idea as a two point perspective drawing. This provided them with an opportunity to not only explore their own building ideas within a defined set of perametres, but also demonstrate their ability to use perspective on a large scale.

With the initial line work completed in black pen on paper, the student then set about the task of using a knife to cut out the various coloured panels. Each colour was tackled one at a time in order to avoid confusion. When the various holes were cut, the drawing sheet was then turned over and coloured paper was taped or glued onto the back. The end result was very clean and consistent and the students certainly liked the overall scale of their presentation.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Positive and Negative Tower

Quite often when teaching sculpture to my grade 9 class we talk about the use of positive and negative spaces and the need to be conscious of not only the shapes we create, but also the spaces around that shape. A good little task to emphasise the point in three dimensions involved the students creating a small freestanding tower in black cardboard.

This is a quick exercise in which the students create an abstract design within a rectangular template. This is then traced and flipped to create a symmetrical version of their design. The students need to quickly identify what are the positive areas (the black card) and what would be cut away to create the negative spaces. Once this is done they are then able to cut out the negative areas with a small scalpel knife. The process is repeated with a second piece of card and slots are added to enable the two pieces of card to stand without using glue.

While each sculpture in this exercise stands around 20cm it would be interesting to build larger scale versions, as in the end they are quite interesting forms. The use of symmetry and repetition combined with positive and negative shape are certainly effective. Something that is recognized by quite a few contemporary artists and now also by my young group of grade 9 sculptors.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Lamp Design

This year my senior Product Designers undertook the ambitious task of designing a commercial prototype for a lamp. This would take them through the full design process and would enable them to learn much about design by simply doing it!

We began initially discussing and investigating various forms of lamp designs on the market, but we were particularly keen to investigate designs that went beyond pure functionality and incorporated creative qualities that also made them aesthetically pleasing. For their particular lamp concept, I provided them with one significant guideline and that was their final design should be inspired in some way by their home country of Japan.

They began by researching appropriate images and developing a concept. This was converted into a small prototype model from which final refinements were made. A plug and globe socket was purchased from the hardware store from which measurements could be taken. Once the design was finalised, construction began using readily available materials (ie wire, wood, plastic forms) that were carefully crafted to form the proposed concept. To finalise the piece, spray packs were used to achieve the desired colour scheme. It all sounds very simple and straight forward, I can assure you that many hours were spent developing the design from idea to the final switching on of the lamp itself.


Positive, Negative and Neutral Spaces

A focus of recent discussions in my Grade 9 Sculpture class was about how artists explore the use of space in their works. We initially experimented with 2D shape before moving to 3D exercises and at the same time looked at contemporary artists such as Australian sculptor Simeon Nelson. As composition is often a challenging aspect of sculpture for students at this level, I decided to set them some perimeters from which they could develop their own abstract sculpture to be based upon the use of positive negative and neutral spaces. It became like a game in which the rules should be strictly followed.

So here were the guidelines…
  • Each student would use 10cm square panels. Solid squares (made of coreflute card) would represent the positive areas. The empty spaces in and around the sculpture would be the negative spaces and perforated squares (plastic weed matting from the hardware store) would be the neutral spaces.
  • For visual interest, three coloured panels of primary colours were also to be added somewhere in the sculpture.
  • Reinforcing sticks would be used to support the panels and may be incorporated as part of the design.
  • No more than two panels of the same type could be placed along side each other (that included internal negative square spaces too).
  • The sculpture had to stand at least 3 panels high, but should have a base no larger than three square panels.
  • The panels and stick frame would be held together with a combination of PVA glue and hot glue.

The exercise not only tested the student’s compositional skills, but also their measuring and construction capabilities as well. While several students went beyond the 3 panel high limit, they quickly realized that the higher they went, small errors at the base became more and more exaggerated. In the end the better designs were lower in format and remained relatively simple, with the overall effect of looking like they had come straight from the Bauhaus workshop. The students certainly enjoyed the challenge that this project provided and the game format made the notion of developing abstract composition far more interesting.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Collaborative Sand Sculptures

Continuing the over-arching theme of collaboration through Visual Art, my Grade 8 class tackled a smaller sculptural project based upon the theme of ‘cultural structures’. They investigated architecture and building structures that are identified with various cultures. With a range of collected visuals in hand, each student set about creating a simplified shape that could be repeated and adapted into an interesting sculptural form. As a class group we began to study the early ‘pigment works’ of Anish Kapoor and used these particular floor sculptures as inspiration for the pieces we would eventually create.

