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Teaching the art

I have been invited to teach a few linoprinting classes now. it is something that I both enjoy and dread (just a little). The reason for the enjoyment is easy, as the classes invariably involve interesting people, varied projects and I get a real kick out of seeing people transform a concept into a piece of art that they are proud of.

The dread bit comes from the worry that I won’t be able to translate ideas and methods easily for people. There is (usually) always a frustrating period when people come to realise the extremely complex artwork they want to create can’t be achieved using the medium of lino or in the timeframe that is available to them. Those early conversations that are required to steer someone away from the image they had their heart set on, to something more simple, are always a little difficult.

I have been fortunate to have had some fantastic art mentors and teachers. I am not formally trained but did spend many an evening in the company of an art group in Dunedin where, Friederike, the kindly (and straight talking) German art teacher taught me how to ‘see’ rather than how to draw. I am incredibly grateful to Friederike and she remains a close friend.

It is when you have had an incredible teacher yourself that you feel the pressure of teaching. What I have found that teaching adults requires is the ability to form a strong and trusting relationship. Most adults respect critique when they respect the person providing the feedback. When you are only meeting people for a very short time, teaching and building rapport is both an exhausting and an exhilarating task.

There are a few things that I tend to focus on with students when we start out with printmaking.

1 Know what you are wanting to achieve before you start carving. A great life lesson - knowing where you want to go before you get in the car and start the engine is always the best approach

2 Sit with your sketch. Taking time (even just half an hour - or the duration of a cuppa) to sit and ponder your sketch before you commit it to your medium always lets you refine the bits that are, if unchecked, likely to drive you bonkers. Art is a lot like academic research -the more work you do at the 'front end' the less fixing up you have to do later.*

3 What do you want your image to communicate? Thinking about this and then asking, does the sketch achieve this is another way to improve your image and your relationship with it.

4 Of course, the suggestions, above, are serious. The main thing is to only draw what you like. Otherwise it's just work.

It is funny how the same steps also apply (with a shorter time frame) to photography. Knowing what you are wanting to achieve before lifting the camera to your eye means that you are thinking about all of the technical aspects required to achieve this, for example. While I wouldn't ever sit with my camera and look at the image while out shooting, I do sit and ponder images as they are processed and I never delete images from the back of my camera. There are a number of similarities but possibly the most enduring principle is only draw or photograph things of interest.

*fixing up in the academic sense meant cleaning data or reworking papers, nothing dodgy, but certainly time consuming.


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