Learning To See

April 10, 2017 by Staff


How many years of art classes were required before eleventh-grade Oaks students could produce drawings like the ones below?


Lillian Tate (above)


Ben Damiano (above)

Oaks students take art classes from first grade through sixth grade. Their next art class takes place during eleventh grade. Five years covers quite a span of intellectual and emotional experience for young people.

Few Oaks juniors self-identify as artists or even believe themselves capable of executing, faithfully, a reasonably complex drawing. Happily, they prove themselves wrong, with Ben Palpant's help. A mid-year assignment requires students to select a portrait photo or work of art and, then, to imitate (copy) that work themselves.

For instruction, they are taught how to 'see' faces as differentiated parts, with special attention given to the way that surprisingly small modifications to eyes and mouth yield surprisingly dramatic improvements.


Brooke Modderman (above)


Tucker Christensen (above)

For tools, each student was given a 4H and 2B pencil, and eraser. Through judicious application of line and shading, they were asked to show a clear light source within their drawing. This could also be expressed as showing a clear shadow. Clarity of light and shadow complement one another, allowing the artist to emphasize, or de-emphasize, a person's varied character traits.


Sarah Sattler (above)


Maggie Ruffcorn (above)

For character training, vital for creating sound art, Mr. Palpant emphasized humble acceptance of external critique and quiet, persistent patience as the 'secret sauce' that contributes to artistic success. By taking ... their ...... time, students enjoy the quality of their final drawing in ways they could not have foreseen at the beginning.


Mr. Palpant also taught students the classic principles of  armature  The illustration (above, from this website) shows how a canvas may be geometrically structured as a scaffolding frame into which an artist will insert and balance the elements of their composition.

Though the principles remain consistent, a canvas may be sectioned in different ways for different compositions. As artists mature, they will choose to 'break' the rules of armature to create a striking effect. Generally, though, adherence to the principles of armature create a sense of harmony and beauty for the viewer of a drawing.


Claire Love (above)


Hannah Quantrille (above)

We may assume that each of the students whose drawings appear here must possess a high degree of innate, artistic talent. Not so. With rare exceptions, Oaks juniors begin this project who, like those at the top of this post, do not think themselves capable of such results. What, then, is the difference between these students and professional artists?

Oaks students have learned how to see and, by adding a few simple techniques alongside humility and patience, imitate the original art of others. Such imitation - really, applied craftsmanship - is far from trivial. The world's greatest artists spent years, traditionally, learning how to imitate other artists. Imitation need not lack artistic feeling, as these drawings prove so well. To this end, Mr. Palpant shared a quote from John Milton Gregory's Seven Laws Of Teaching, a book which continues to shape the vision of the Oaks faculty:

"The world’s best work, in the schools as in the shops, is done by the calm, steady, persistent efforts of skilled workmen who knows how to keep their tools sharp, and to make every effort reach its mark."

Nor have these drawings been the end, but rather the beginning for Oaks juniors. From this project, they have graduated to choosing and assembling their own arrangement of objects, which they are now reproducing as drawings. Once more, they are practicing the craft of 'imitation', but at a markedly higher creative level than before. Stay tuned!

(Editor's Note: Mr. Palpant also suggested this this site for those who would like to learn more about using armature.)