This was a small packet (4 pages) of sketches I created at the beginning of my job as Head of Character Design for the TV show I’m working on for CBN, called “Superbook”. We already had a “anime influenced” style to the show, but the CG modelers were not making very unique, stylized hands. They were making real hands, which looked odd. Worse, they were the same hands no matter male or female, young or old, fat or thin characters. Anyway, thought you all would want to see this.
I believe there are THREE major problems in the way we learn art instruction in the United States. PROBLEM #1: Well-meaning adults kill a children’s joy for drawing (can be read here: tombancroft.deviantart.com/jou…
PROBLEM #2: Artists are not training artists
When I was growing up, I devoured any art instruction book that I could get. In the years between elementary school and the end of high school, art instruction books were the core element of my artistic education. This is because the public school art classes were not feeding me artistically. Because of governmental mandates, public school art instruction must introduce children to every form of art to make them “well-rounded” in their art appreciation. A student must learn about every style of art- and try it once- from abstract painting, to silk screen printing, to Old Masters painting, to Japanese wood block printing, to painting with sponges -and so much more- that drawing fundamentals are barely touched upon. According to the school board system of art instruction, it is up to the student to learn to draw; the schools are just there to introduce you to the wide world called “Art”. I believe this is fine when children are young, but when they get to be later elementary or middle school age, a more structured drawing and painting curriculum is needed for those still interested in art. By high school, many of the kids that liked to draw have stopped. As a pre-teen, most of the kids that would even consider taking an art class are more serious about art as a career. This is when art instruction should move into fundamental drawing principles and not mere rendering techniques.
But that art instruction doesn’t come. Only the children that learn and practice on their own, grow as artists. Our schools don’t progress beyond teaching broad-stroke basics and techniques. Actual drawing instruction is left for the individual to pursue. And when the few students that enjoy art and have pushed through the (lack of) education programs through high school leave to go onto an ART SCHOOL? The better art schools ask to see a portfolio right off the bat, just to be accepted to the school. Our high schools are training people to be ready for college, but not for art school. Now the lack of training is being pushed over the art schools. Yes, you should expect for an art school to teach you art instruction. That’s what you are there for, right? BUT, they are having to back up to such fundamental artistic training that either 1) the students that are self-taught, understand the basics and have real skill- are bored or 2) the lessons are too complex for those that only have basic high school training and those students are lost.
At the core of this problem is this fact: artists are not involved enough in the training and curriculum of young artists. Especially missing in the equation are talented, EXPERIENCED artists. Many art teachers in public schools have a degree in art but little if any actual experience creating art professionally. Public school art teachers become facilitators rather than art instructors. I believe many of them are just not artistically prepared or knowledgeable enough to challenge the children they teach and fall into lessons pre-prepared by school board committees. Through the years, I have asked my kids art teachers what kind of art they create personally and have not found one that created art outside of the classroom (or within). By the time kids become college-aged, this problem lessons a bit- but only if they attend a very expensive art institute. This is the best place to find experienced artists that are teaching good, fundamental art instruction. Still, even if students DO find those good teachers at these expensive art institutions, they are discovering basic drawing principles MUCH TOO LATE. By this point in their lives they should be building upon already established fundamentals in order to be able to get that rare, paying art job upon graduation. I believe this is why we have such a glut of unemployed art school graduates. Anyone that has seen some of the portfolios coming out of our nation’s art schools will tell you there is a problem in our art school training! As I mentioned already, I believe that problem is less in the colleges or art institutes but in our nationally funded elementary to high schools.
I’ve been thinking about how and why we learn to draw for a few years now. I started self-analazing my own drawing and character design thought process when I began writing my first art instruction book, “Creating Characters with Personality”. It was harder than I thought to verbalize how I’ve learned and how I process drawing. This has led me to start looking back at my artistic life and how I learned art. What made me learn the most? What drove me to draw and stick with it? What led to others I knew as a child to stop drawing? I think I’m ready to present some of those thoughts here on DA and hear what you think. So, this is part 1 of three in a series. I’m not sure where this is leading, but step one is my establishing an online art instruction school called Taught ByA PRO (www.taughbyapro.com) that will (in phase one) concentrate on drawing instruction for all forms of media. Here we go:
I believe there are THREE major problems in the way we learn art instruction in the United States.