The first task was for each student to further develop their initial idea into a small ‘mock-up’ style sculptural model built from coloured cardboard and composed with each shaped piece rotating around a centre axis. The class was then divided into groups of four, with each student bringing their mock up idea to the table and discussing collectively the merits of each design in order to determine which one could be developed further into a larger scale presentation. Once a final decision was made, the group set about creating a template of their chosen shape and each member took responsibility for building one quarter of the final piece.

The groups used ‘foam core’ boards to cut their shapes. This is quite a rigid material that would allow the piece to stand reasonably tall but was also easy to cut with a knife. Once the shapes were cut, coloured sand was applied with PVA glue. While this technique wouldn’t totally replicate the finish of Anish Kapoors works, it would provide a distinctive presentation and identify each group by its own specific colour. The students enjoyed the process of construction and worked well in delegating tasks to each other.

We initially displayed the mock up models of the design, which were quite effective in themselves. However the final sand sculptures were much more successful in capturing the scale, goals and inspiration behind the work. The end result looked equality strong individually and as a collective whole. Once again the learning in this particular piece was not only from the research and idea development, but also from what was gained through working in a collaborative way to produce a creative artwork.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Big Bottle Project

One of the important components of my Grade 8 Visual Arts course is the ‘Collaborative Art Unit’. This unit of work focuses upon the role of communities or groups of artists who decide to join forces to create large-scale works of art. We investigate the practicalities of planning and production, as well as the significance of teamwork when undertaking such projects. Each year my colleague and I look for exciting and interesting collaborative challenges for our students to undertake and so this year we decided to embark upon a project that incorporated the large cement columns that are in the front foyer of the school.

With the help of the school community, we set about collecting thousands of plastic drink bottles that would become the basis for a colourful structure that would surround each column. Each class group where given a theme that represented an element of nature (wind, fire, earth and water), which would become the basis for an individually painted design that would be repeated on a multiple series of bottles. A common colour scheme was chosen based upon shades of purple (our school colour), which would ultimately provide a highly colourful collective design.

After much bottle painting in our four Grade 8 classes, the final mounting of the piece would finally be the culmination of many hours of work. With approximately 100 students involved, this collaborative effort was always going to provide an impressive large-scale piece, but even we were surprised by the impact it would eventually have on the space.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Self Portraits

One of the major painting projects that my grade 8’s undertake is a self-portrait. This is a particularly challenging task even for the most experienced of artists, but every time we undertake this task I am always amazed by what they manage to achieve. As well as looking at a range of painters and their various techniques, we spend quite a bit of time investigating and considering both subject and composition. Through discussion and research the painting inevitably becomes more than just a self-portrait, but a visual statement about themselves and the various facets of their lives. We explore the theme of ‘Relationships’ by looking at aspects of context, cycles, culture and self that eventually become intertwined in the painting. Through this process students become increasingly aware of the significance of painting in creating an artifact of its time, which is carefully created by the very person who is the actual subject matter of the work. As a result this piece is probably the most valued piece of artwork created by the students during the year and always attracts great interest in the school when the collective portraits are displayed.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Furniture as Art

One of the new courses that we offer to our students is Product Design. This course allows students to consider the interesting balance between form and function when creating utilitarian objects. One area of particular interest is the evolution of form and our ever-changing notion of aesthetics as applied to furniture design. Students are asked to think about the notion of furniture as something beyond pure functionality, but rather something that is a reflection of taste and personality…a post-modernist notion, I know! For example, a chair might be a something to sit on, but it is also a piece of sculpture that has a prominent place in our daily living environment. With this in mind my students were given the task of designing a piece of furniture that had three distinct functions (ie. chair, table and storage), while also providing significant sculptural qualities that are reflective of themselves. After some significant thought and planning they set about producing a model of their final idea using light weight wood and any other available materials that would allow them to represent their concept in a three dimensional form. They then photographed their model and using Photoshop created a suitable promotional poster. This enabled them to visualize their design to scale and view it within a real world context.

Friday, October 12, 2012

People Pots

One of the popular units of the Grade 8 course combines both ceramics and drawing as the students look at both functional clay artifacts and the cult of personality as inspiration for their studio work. In particular, students investigate a person who is significant or inspirational to them at that time in their lives. The choice of people is always quite interesting, but generally students will tend to choose high profile personalities from the entertainment world, sports or notable people who have been in the recent press. They are asked to find a quotation from that person and associated imagery that might provide inspiration for a ceramic piece which captures the essence of that person, much like a canopic jar from ancient Egypt, but created within a modern day context. Of course there is plenty of class discussion that allows the students to arrive at their final design. Likewise, other lessons focus on drawing and clay building skills, which are essential in gaining the confidence to achieve their goal. The range and detail of the lidded pots they develop are always fascinating as they grapple with the theme and also the subtleties of ceramic hand building. This year their pottery pieces and the drawing of their chosen person were combined together for a diverse and impressive display of creative forms.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Power of Collaboration

