Sometimes I feel really empowered when I draw in the sketchbook. Others however, I feel like I have forgotten altogether how to draw. It is usually when I haven’t drawn in a while and so I have to do something to kick the cobwebs off of the creative parts of my brain. This summer, I did very little drawing. We were busy with home projects and vacations to Alabama and my home town in New York. Summertime for teachers is great for this. So when I came back to the book I was a little shocked to see how hard it was to get the ball rolling. So I just started this nonsense strip stating the obvious. If you draw from observation, the subject matter Is easier to find. Just look around. But I spend most of my time drawing from my imagination. So I have to get the brain back in that mindset. So how do you do that? Read a good book. I read the novel “Conan the Buccaneer” and it got my brain bubbling with imagery. You can look at other artists work. This is tricky because I don’t want to copy them but it gets me back in that visual frame of mind. Also, music, poetry and coffee, all help me to loosen up and want to be creative. There is no magic cure. If you haven’t run in a long while, you don’t start with a half marathon. You start slow. Run / walk every other minute for a mile. And don’t forget to stretch. Now that school is starting I am back at the grind which means I have limited time to work on my work. I find that those limitations are often the very thing I need to motivate the daily drawing habit.
I have drawn for so long. I can’t remember as time that I didn’t. I haven’t always known what to do with my sketches, but I have ALWAYS known that it was important to mark time with a pen and paper. It has comforted me when my heart was broken and helped me to remember the things I would have long forgotten. I have made my best laid plans, and passed the time when there was nothing to do (pre and post cell phones and internet). As a teacher, I have always wanted to share my love for being creative with my students but I wanted to develop a program that put all of my loves together (more on that later. I have been making work in a book forever and I love the story their collective pages tell. I always wanted to share them with others so here we are. I will be showing work from the last 20 years. Trust me, I got plenty.
I have been drawing in little books since I was a kid and keeping them since college. I have had a lot of art experiences. Some good, some disappointing but in the end, most of them have been for other people. I always heard that you should do the thing that makes YOU happy and not worry about others. This was a real problem because, as an illustrator, you are ALWAYS working for someone else. But not the journal. It was its own special thing.
I was looking through my photos the other day and it struck me that even though I did not become a world famous illustrator, I did manage to create an interesting and fun body of work that makes me happy. I know that the terms journals, sketchbooks and diaries often get used interchangeably. I do not however. I guess it helps me to make sense of things by labeling them. It’s silly but I think it has to do with the old informational graphic artist in me. Trying to diagram things to make them understandable.
Here’s how I think of them. Sketchbooks are objects. So in this way they are interchangeable with journals. But here is where they differ. I think of sketchbooks as tools to help you plan or practice for larger projects. Simply paper for a job. Diaries are like your imaginary friend whom you talk to about all of your secrets. Journals however are a Frankenstein’s monster. It is a place to draw, paint, write and reflect. It is a friend, a companion, a counselor and confessor. It acts as a mirror and a telescope, looking inward and onward.
With the advent of digital technology like the iPad Pro, you can take things out and turn them into other things such as stickers or products. It is an amazing time. But in the fast paced digital world, it is a slow, steady and sometime anachronistic object that benefits the user in so many ways. I owe so much to the teachers who turned me on to the practice. I will forever love them for it.
I have been a middle school art teacher for the past 15 years. This year, I have gotten to switch schools and change my curriculum to share what I love to do most with my students. I was hired to teach “graphic design” but I have been able to teach design, through the use of sketchbook journals. We are learning how to use bubble letters and typography, comics, illustrations, printmaking and bookbinding. This has been the best thing I have ever had the chance to teach. Now I just gotta not mess things up. Next year will be better. HAHA. I will be trying to write more about the process and the class because I think there are lots of teachers out there who might benefit from what we are doing. Please follow and share with anyone you think might find this material useful.
I’ve had this conversation with teachers for years. It has to do with making art. It’s about time, or the lack there of. So many times I hear art teachers say that they would make hard if they had the time. Or, that they don’t make art because of a lack of time. In either case the facts are the same. Teachers who teach art are not artists. At least for many of them this is the case.
I get it. And in no way am I trying to attack or accuse the profession or the professionals. I am trying to make sense of it however. How is it that we can make the greatest impact on our students? I believe it is by walking the walk so to speak. I think when we stand up and tell students to push through their fear and insecurities, And make something beautiful and meaningful, then it might make a stronger case if we could share with them how we also struggle as adults with the exact same issues that they face has children. Being a teacher is not about having all the right answers or knowing everything. Being a teacher is about being a traveler, and Explorer, and a documentarian.