PROBLEM #1: Well-meaning adults kill a children’s joy for drawing
Most of us have fond memories of drawing as a child. When you are a child, you draw for the joy associated with creating something out of nothing. Even at the most basic level, children learn they can communicate funny stories with their drawings. How many kids have waged wars with airplanes, tanks and legions of troops all on a piece of paper as they describe the action to their parents or friends? Drawing is a shared experience when we are very young. Just like talking or walking, we can all do it. Then, at a certain point- usually around ages 5 to 10, some of us start becoming VERY GOOD at drawing. Better than most. The great equalizer that drawing used to be is no more. Now, its competitive. This is the point where drawing becomes work for most kids. They loose their confidence and therefore loose their interest.
Simultaneously, around the age of 4 or 5, children begin getting more and more art instruction from well- meaning adults. Some of it comes from parents: “Jimmy, grass is green, not blue.” Or from teachers: “HOW many legs does a dog have?” The pursuit of “reality” or realism in your drawings starts to make drawing something to get frustrated over. I believe the pursuit of realism in drawing at an early age is something that is pushed on children much too soon. Later in life, there is nothing wrong with trying to obtain realism in your artwork, because it is an advanced artistic lesson. It is a pursuit of perfection. If you can create something that looks exactly like a photo or someone you have seen before, for many, that is the pinnacle of artistic talent. Why is this? Because many parents, grandparents, or other adults in the life of a child artist can’t explain how to improve the art they are looking at. They look at it (and because they themselves stopped drawing as a child) can’t find the words to describe what is missing in the artwork they are being shown. The easiest thing they can do is instruct the child to draw a picture in a magazine, a comic book, newspaper, or the vase on the table. Children artists soon figure out that the closer they get to copying what they see in front of them, the better the compliment from the non-artistic adult. What also comes with this is non-artistic rules. When non-artistic adults, who don’t know how to explain concepts like perspective, lighting, or shape-based construction of figures and elements, they say vague terms like “that doesn’t look quite right” or “something is wrong with that picture, it doesn’t look like the photo”.
Suddenly, there is a right and wrong way to draw. Before this, it was pure joy and free-form expressions of whatever popped into your head. Once there is a “wrong” way to do something, there is automatically a displeasureable outcome associated with not getting it “right”. These (unwanted) art lessons begin and some children adapt and rise to the occasion to start applying them to their drawings, which leads to the above point of some children getting better than others. For other children, this shuts them down and they slowly stop drawing.
Some would say that this “culling” of children that just enjoy doodling and those that will one day become professional artists is natural; maybe even necessary. I agree with that point to a degree, but I have met too many talented artists that feel they missed the boat early in their childhood development and turned away from an art ability/desire that they loved to pursue something more “practical.” Teachers or parents instructed those young artists that they would not have a future in art, so they stopped pursing it. Most of us know someone who has told that sad story. This leaves me to believe that this early childhood discouragement is more of an epidemic than we know.
I believe that, just like our schools have done for math, reading, and writing, we need to have a curriculum in the schools that progresses students throughout their childhood and into adulthood (or high school graduation, at least). Not all students would stay with the curriculum, but those that want to should be able to grown beyond elementary artistic basics and repetitive concepts. The Masters where taught to draw very early in their lives and grew in that knowledge of drawing until, later, they started painting. We give children paintbrushes as children without telling them how to use them. We tell them to paint a tree before they know how to draw one. We are setting them up to fail.
Thoughts? (Part 2 and 3 will come shortly)
I finished coloring the Wonder Woman piece I started before Thanksgiving. I almost gave up on this one at the inking phase, but I’m glad I stuck with it and finished it.
(via Dance Break #2)-It’s Monday so that means there’s a new OUTNUMBERED strip up. And what else do we need on a Monday- a Dance Break! Check it out, share it, comment on it.
(via Reconciliation)- Check out the new OUTNUMBERED for this week. ALSO, its now on GoComics.com!