On of the popular units of grade 8 Art involves students working together on a large-scale projects. The size of the collaboration can take many forms, from maybe a small group of four through to our full contingent of grade 8’s, which is around ninety-four students. Projects often require a high degree of teamwork and organization, but the adage of ‘many hands make light work’ is certainly the case here, with the result being some impressive large-scale pieces. This was the case with a work that was based on Jeff Koons famous ‘Puppy’ Sculpture and while his piece was completed three dimensionally we decided to produce a two dimensional version made from a collage of coloured pieces of paper attached to cardboard panels. When completed these were ‘planted’ to the ground by wooded skewers in our outside courtyard. With every student completing one or two panels the size was quite enormous with the full effect best viewed from three stories high. Another piece saw each student working on a long horizontal strip of paper to create a section of an enormous tree. In the background small coloured squares were decorated in pastel, each with its own distinctive pattern (much like the pixels of a modern day Chuck Close portrait). With different classes working with alternate colour schemes for the background, the final pieces, when joined together, formed an intriguing and elegant piece of collaborative art.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Drawing Ancient Pottery

My grade 8 class were beginning to investigate the area of pottery and ceramics for the first time and as part of that process we collected quite a few photographs of works from ancient cultures. We were looking particular at the various forms and the use of pattern and decoration. This also gave them an opportunity to use this subject matter as a basis for a drawing and to look at rendering three-dimensional forms through the use of ellipses as well as light and shade toning. The students selected a coloured piece of paper and began there drawing by imagining that their piece of pottery was on the verge of being discovered; as if the wind had blown away the desert sands to reveal it. To achieve this impression they folded their paper in half diagonally to provide a centre axis for the pot, and then began by drawing one side then the other. We had previously undertaken some exercises in ellipse drawing, so the students were quite familiar in using this technique to achieve a three dimensional quality. Their drawing was further enhanced by the use of white pencil as a contrast to the graphite pencil to produce a strong result.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Artists Bag

An interesting sculptural project that was undertaken by my grade 11 students was to create ‘an artist bag’. This would not be a functional bag, but a creative and expressive bag that would be influenced by specific culture in which the artist had a personal connection. Of course, with such a project there was plenty of discussion and pre-planning, but once the final concept had been arrived upon it was down to getting on with the construction. Each student was given a standard file box as a starting point (this meant that the scale and format would be consistent), which could be cut with a knife or details added using hot glue. It was terrific that the students went bold and adventurous with this task adding materials such as plaster bandage, rocks, metal, fabric and paper mache. The most difficult was generally the strap of the bag, but as it wasn’t a functional bag and didn’t need to take any weight there remained plenty of creative options available. Set with the challenge of creating an open ended sculptural form, the students were able to achieve some brilliant results.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Illustrative Drawing

My grade 11 drawing class were very keen to extend their skills with an illustrative style drawing. This would be a detailed and planned illustration based around the theme of ‘fame and celebrety’, which would give them plenty of scope to focus on someone who they particular like as the subject matter. They brainstormed some possible imagery, then followed his up with some visual research. Photoshop is terrific for planning this type of drawing, as it allows the students to experiment with scale and composition. Eventually, they had their reference source and were able to begin their drawing on ‘Cresant’ illustration board. They blocked in the initial outlines then set about adding the detail from observation (no grids were used). Emphasis was placed upon using different grades of graphite pencil to achieve light and shade to create a bold realistic image. Needless to say, several hours were spent in create some highly polished results, but I must say that the enthusiasm of the students never waned.

Extruded Forms

An easy way to adapt a two dimensional shape into a three dimensional form is to ‘extrude it’. This means literally lifting the image vertically from the paper to create a floating shape that can be bridged with a selected material. Of course, this is easier said than done and in sculptural terms it requires some major structural considerations. My grade 9 sculpture class was given such a challenge when they were asked to build an extruded sculpture based upon two combined and unrelated shapes. They began with a scale drawing, which was used to form the two cardboard ends. The gap between the ends was bridged with strips of foam core (a stiff cardboard material). The sides of the sculpture was then wrapped with a thin polished metal sheeting which was beautiful to look at but difficult to use as it had to be cut with tin snips. Hot glue guns that were used to join the initial foam core bridging and the metal. Through patient bending, folding and gluing the metal sheeting was wrapped around the form and carefully cleaned to remove excess glue and finger marks. The ends of the sculpture were then covered with then covered with a colourful plastic material, which also needed to be cut to match the shaped. The final sculpture was then tilted vertically and mounted upon a white baseboard. The final sculptures were very impressive, but it considering the simplicity of the forms they did require quite a number structural skills, so I was particularly proud of their achievements.