It’s about walking down a path and then calling back to younger travelers and warning them of the pitfalls at the various points along their travels as well as showcasing the wonders you have seen. Nobody expects a middle school math teacher to push the boundaries of theoretical or quantum mathematics. Art is a different beast however. You can know all the facts but if you don’t know what it is like to face the soul crushing dread of failure after years of artistic development and exploration then you can never empathize with your students. To them failure is the worst thing ever. And why wouldn’t it be? We reinforce this idea throughout the educational process where failure is the worst grade on the scale.
In art however and design, failure is a part of the process it helps us to sharpen our focus and illuminate possibilities that will not yield the consequences we desire. We as teachers are often not very comfortable with failure ourself. And I think that this may be the reason so many of us don’t make art.
For me personally, I believe heart saved my life. It was my refuge in an abusive home, It’s set me apart from my classmates and gave me an identity, and eventually, would give me not one but three different careers involving the arts. I am eternally grateful that my life has been one marked by creativity and imagery. I believe in God. And I thank him every day for the gift of creativity. It’s part of the reason I want to pass it on to my students. I believe it makes God happy when he sees the people he created creating other things. Kind of like a father who watches His son make the game-winning homerun and he leans over to the person next to him with a smile on his face and says “that’s my boy”!
Posting the web comic one page at a time or even a couple of pages has turned out to be a challenge for me during the school year. Family commitments, professional requirements, compounded by sheer exhaustion some days make it difficult to get the work done. But that’s what I’m committed to doing. I want to get the work done.
I hope if anybody is reading this, you are enjoying the story so far. I hope you’ll share it. There are a lot of surprises ahead and I can't wait for you to see them. I hope it will awaken in you a joy of mysterious things that he’s been with me since I was a little boy. In any case if you are reader of gob, I hope you enjoy it. If you are a teacher of art, I hope you will put this computer or phone or tablet down. Not forever, not even for an extended time, but for a short while.
I hope you will pick up a pencil and a piece of paper and as you hear sound of the graphite scratching the paper you will remember what it was like to be young and creative with an entire world outside waiting for youth discover it, as well as an entire world inside of you waiting to be let out. Do it for yourself. Do it for your students. But please, whatever your motivation, do it.
Well, I finally did it. I started posting pages of Gob. The first Chapter/Short Story is going up on the site. I will be adding pages weekly. I am still negotiating how many I can reasonably post during the week. For now, I am putting them as I get them done.
So, a little intro, Gob is a cryptid. A previously undiscovered creature. (Think Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.) He lives on the edge of the reality we know as scientifically enlightened people. I love science but I hate the arrogance of people who act like we know everything. We don't.
Gob is a comic about a creature, peaceful, curious, who is passing his time wandering through the parts of the world that we have not yet discovered. As a kid, I loved hiking and playing in the woods and loved how beautiful and spooky it was at the same time.
As a boy, I was fascinated by the unknown. UFO's, Bigfoot, Urban legends, monsters. It was great. My childhood seemed like a complete mystery to me. I was one of those kids who never got it. Life, social situations, dating, it all confused me. I guess cryptic things and phenomena made me feel like less of a loser. If I was going to have questions, these seemed to be easier to wrestle with.
Gob is the feeling of the gloaming. The time of day right before the sun rises or right before it is totally set. It is joy and dread but always with a healthy dose of humor. I am really interested in feelings and whether I can make the reader feel things with images and few words.
A writer friend of mine, Michael Frizell said "Do you know what I love about Gob? He always seems to be getting in over his head. I think I have a little Gob in me. Heck, I think we all do."
I was thinking this weekend about a conversation I had on Friday with Matt, a former student, now a senior I.B. student. We talked for two hours (he’s a brilliant kid and has fascinating thoughts about the world, comics and school). He was interviewing me for a class about art, including how and why I teach. We discussed challenges to the arts in schools and the need for the arts in public education.
It was during this conversation that it hit me. Everyone knows the public debate about standardized testing, student performance and so on, even if they don’t understand exactly why these tests are poor indicators of student success. They do not however understand what these tests have done to our teacher culture. As with all things the law of unexpected consequences is always lurking.
