Archive for the ‘student’ Category

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020

Art Education: Practice Types

Last time we talked about how to objectively judge a person’s current ability within a discipline using the Dreyfus Model. Today I’ll be giving my personal theory about what types of practice are best for students and professionals of various levels, and how to determine what type of practice is right for you.

I formed this theory by combining my own experiences learning sports, art, music, and mathematics with advice given by notable teachers of animation and art. My litmus test has been that I must be able to apply these practice methods to any subject a person might want to learn, although practicing skills is this system’s focus, not academic memorization.

The five categories I’ve identified are listed below with a short description of each and an example of the type of activity you might engage in if your goal was to learn how to draw. Remember that these are broad categories however, and may be applied to any skill or discipline.

Willy Pogany’s Life Drawing Lessons

Academic

When first approaching a subject, the concepts and working methods are all completely new, therefore the first and most basic type of practice is the type which is most widely used in the classroom: Academic practice. This would include all newly introduced or researched information which comes from an authoritative source such as a textbook, tutorial, lecture, or guide.

This type of practice is most helpful right at the beginning of a student’s study. If you find that general knowledge about the way your discipline works is absent, or that parts of the working methods of your skill are hazy or poorly understood, this is the type of practice you should engage in first. However, as soon as a workable understanding of the concepts is obtained Academic practice should be abandoned in favor of a different type to allow the student to internalize what they’ve learned.

In drawing this would be the equivalent of learning body proportions and anatomy. These are very critical and useful areas of study, but if that’s all you practice, your work can only ever look like a textbook illustration.

Public Sketching – Gordon Grant

Drilling

In order to become a confident and skillful practitioner, a student must commit to hours of practical application. In sports all minute aspects of the game are drilled endlessly until each action becomes as natural as breathing. In music, scales and rhythm exercises are used as warm-ups even by highly accomplished musicians so that they become second nature. Drilling is any task which you already know how to do, and can perform repeatedly in small rapid bursts.

This type of practice is the next most common type of activity employed by students and professionals. In essence, the purpose of drilling is to gain confidence and familiarity with your working methods. A pleasant byproduct of drilling is an increase in speed and a decrease in error making. Many professionals if not most of them continue using drilling throughout their careers as a way to keep sharp.

Drilling in illustration would represent public sketching, thumb-nailing compositions, or plein air painting just to name a few.

William Lee Hankey

Quality Test

At the point where a student believes they have learned enough to become competent, it may be time to put all of their acquired skills into practice by attempting to perform their discipline to the best of their ability. In sports, this would be game day, in music it would be the concert or recital, and in art, this would represent a single piece of artwork meant to  showcase the artist’s talents.

Art made for a quality test should be made carefully, slowly and deliberately. No time limit should be imposed and the artist should be as thorough and careful as they can possibly be in order to push the limits of their ability to the extreme.

Performing work of this type may often have humbling results, revealing exactly what shortcomings the student has yet to overcome. As a diagnostic tool, this type of practice is invaluable, and also provides milestones for the student as they progress so that they can compare their current work to their past work.

Quality illustrations should  make up much of a student’s portfolio along with life drawings.

Gustaf Tenggren Comparison

Experimental

After mastering the basics through the use of Academic and Drilling practice, it becomes necessary for a student to explore their own preferred methods and to attempt to expand their ability beyond what can be taught to them explicitly. Experimental practice is done to attempt to create a new work method or a unique result which is entirely the student’s own. It is important to note that this type of practice is most useful in the hands of an already skilled practitioner of their craft, but it may be useful to novices as well, as a method of discovery.

In my opinion, this is where many graduate students and professionals fail to expand their abilities. It’s very easy to copy and reproduce from textbooks, instructors, and tutorials, but it’s a very different and altogether more frightening thing to try to create a new method of working, or a new way of seeing the world.

In illustration and art in general, those artist who are synonymous with a particular style or artistic movement likely owe their success at least partially to experimental practice. The need to perform this type of practice need not be that grand however, as even small modifications to an artist’s working methods help to personalize and internalize their craft.

Albert Hurter

Freeform

The last form of practice is the free and non-structured kind which children indulge in. Although non-academic and not strictly intended to improve a practitioner’s ability, freeform practice serves as a crucial way for the student to enjoy themselves with their chosen craft. Although it may seem unnecessary to list it here, I believe that maintaining a fun and creative attitude toward your work is at least as important as academic study, if not more so.

