Teaching and Mentoring: Leading by Example
Over the course of my educational and professional career, I am fortunate to have studied under many great educators and artists. Most recently, Rodney Hamon, at the Tamarind Institute, and, most formatively, Robert Repinski, at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, have left a lasting impression on me. Their unparalleled passion and enthusiasm for printmaking and their dedication and integrity as artists, educators, and critics set high standards for me as a student. They continue to serve as mentors and role models, influencing my artistic practice and pedagogy. And it is their example that informs the model I provide for my own students. As a teacher, I seek to live up to the example of my mentors by continuing the tradition of teaching the fundamentals of design and technique as a foundation for conceptual development.
My teaching thrives in the spaces of confrontation, exploration, opportunity, and transformation. I confront students with both technical and conceptual opportunities allowing them to see what a particular medium can offer. After this first hurdle of the technical is overcome, my students see that form can enhance content, and I give my students the opportunity to explore the medium while providing the technical guidance necessary to ensure that their vision can be realized. When a student comes to me with a technical problem, we explore the solution permutations. And because a classroom is the crossroads of ideas and practice, I encourage students to make the most of every opportunity for development by encouraging an active dialogue though peer critiques, class discussion, and guest speakers. Critiques provide the necessary foundation for the development of a visual vocabulary. Class discussion and guest speakers expose students to a variety of methods to solve problems. Everyday, I approach my students with the question, “what are we going to learn today?” And when a student follows up with a conceptual problem, we talk out a conclusion.
Specifically, I challenge my students by requiring them to develop a visual language and to acquire the vocabulary of printmaking through repetition and practice. In my experience, an introduction to printmaking functions most successfully in a two course sequence that introduces students to the four major printmaking media two at a time. Intaglio is coupled with screen printing during the first semester, and lithography is paired with relief techniques during the second semester. This arrangement allows the introduction of more technically demanding media with more straightforward forms of printmaking. My students are given a conceptual framework through such projects as “The Body and The Other,” “The Hybrid Project,” “Spatial Sensation,” “Self Reflexive Self Portraits,” and “Mapping Our Environment,” in which they explore themes of our bodies interacting with the environment. To begin each unit, I hold a slide lecture and supplement with an opportunity for students to examine relevant and representative prints. These examples begin to elaborate on the possibilities that each of these media offer.
Technically, working and reworking a single plate for the duration of the first unit introduces the intaglio process. Students are introduced to dry-point techniques, and they are then required to print several state proofs. I subsequently introduce them to hard and soft ground techniques, require them to print several state proofs, and then introduce aquatint. When the final image is created, students are responsible for printing an edition. The total experience introduces students to several basic, but necessary, techniques while covering the practice of proofing and printing editions. Teaching lithography follows a similar pattern; students are introduced to basic drawing materials, including litho crayons and tusche, after which they learn to properly etch the stone or plate. The images are made on a theme, and several state proofs are printed. Students then learn how to counter etch the matrix and how to add and subtract drawing material. After the final image is etched and stabilized, the students are required to edition the print and then to grain the image from the stone.
In addition, dialogue is as important to artistic growth as developing technical expertise in my classroom. At Tamarind I was fortunate to have the opportunity to engage with a variety of professional and student artists. As their professional printer I was clearly responsible for ensuring their art was printed to the highest standard, with the utmost care, but I also acted as a conceptual sounding board. I began all my sessions by asking the artist about their vision, and as we talked through the concept I helped my artist develop the best possible technical route to enhance their ideas. The first session always began with drawing up maquettes and test plates while talking through the materials available to the artists. During the next few meetings our dialogue focused on image development and conceptualization. During one of these sessions, I helped an artist take a major risk that resulted in a variable edition that changed the color of run three every other print. The image’s strengths were enhanced through the color shift by creating new, dynamic interactions that the artist hadn’t initially considered. Through our dialogue we created a superior work of art, which is what I seek to do with every interaction I have with artists and students.
Ultimately, experimentation is crucial to sustaining a passionate exploration of artistic practice. My students learn that when they take risks, even if the resulting work is not completely successful, the outcome can provide them with a valuable product. Sometimes, through failing, students come to see that creating art is also about the journey and process that inevitably brings them success. For this reason, I grade my students not solely on the finished piece but also on the process that they have engaged and their efforts to explore new options. The main evaluation tool I use for my students’ progress is a semester portfolio review. I have students create intake drawings or equivalent projects with which I compare their midterm and final projects. This allows me to assess the growth of individual students. Students are required to participate in peer reviews and critiques that serve as a means for me to track their progress and also for the students to evaluate their own work.
I am passionately committed to exploration and experimentation with ideas through the creation of art and to the fostering of thoughtful dialogue through critique. I aim to provide my students with the technical and intellectual skills they need to fully express their ideas in pursuit of their goals. I strive to instill in my students the work ethic necessary to pursue their passion by leading through example, teaching from experience, and pushing them towards excellence. As an educator, I wear many hats including practitioner, collaborator, contributor, instructor, cajoler, and supporter, ultimately, encouraging my students to explore their world from multiple angles and help them recognize their own power to solve problems creatively. I absolutely delight in the interactions that I have with my students. Teaching allows me to work with individuals who are passionate and hungry for knowledge and the opportunity to light a fire under those who are not. I take great pleasure in the fact that teaching enriches my life by allowing me to engage the lives of my students and in turn enrich my community.