For years I have been thinking about teaching art. It dawned on me a couple of years ago that I do not teach art. I teach people. Art can’t learn. Neither can math, science, or any other subject. Teachers are in the business of teaching HUMANS. And in reality we teach people ONE thing, PROBLEM SOLVING!
I recently watched a video with a musicologist who quoted this old southern woman. He said she had an amazing amount of wisdom. She told him “Honey, if the mountains were smooth, you couldn’t climb them.” This really moved me. It is the struggle that defines us and that allows us to achieve greater heights in our lives. As such, teachers are teaching humans how to solve problems. Some use words, some numbers, and I use images and objects. The harsh reality is that life is struggle! We struggle to be born, to grow, to survive, to love, to raise kids, to work jobs, to keep our health and in the end we struggle in death. It is the nature of being alive. We are teaching kids how to persist when things are difficult. We are teaching them how to think, how to grow, how to be – HUMAN.
In the world of high stakes testing, we place value on some things and not on others. Art is not as valued as math, English is more important than social studies. This creates an environment where sometimes, teachers become insular or cliquish. They do not see that we are all teaching the same things in different ways. Like people carving a raw diamond where we all cut out own individual facet. This division at best causes a lack of understanding among staff and at worst a downright disrespect in the imposed hierarchy of the school.
I view teaching a little different then some. Paolo Friere wrote a book called “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. In it he talks about teaching poor, uneducated farmers how to read and write. He proposed a pedagogy of teachers who empower their students to have a role in their political process. By being literate it gives you power to understand what your leaders are doing to you.
This is what I believe about the arts. They are an empowering force to create revolution in the minds of my students. I want free thinkers who understand the visual language of the culture they live in. These kids are living in the most visual culture in human history but for the most part, they are visually illiterate. My job is to give them the skills to understand what they see. it is a 21st venture skill with it’s roots in our ancient past. If we only teach kids to think in 20th century ways we place them at a great disadvantage in the 21st century that they actually live in.
What I am advocating for is not just about art being more important in schools, although I DO think we need to do this. I am advocating for all subjects to be given the same importance. Each layer is folding curves and wrinkles in the child’s brain. When we talk about knowledge, the wrinklier the better. Each teacher is a revolutionary. Every one trying to raise up an army to overthrow the forces of ignorance, poverty, inequality and injustice.
These forces defeat us every time we bicker among ourselves about testing or whose subject is most important. So, teacher, yes you, the one reading this. it’s time. No longer can you sit idly by slumbering in your comfortable kingdom of content. It is time to see education as a whole, strong, unified force for good in the lives of your students. You are a part of that fight and so are your coworkers. Respect them, tested or not, funded or not. Because in the end, we are all teaching the same thing: students.
VIVA LA REVOLUTION!
I have been teaching now for 13 years. Holy cow! When did that happen. I think I have always been a teacher but this was my chosen field. For the first few years I think I taught but was thinking I would do this until I "made it" as an artist.
Little did I know, that in spite of the challenges (budgets, petty infighting, difficult students, and so on) I would fall in love with it. I recently had to tell a short narrative about my teaching experience and philosophy for a friend and mentor who was nominating me for an award. In doing so. I remembered so many of the experiences I have had. Kids are challenging for sure. But the thing I love so much is the kids. The sheer brilliance of them when you give them a chance to shine.
I have been so focused lately on the work of making art that I have neglected my work of teaching. It has been like an eclipse where the making had blocked my view of the classroom. I love teaching kids but I also love mentoring young or new teachers. I am going to focus this blog on that. Giving my thoughts and sharing my research about teaching and making art. I hope you will enjoy it and share it on social media to those who love or teach art. If you are a teacher in the visual or performing arts I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to share stories and experiences as well as your wisdom.
In the end, I believe that making and teaching art are two sides of the same coin. I hope that the work I post here will encourage you to make more and share more of your wisdom and insight with others. Please leave comments. That means a lot. It helps me to know what is working. My new goal is to post once a week. Perhaps on Thursday or Friday. I will keep you posted.
Well, It's a 4-day weekend. Glad. Looking forward to relaxing with the family, playing Mario Kart and making comics. This week was the first (mostly) full week working in a TAB classroom. It was eye opening. As my good friend Dr. Steven Willis told me, "When you empower kids, it is amazing what they will do." At first, I have to be very honest. It was hard not to control the way they worked. I have some colleagues that this would just give them a stroke. I have always thought of my room as a very free room where kids got to make their own art. What it was was a room where they got to make their own versions of my art or my ideas. So letting go was a little stressful.