Work of this type has one goal: to make you happy. After all, why are you putting in all of this time becoming skillful if not to use that skill in a way which pleases you? Very often unfortunately it seems that the mark of a professional artist is that they draw at work but not at home, having long since ceased to enjoy what it is they do for a living. Don’t fall into the trap of slowly choking the life out of your art, have a little fun now and then!

I hope these practice methods are helpful to you or your students. Next time I’ll be talking about motivation and forming a practice habit!

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Tuesday, March 17th, 2020

STUDENTS: Three Steps to Greater Creativity

creativity

Recently on Facebook, I was asked why I thought originality in animation was such a rare thing today. I pointed out that originality and creativity are closely connected, and they aren’t just magical gifts that you are either born with or you aren’t. They come from a body of knowledge and a set of skills that can be learned. Originality and creativity are both fed by the same things… observation of life, the ability to think like an artist, and a wide range of creative influences.

Three Steps The primary source of inspiration for all artists is the observation of real life.

Too many animated films employ character “archetypes”… generic mom and dad characters, typical wimpy kid, his goofy dog and clever cat, bratty little sister… I don’t know about you but those sorts of characters bore me stiff. The best actors will tell you that they don’t create characters by looking at what other actors do or employing stereotypes. They look at real people and try to capture the gestures, walk and attitudes that express that person’s unique personality. It works exactly the same in animation.

When you’re riding the bus, drinking your coffee at Starbucks or standing in line at the DMV, pay attention to the people around you. Look for unique personalities and try to capture them in your sketchbook. Exaggerate and caricature them to see how you might put those personalities across in an animated character. You’ll find that the characters you see on the street are a lot more interesting than the characters you see in most animated films.

Three Steps In an earlier post on Facebook, I pointed out one of the primary creative skills, *ideation*, the ability to think outside the box and come up with a million different solutions to a problem. Another skill that is invaluable is *analysis*. Analysis is at the core of what it means to think like an artist.

When the average person sits down to watch an animated film, they are carried away into the fantasy and let the film direct their imagination and entertain them. A film maker thinks differently. Once your mind is trained to understand the process of film making, you will never sit in the theater as just another member of the audience again. You definitely lose that innocence. But it is replaced by something even more important.

When a film maker watches a film, he is looking at the application of technique. How does the film establish its characters and environment? How does it set up the conflict? What rhythms and pacing are being used to carry the film forward… contrasts in moods… staging… color… music… sound effects… acting… dialogue… All these things and more are revealed through analysis. Turn on your brain and your creativity will follow.

Three Steps Lastly, it’s important to expose yourself to a broad spectrum of artistic creativity… not just the few things you already know about and like.

When you as a filmmaker are watching movies, TV shows and animation, you shouldn’t just limit yourself to what you personally *like*. Focus instead on what you can learn from. The principle of garbage in- garbage out applies here. If you watch nothing but lousy animation and stupid movies, what sorts of animation do you expect to produce yourself?

In fact, animation should be just a small portion of what you study and expose yourself to. In order to be a creative artist in animation, you need to understand and appreciate ALL of the arts. This means studying the history of all forms of music- from classical music and opera to country music and jazz. It’s the same with the history of painting, and sculpture, and dance, and most of all- film making.

If you want to train yourself to think analytically about film, choose really good examples from the past to study. Classic films are packed with cinematic techniques that animation hasn’t even touched on yet, and they will open your mind to new genres to explore. In the entire history of animation, there have been thousands of cats chasing mice and dogs chasing cats, but how many gothic horror movies have their been? How many noir thrillers? Westerns? War pictures? People love to say, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” but in animation, that isn’t true. There are a LOT more stories to be told.

Another advantage to using older films as reference is that you are more likely to pull out pure technique and less likely to simply imitate. If you are looking at a WWII movie, you can’t just copy situations and dialogue because it is from a different time and place. Instead, you are forced to focus on the acting, the staging or the cutting technique. Stealing technique isn’t stealing. It requires adaptation to your own context. Copying specific gags, situations or dialogue from modern movies similar to the one you are making is definitely stealing.

Three Steps The keys to creativity in animated film making are to… 1) Open your eyes to the world around you, 2) Think about what you see- analyze how it works, and 3) Expose yourself to a wider range of creative influences.

