Starting Strategies

Where do I begin?

Most students need help getting started and its that much easier with a specific task or assignment An Open Ended Assignment is one in which students begin with a specific set of guidelines that allow for gradual development of individual approaches and more and more independent thinking.

The practical teaching ideas in the starting strategies section are for getting students to engage with art making and ideas, using the  Visual Journal as a first approach, then building on to this with studio work, etc. Use these teaching ideas freely and adapt them to suit your classroom/studio and environment.

 First Assignments

This first assignment ideally is something that can be broken down into components and expanded over a period of time. This way students can work at their own pace and skill level. In teaching art, we are often teaching students with a huge range of abilities and capabilities. A good first assignment provides structure but allows the more ambitious artists to leap ahead and those who need more time and guidance to progress slowly and steadily. For more on designing a course structure go to Course Planning New Curriculum

"Art lives from constraints and dies from freedom." Leonardo Da Vinci 

What do you think Leonardo meant by this? Too much freedom can be daunting, having some set parameters actually encourages creative thinking for many people.

More on creative thinking in the Creativity section of this site and in Reflections on Creativity

Suggestions for starting projects year 1

These are comprehensive project ideas that can be developed over the first several months of the course, starting in the visual journal and developing material for the other  3 Course Components

A Sense of Place An assignment that encourages exploration of the local environment: visual, physical and cultural.

Object Study This one uses a chosen object to develop depth and breadth in thinking, and visual exploration in a range of media. Sets the stage for exploring using a wide range of Art Making Forms 

Transcribing an Art Work  An assignment that develops art historical research, imagination and exploration of context and can be used to support  The Comparative Study

Curating a Virtual Exhibition this complex and engaging assignment helps students become familiar with artists for the The Comparative Study and can aid in developing a personal direction in their own art work.

Overcoming fear of beginning

Van Gogh on Facing a Blank Canvas:

"Just slap anything on when you see a blank canvas staring you in the face like some imbecile. You don't know how paralyzing that is, that stare of a blank canvas is, which says to the painter, ‘You can't do a thing’. The canvas has an idiotic stare and mesmerizes some painters so much that they turn into idiots themselves. Many painters are afraid in front of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the real, passionate painter who dares and who has broken the spell of `you can't' once and for all.”
(Letter to Theo van Gogh, October 1884)

Starting out in a new white blank book can be very intimidating. If your students are truly afraid of "messing it up", remind them that Jean Miro' famously spilled ink, paint, coffee, or unevenly primed a canvas so that the starting point was already established, the spell broken. It helps to lose the preciousness a bit.

 Here are a few ways of getting over the fear of making the first mark:

  • Spill a cup of tea on your paper and begin a drawing from the stain.
  • Walk on your paper, making footprints.
  • Rub the page all over with charcoal and buff it off so you have a nice atmospheric surface to work on.
  • Erase an old drawing you don't like, almost all the way - now start drawing on top of this ghostly image.

Ice Breakers

You could also try some Surrealist Games as icebreakers to set a mood of creative playfulness. This helps to overcome the feelings of being lost, confused and afraid of beginning. Once you have put something down, marred the pristine white surface of the empty page, it will be much easier to proceed from there. (However, some students would rather be the graphic designer in full control and prefer to begin work with a pristine book, no "messing up". Respect the differences!)

 warm up drawing exercises

These drawing exercises are designed to loosen inhibitions about making a perfect, realistic drawing and open up different ways of  thinking about mark making and form.

  • Draw with the wrong hand.
  • Draw without looking at the paper. Go to Blind Drawing
  • Draw an object you can feel but cant see, held under the table.
  • Draw with chalk taped to a very long stick.
  • Draw symmetrically, with a pencil in both hands.
  • Draw, with a continuous line, a figure who is moving around the room.
  • Try a collaborative drawing where each student continues a group drawing on a roll of paper
  • also look at Making Marks , Contour Drawing , Invisible Drawing , Figure and Animal Drawing, Ink and Brush
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Comments 1

Tony Davidson 25 September 2017 - 09:22

If the students are expecting to 'draw', hide all the pencils and try fountain pens or mao bi (Chinese calligraphy brushes) or pencils with multi-coloured leads ... anything that allows for greater serendipity.


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