“Doors,” a photograph series, 2014

Working in a series offers an artist a variety of outcomes: One may be to see a subject develop through a series of pictures like chapters in a novel, each one allowing a little greater insight into the subject. Another might be to allow a viewer to compare and contrast images to come to a unified conclusion that may differ from seeing a single image of that subject. Through the “Doors” series (pun unintended) I was interested in the latter.

"Doors," A photograph series, 2014

“Doors,” A photograph series, 2014

While photographing abandoned farmsteads I noticed the differences between all of the doors I was seeing. Now, when you think of it, why wouldn’t there be all kinds of different doors and why would this be significant? The first thing that made me think of this was the difference in standards. Most doors manufactured now are a standard size. If you do not believe me walk down the door isle in Home Depot and you will see what I mean. Now I am sure there are many different styles and colors, but they are all basically the same size with only a few exceptions. While looking for photographs on the farm sites I noticed just how much doors differed 50 or more years ago. In most cases they did not conform to the standard door sizes of today. In fact, they did not seem to conform to any standard and appeared to be almost unique in each case. How times change, I thought, and how different things are now as I’ve walked through so many doors all my life noticing very little difference in the dimensions for most. From this awareness came the “Doors” series photographed the summer of 2014.

Most of the doors chosen for the series have different applications. One would not expect to see a standard door size any more than one would expect a door on a house to be the same as the door on a car, but the similarity and differences in all of the doors pictured allow not only an analytical appreciation, but a metaphorical one as well. It isn’t too hard to think of these doors as people: Friends, and acquaintances all have similarities and differences, some quite radical at that, but they are all people just as these are all doors. When I began looking at my collection of photographed doors and thinking about it I noticed that they all hide something; they restrict access to what is inside of their respective buildings. From this I began to think about how the differences we see between people really is just the beginning, just like the differences between doors is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, when compared to the differences that may be in the spaces behind them.

“Why film?” You might ask.

Or maybe, “Why old doors?”

Beginning Art

Pen and InkArt, and in that broad category, Drawing & Painting, can be a risky business! Peers can clearly see what you are doing minute by minute, grades may at first seem disconnected and subjective, and there’s that overwhelming feeling that it is not quite right and only failure awaits. How can a teacher work to help students over these “affective filters,” if you will? One part of this effort is the careful selection and order of the assigned projects.

The first project I assign my students is called “Linear Expression.” This project focuses on two learning goals, Expressive line and new media- pen and ink, but it also allows me the opportunity to stress quality issues at the outset of the course.

I know this sounds a bit lofty, especially when I initially started writing about how I use this project to overcome “affective filters” as if teaching a second language, and it is. This project works well to do both set a standard of expectation and allow for success among those who believe they are “artistically challenged.”

I begin the project with blind contour drawing. Students draw the back of their hand trying to get all detail possible without lifting their pencil and without looking at their drawing. I take this time to stress the value in creativity in drawing and that accuracy is not always the most important part of a drawing but that the interest a drawings creates is often more important. I try to select the most interesting examples from the class to show and stress that the laughter and humor it creates is far more interesting than an accurate but boring drawing of a back of a hand.

We then follow up with a contour drawing (not a blind contour drawing this time) of a single subject still life. I use artificial plant matter such as leaves and flowers and allow students to choose their own subject. It is a contour drawing and, even though many shade and express their artistic prowess, I encourage them to focus on the line and detail of the subject, leveling the playing field, as it were. This is also a great time to walk around the classroom and offer encouragement by pointing out strengths in their drawings.

“Inspiration” for the emotion for the expressive line is taken from a rather abstract approach through random newspaper articles. Students work in groups for this part and read, discuss, and present their article to the rest of the class along with some emotions derived from the article. It takes about a full class period but enables me to ensure all students understand and have a small list of emotions that will work for expressive line.

After collecting some emotions from which to work students lightly study and interpret expressive line and change that in their best contour drawing to reflect the emotions found in their newspaper article. Students trace it onto Bristol board at the light table and, using India Ink and Pen, redraw the expressive line.

I do not believe that Art is an easy “A.” I am, however aware that it is more easily understood, and it’s perhaps more successfully pursued, if it begins with one. Students display a high level of success in my classes with this project. This is especially important because their next project is one many find particularly challenging. You will find my rubric along with other project information such as the Art History component and Project notes that I use to present the project at http://art1.jrieger.com/le.

Although this project is not perfect and I’m sure other solutions exist to begin Art with a high level of motivation and success, I find that it is an effective start for my students. I hope you’ve found some of my ideas useful. If you have, or have other ways for beginning art, please leave a comment below. Thank you!

The “Check-out” card.

20141020_081445Accommodating large class sizes along with their tool and supply use in the high school classroom is not easy! My classes have on average 36 students and are allowed to go as high as 38. That is a lot of students, a lot of questions, and a lot of stuff  to keep track of! One item I use to help try to keep track of some of this is a “check-out” card.

Students are all given a 3″x5″ card at the beginning of the year. They list their first and last name in the top left corner of the card with their period number below it. The right hand corner of the card contains their locker (drawer) number and combination so that, should an item go missing for some reason, I know the first place to look. Now having their locker number and combo on the card does run the same risks as leaving a key lying around, but I am able to reset combinations if it is a problem and the cards are so easily returned if left out.

