When we teach the visual arts, we are really developing a student’s ability to see. To be more specific, the techniques focus on providing many ways for our students to accurately measure relationships between the shapes they are drawing. The word art, from its Latin base, literally means “to fit together”. Just as the culinary arts measure and fit together ingredients, so does a visual artist measure and fit together shapes! To draw, we examine and isolate each part of the picture, then put them back together again, resulting in our artistic rendering of the original subject. This same process is used at all levels, and is the foundation of the classical method.
The most basic elements of a drawing are 1) Shape, 2) Size, and 3) Placement. Using a four step breakdown that begins with drawing the largest shapes first and finishing with the details, students learn independence in the drawing process.
While working to master drawing technique, our students explore dry media: crayon, colored pencil, chalk pastel, and oil pastel. Being able to reach into a box and pull out the color green for grass is much easier than making your own green paint by mixing yellow and blue. Beginning drawing students are able to focus on small motor skills, line work and weight, measuring techniques, color blending, tone, and neatness without the added complication of color mixing and theory.
Once students have progressed through all of our dry media and gained experience drawing landscapes, cartoons, still life, and animals, they are ready to move into painting.
In the drawing program, students will have been introduced to watercolor pencils, which are applied in thin layers like colored pencils, and then brushed over with water to activate the dry pigment into “paint”. These simple brushing techniques prepare them for the world of watercolor.
Because water is the only medium used, and the watercolor palette provides all primary and secondary colors to the student, color mixing is an exciting and accessible challenge for beginning painters. Students focus on brush manipulation, care and cleaning of materials, basic color theory, dry brush, wet into wet wash, blending, and gradation.
Once a student is proficient in watercolor, acrylic painting is introduced. The properties of acrylic are completely different from those of watercolor. Water soluble liquid paint is squeezed onto a palette from a tube, and students are only given five core colors from which all other colors must be mixed! The challenges of acrylic color mixing lie in the delicate proportions of water to paint, as well as in the ratio of one color to another. Learning how much yellow and red to mix to make light orange versus dark orange is a skill that is learned through repetition of demonstration and practice. In addition, the application of acrylic paint onto canvas is very different from the application of watercolor onto paper. Students learn to transfer all of the techniques they learned in watercolor into the more complex medium of acrylic, then learn the extended skills of glazing, scumbling, impasto, and underpainting.
Advanced painting students may choose to explore oil painting, which uses linseed oil and no-toxic plant-based turpentine as a binder and medium, instead of water. Many of the same rules apply to oil as acrylic, so student focus is dedicated to learning advanced application methods such as fat over lean, grisaille, sgraffito, and wet into wet.