I have a student teacher who has been running much of the week so I was able to see how the kids reacted and worked as I sat with them at their tables while making the Eat Paste Journal pages. The kids were sometimes off task but for the most part really worked hard to make and explore their own ideas. One of the most shocking things to happen was to see 4 non-english speaking students making drawings of incredible beauty and detail. Language was not the barrier it was in other classes (although they can't understand the theory stuff). They were successful at making ART.
I also got to spend time with a troubled student who is usually really defiant, make an incredibly detailed drawing of a semi tractor trailer. We got to talking and he became laser-like focused on his work. He was disappointed in his next drawing but we were able to discuss what he needed to work on. I really felt like I was doing some good for these students. It has not only empowered the students as artists but me as a teacher. I am looking forward to seeing what they do as we open the future centers.
In recent years I have discovered that I have a revolutionary in me. Not one concerned with politics but one who sees the arts as an act of revolt against the tedium and the abuse of day to day life. I love that this approach to teaching is facilitating this revolution for my kids. For now, I have a snow day to make stuff so that I can model this behavior to my kiddos. I am fighting the same fight that they are. I want to make my own life more beautiful, more meaningful by creating my own work.
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to fulfill a wish of mine I have had for several years. I got to be a bell ringer for the salvation army. It was amazing! The temperature was dropping to single digit wind chills, The first snowflakes of the year fell and I got to see people's generosity and kindness up close and personal.
The day raised money for the Salvation Army's benevolent services but it also brought out a few unexpected observations. It all began with a phone call I had with an old and dear friend. He sardonically quipped "Prepare to be disappointed in humanity" at my revealing of my new adventure. It made me sad, because not only was I NOT disappointed (people were awesome, generous and funny) but his reaction to volunteering was to assume the worst. To be fair, he has had some tough times as of late. Those times can challenge even the brightest of spirits not to give in to cynicism. The second reaction came from a man I do not know on Facebook. He commented on my post about how fun it was to be able to do this, that the Salvation Army was homophobic and I was supporting hate. Seriously, hate by raising money for the poor? I asked him to find me a perfect company that offended noone so that I could volunter for them. No reply as of yet but I'm sure he is working hard to find one for me. (wink)
As I was standing and ringing the bell, I had two hours to think. Being a teacher, husband, father and artist doesn't always give me lots of time to do this so I was loving it. I was looking at the Salvation Army motto "Doing the Most Good" and it got me thinking about the work we do in the classroom. Some of my ancestors were in the Knights Templar, protecting pilgrims from harm on their travels to the Holy Land. I have always looked at the roll of teaching in a similar light. I am trying to inspire kids to fight for their own futures. To have a chance to succeed and perhaps to rise above their childhood circumstances. We were told when I was first hired, 12 years ago, that you can't save them all. True. But unfortunately many people have become like my real and Facebook friend, cynical or overly critical of the problems in education.
It's true, there are lots of problems. A lack of funding, a lack of respect or understanding of what art teachers do, poverty and entitlement mindset in out kiddos, all making the job even harder. But NONE of that matters. In the end, I think the Salvation Army has it right. DO THE MOST GOOD! This is what we can do. It is what motivates us to smile at that disrespectful student who yelled at you the day before. It is this goal that makes us not give up when fellow teachers or administrators seem to have no concern or support for our programs. The arts have the potential to open minds and change a kid's life. Not just the artistic student but every student has the opportunity to understand that their ideas matter. What they love, are interested in, and care about is IMPORTANT! That is a powerful message for any child. But think about it in the minds of our underpriveledged or oppressed kids.
This is why, after 12 years of teaching I decided to switch to the TAB based classroom. It allows me to do more good by empowering KIDS to see the wonder in themselves. It lets them have truly meaningful and authentic art experiences in the classroom. It teaches tham that they can accomplish anything if they put in the effort, even something difficult like making art. It validates the meaning in their ideas and in their own culture (whether ethnic or pop in nature). They are amazing, with brilliant ideas and strong opinions but they need guidance. That is what we do. We help them to channel that energy in meaningful ways to produce awesome works of art. If we are lucky, they may even learn a thing or two about themselves and their place in the world.
You may not be able to save them all. But don't for a minute allow yourself to slip into cynicism or criticalness because of it. You the art teacher (heck, any teacher for that matter) have the opportunity to save a life. That is pretty cool in my book. Just keep your eyes on the big picture and realize that doing the most good is way better than doing no good at all.