After recording attendance and the usual introduction of the day’s work, students may bring their check-out cards up to my desk to get the tools they may need. For this it is a simple one-for-one exchange, tool (scissors, glue stick, colored pencil set, etc.) for card to be traded back at the end of the period. This allows me to ensure that I have a consistent inventory of tools available for student use.

Students often need to borrow tools and supplies from the classroom to complete work elsewhere. In a case like this the check-out cards become similar to library cards in which a student may check a supply or tool out by writing the name of the tool and the date on which it was checked out on the card and leaving it with me. they may then take a tool home with them to complete the work and return it at a later date. When that supply or tool is returned I cross it out and initial the card on the line. This card is then effectively taken out of use until the tool or supplies returned. Students also use this card to check out the restroom pass so becomes important to them to return tools and supplies in a timely manner.

20141020_083054I found it useful to purchase (or in my case, make) a card organizer in which the cards can be kept available for when the teacher or student needs it. I’ve also found it useful that my organizer can be arranged to support long-term checkouts (library cards) by dividing the cards according to period number. This way I can quickly return the cards as students return supplies.

I suppose it’s important to note that this is not without problems or drawbacks . I often end up with quite a lot of students at the end of the period waiting to turn supplies in. This can take some time given stack of cards I have to go through to make the exchange. In my classroom however, I’ve made the decision to sacrifice this time to save from the time and additional cost of replacing tools.

Although the check-out card may not be perfect and I’m sure other solutions exist, I find that it is an effective tool for managing some of the “stuff” that goes into the average art classroom with large class sizes. I hope you’ve found some of my ideas useful. If you have, or have other ideas on ways to manage tools and supplies in the classroom, please leave a comment below. Thank you!

One Man’s Junk…

I’ve been asked why it is that I prefer to photograph old things, junk to some people. This has caused me to spend quite bit of time thinking about this subject and why it is I am so often drawn to it. One reason for my attraction to the subject, but not necessarily the most important, is the pure connection to history.

I enjoy history, learning about significant events, and trying to put myself in that time and place. I live in southern California and travel back to North Dakota in the summer and I am struck by the differences between the two with regard to their history. In California the population has increased dramatically in recent decades and the continuous construction and redevelopment is associated with this increase has hidden this history or removed it from its context. Urban redevelopment places new retail centers where quaint seaside villages once were and homes cover the rolling hills of what used to be vast ranchos so much so that it is difficult to see the place as connected in any way to an earlier time. A good example is Rancho Buena Vista Adobe, an historical rancho in the city of Vista. Some of the original buildings have been preserved and some converted into museums complete with relics and photographs but it is set so deep into urban sprawl, development, and the daily activity that accompanies such things that it has taken on a Disney Land-like quality. I am not trying to belittle the effort that so many have put into preserving a place like this but I am suggesting that a thing loses some of its historical significance when the context changes so radically as it has in Southern California. By changing the surrounding area some of the connection to history has been lost. The same is true for museums: In a museum historical artifacts are cleaned up and shown in such a way that they are hopelessly removed from from their context leaving the visitor’s experience altered from an actual encounter with history to viewing a show or commercial display. I am not alone in recognizing this as you can frequently see museums trying to change a visitor’s experience in an effort to reconnect it with the original human experience. It is a difficult task for sure to try to put a visitor into a point in time. In North Dakota, as in much of the Midwest, the places I visit and the things I photograph are not removed from context at all. In fact they reflect the very history of which they are a part. Time is evident in their very condition. Rust freezes machinery in the place they were left after their last day of work, wood erodes as it confronts the relentless wind of the prairie just has it has always done. A person can experience the history of that place as it is happening. In these places time has not stopped and the history of the place is laid bare. The are no obstacles between the visitor and the place, no filters, no Disney Land. Because of this, the experience is somehow more real for me.

“Chance” in photography

When I am working with photography I am distinctly aware of the role that chance plays in the successful capture of an image. Naturally, digital photography lends a high degree of control over an image and I understand the usefulness of this process. Traditional film, on the other hand, provides what seems to me as a greater chance for discovery and this is one of the reasons why it is a part of the process I use. Due to the mechanical and chemical nature or the process the actual image left on the film often differs from the image I think I’ve captured. I process the film myself in my studio which adds to the risk (I’ve screwed up a lot of film) as well as the variation in the imagery. Once the film is processed, I scan it using the default settings on an old scanner to limit the control I impose at this step of the process. This is how these photos have taken on this strange sepia tone from a black and white negative. I think it gives some the appearance of some early daguerreotypes or tintypes.

I enjoy the appearance these photographs have acquired. After all, I am not trying to make clear, fine quality photographs, (I’ll leave that up to the real photographers), I’m trying to find an image that is as much about expression as it is about discovery.

Starting work on a small linocut project.

I’m working on a linocut with the family chruch, St. Andrew’s Lutheran, as the subject. It is a beautiful old church and a great example of those which used to cover the prairie. As farm sizes increase and the size of small towns decrease fewer and fewer of these chuches remain. In fact, this one depends on the decendants of parishioners for its repair and upkeep as regular services are no longer heald there.