When your frame of reference is limited to anime, video games and superhero movies, it shouldn’t be surprising that everything you create is derivative. That kind of background may seem to be a good foundation to build a career in animation on first glance, but look at the animators of the past… Milt Kahl had classical art training from Chouinard, Carlo Vinci won a scholarship to the prestigious National Academy of Design, and Grim Natwick studied painting in Vienna under Gustav Klimt. Animators back then were artists first and animators second. If you want to imitate someone’s approach to creativity, imitate the best! Become an artist.

Right now, it’s Members Appreciation Time at Animation Resources, and for the next 30 days we will be sharing reasons why you should be a member of our important project. There is no better way to feed your creativity than to be a member of Animation Resources. Every other month, we share a Reference Pack that is chock full of downloadable e-books and still framable videos designed to expand your horizons and blow your mind. It’s easy to join. Just click on this link and you can sign up right now online…


JOIN TODAY!
https://animationresources.org/membership/levels/

Find Out About The Benefits of Membership
https://animationresources.org/memberappreciation/

FREE SAMPLES!
https://animationresources.org/join-us-sample-reference-pack/

Not Convinced Yet? Check out this SAMPLE REFERENCE PACK! It will give you a taste of what Animation Resources members get to download every other month!

Sample RefPack

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Friday, January 17th, 2020

Art Education: The Dreyfus Model

Hello everyone I’m Taber, Vice President of Animation Resources. I’m going to be making a series of posts focused on the more academic side of artistic instruction and learning in general. This sort of information can be helpful to both teachers and students as you push yourself to improve and practice your discipline.

Preston Blair instruction

As a beginning artist it can often be difficult to objectively judge your own progress or the quality of your own work. Being able to place yourself in an accurate position of skillfulness can help you to recognize your past growth and current deficiencies so you can better target areas for improvement. But what if you can’t tell exactly what the differences are between your work and the work of more highly skilled artists?

The Dreyfus model focuses on work practices and approaches as a measure of skill acquisition. This can be helpful to both students and instructors as it tends to be entirely non-judgmental and easy to identify objectively. The model uses four qualities to determine work habits:

  • Recollection (non-situational or situational)
  • Recognition (decomposed or holistic)
  • Decision (analytical or intuitive)
  • Awareness (monitoring or absorbed)

These attributes stack one at a time to provide a framework for evaluation:

dreyfus_chart

(click image to enlarge)

For an accurate measurement, ask yourself these questions regarding the above attributes. Because some of these attributes can flip between a more advanced and a less advanced state, I recommend relying on the lower state. For an example if you were trying to decide if you are an intuitive decision maker, or a rational decision maker but you do both part of the time, put yourself down as rational as a rule of thumb.

  1. When you recall knowledge about the subject, is it always in a related context with other information, or is it sometimes rote memorization?
  2. While thinking about an aspect of the subject, can you clearly distinguish between relevant and irrelevant aspects of the work, or is it sometimes difficult to tell what’s important?
  3. When planning your own work, do you need to carefully and analytically lay out the steps beforehand or can you see the entire project as a whole task?
  4. When making decisions in your work, do you have to do any problem solving, or do the answers come to you intuitively, without effort most of the time?

Once you’ve answered these four questions, find the lowest tier which corresponds to your answers, even if you choose an attribute from a higher tier. Read the Needs column from the above chart and try to focus your learning on the types of practice listed in that section. Don’t cheat yourself by practicing projects which are too complex or unstructured! That sort of practice is really only for very highly skillful artists.

This system is similar to the surface to core concept illustrated by Scott McCloud in his book Understanding Comics which I highly recommend! In the book, McCloud describes how a person who is initially drawn to be a fan of an art-form must undertake a journey to the core of that medium before being able to master and thus give back to that medium.mccloud_understanding_comics

Additionally, this same artist’s journey from surface to core is echoed in much of the advice and instructional material given to artists throughout time, from Zim to Richard Williams. In essence, this is what an “old masters” approach is. This struggle is ultimately the best way to gain skill in an artistic medium, however it is difficult and it does take time.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” -Ira Glass

I have some personal theories about the types of artistic practice activities which benefit artists the most when trying to improve aspects of their work, and I’ll be talking about that next time!

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