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.

"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

      Looking for ideas for first lessons that set the tone for creative exploration? Here are some fun ones...

      Back to School

      When I was a new IB art teacher back in '94 I dutifully photocopied all the assessment criteria and presented my already overwhelmed students with stacks of dry, complicated, wordy IB Art assessment criteria...

      Comprehensive Assignments for Year 1

      Once you have established an atmosphere of creative engagement and set some expectations, your students are ready to begin working on a more sustained project. This first in depth assignment ideally is something that can be broken down into components and expanded over a period of time. This allows students to 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 Curriculum Planning or Mapping a Course Outline  

      The first two, Sense of Place and Object Study are comprehensive assignments 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 is an assignment that encourages exploration of the local environment: visual, physical and cultural.There is also a sample Unit Plan using this material: Unit Plan: Exploring Place and Culture 

      A Sense of Place

      The title of Gauguin's painting above Where have we come from, where are we now, where are we going? asks a marvelously complex question, one that a lifetime of art making can only begin to try to address....

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

      Object Study

      a teaching idea to generate thinking beyond the obvious. It can be used with students at the start of year 1 as a way of introducing investigation skills and learning to make connections.

      Curating a Virtual Exhibition is a complex and engaging assignment that help students become familiar with artists for the The Comparative Study. It also introduces ideas around Curatorial Practice and making connections, and can aid in Finding a Focus developing a personal direction in their own art work. 

      Curating an Imaginary Exhibition

      Help your students to be prepared with some potential thematic interests, a point of departure for Choosing Artworks to investigate...

      Building Drawing Skills

      introduce basic drawing skills and terminology and a practical approach to teaching the vocabulary of Formal Elements of Art

      using these two site pages with similar content

      Elements of Drawing with teacher notes and slideshow  includes tips for teachers 

      Lesson:Elements of Drawing has activities and vocabulary for students. Select and assign this page in student access

      Elements of Drawing-Teacher notes

      introduce basic drawing skills and terminology and a practical approach to teaching the vocabulary of Formal Elements of Art. Develop awareness of visual elements, qualities and attributes through drawing.

      Lesson:Elements of Drawing

      This is a good skill building starter for students coming from different backgrounds and levels of ability. Discover The Formal Elements of surface, mark making, space, composition, and scale through these exercises.

      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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