I am asked this question often. Parents who have children who show special gifts and a love of art are usually concerned about making sure their child is in the proper classroom. This is so good! At Firstlight we are very conscious of this too. It’s very important that we nurture special talents, and at the same time, not bring any kind of discouragement.
There are 2 major issues that are important for parents to understand.
So, there are several critical points in brain development where artists need special care and when they are changing the very way that they learn. The most profound change occurs between the ages of 7 and 8. The. Most. Profound. Change. Of all.
This is a brain. It doesn’t convey anything about artists particularly, but it really makes my post look scientific, don’t you think?
All children encounter a huge shift in the way they view themselves within the world, and how they learn and process things – around the end of age 7. By contrast, the age that perceptive gifts become evident can be all over the place. Some children display visual acuity months or years before the average. Some children are very mature for their age in their behavior. (and yes, some are not!).
The first point of this post is that the latter gifts do not affect the former developmental shift. Gifts are specific things that some people are born with and other not, but development is a steady progression that almost all people follow in the same way. A 7-year old’s brain simply cannot learn in the same way that an 8-year old’s brain can, no matter how amazingly advanced and gifted they seem to be (but that’s not the only thing to be aware of about this issue. Please read on).
I noticed this difference almost immediately after beginning art classes 9 years ago. Since then I have done quite a bit of research, and there are tons of scientific people who have done tons of scientific things that back up this age-related shift. Really… tons. If you read any of it, the one phrase that pops up more often than anything else is, “…at the age of 8…”
I have always thought of it like this, using a hypothetical scenario: I say to a student, “I’m going to teach you how to make shadows today” (shadows are difficult). A seven-year old will happily announce, “oh I know that. Let me show you how I do them!” or they may say, “shadows are not important to me”. It doesn’t matter if the 7-year old really does great shadows or just makes something up on the spot to show you. The key thing is that they only have one goal: they want to show you what they can do.
An 8-year old, however, has been going through a personal crisis by discovering that her art does not actually look like the real world. The same person one year later will say, “I’m not sure I can ever learn to make shadows, but I want to.” An 8-year old or higher will accept the idea of learning new things because they can see their inabilities for the first time.
As you can see, this is not a small difference. The young student has not begun to compare herself to others; is not even fully aware of her place in society as a whole. She is concerned with showing off abilities, and rejects learning new ones. Even if a 7-year old states that he cannot do something, it’s about personal abilities, and it is not the same as asking to learn new ones.
We can teach 7-year olds about things like shadows, but we have to do it by action, allowing it to seem like it’s a show of their own capabilities. Instead of saying, “here’s how to make a shadow color,” we say, “let’s all make this color now,” and then, “look, you made a shadow color! Yay!” This is sneaky, but it’s a good sneaky. Like putting-maple-syrup-glaze-on-carrots sneaky.
Now, visualize a “watch-me-do-this!” 7-year old, working in a class full of older children who are very insecure about their abilities for the first time in their lives. It cannot be done well. I know, because I’ve tried enough times. If you tell a 7-year old to practice a drawing more than once, they say, “why? I already did it.”
Even though it took me a while to realize that the two ages can’t mix in one class, it has taken me even longer to realize the need to plan for the future (I’m a little slow). If we put gifted 5-year olds into a 6 & 7 class, they can follow along and do the lessons. However, after our 2 full years of lessons for that age, they want to move into the next level of classes and so do their parents. Then you have a 7-year old with no place to go.
This is really the most important part of the first point. What happens to those 7-year olds when they are about to turn 8 and look at things differently for the first time? What if they’re sitting in a class full of older and more accomplished students? Remember, this is the first time in their lives that they begin to compare themselves with others, and at the same time, they are able to see that their work does not look accurate. It rocks their world.
It is such a critical time, and the artist is already shaken in their own self-view. What we don’t want, is for this change to occur in the middle of a group of older people who have been practicing their new perceptive skills for a couple of years! It’s interesting to me how the most advanced thinkers are also the hardest on themselves at this time of life. The most gifted individuals will often come to the logical conclusion that they were mistaken; that they must not be an artist, because they can so clearly see how inaccurate their work is. They can also see that other students are doing more accurate work if they are in a higher level class.
It’s a huge setup for self-demoralization, and it affects the most promising students more than any other. We tell them that being able to see how their work is not yet accurate is the very thing that proves they are an artist, but it is hard for them to believe.
Then there is the other point, which is simply an easy misconception that most people have concerning the development of artists. When you are learning an instrument, a sport, or mathematics, there is a steady progression of development that all students can follow. You learn the first set of concepts or movements, and then you move to the second set, adding layers of skills and achievements that build upon the earlier lessons. This model doesn’t apply to art students. It’s what makes the instruction of artists quite challenging, and that’s why we have such small classes. It’s also why we can teach 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students right along side of 1st year students. Our lessons are not dependent on previous lessons and can be taken in any order for the 1st two years. Then for the next two years, we do the same concepts with advanced versions of the lessons. Even when students reach the higher levels, we are doing the same things, but with more confidence and more personal expression. I often tell an advance 6th year student something I told them 6 years ago – and every year in-between.
Learning artistic concepts is more like working out at the gym, than learning something linear such as a language. Moving from one stage to another and adding more complex words and phrases as you progress with a new language is natural. With art, you must do the same things over and over, flexing the same creative muscles harder than before, and becoming stronger with each lesson. The real progression is in the vision of the personal artist. This cannot be taught, but develops only when students become strong and confident in the foundations of art, and learn to use them every day instead of bypassing them.
We are here to PUMP YOU UP!
So, all of these things go through my mind when parents come up and tell me that their child is gifted and they want them to be challenged. I know that they are trying to do the best thing; wanting the classes that will nurture those amazing gifts the most. But the goal is for a young person to feel like they are an artist. This inner confidence is the only thing that propels them to keep practicing; to learn and grow. Take that confidence away for even a month or two, and you can lose the artist forever. I know this is true because nearly every adult that I’ve spoken with who enjoys art, was discouraged by an adult when they were young. They quit, sometimes for 30 or 40 years, and many never returned to art at all. Just yesterday, one of my strongest adult students lamented waiting so long to take it back up.
Because creative inspiration must come from an inner desire and personal vision, it just doesn’t work to push artists, and placing them into a higher class will harm their development. Being pressured is the most common reason for artists to become discouraged and to quit altogether.
I call it artists block, but it comes from others, not the artist themselves. Early advancement can create this block and does the opposite of what you want for a young artist!
Next time I will discuss how older students can suffer problems by moving into an advanced class.
Hey, the world needs happy artists,
or, “What you learned in art class is wacko!”
Have you ever wondered why there are two hot primaries and only one cold, but there are two cold secondaries and only one hot. Weirdness! Well, read on for enlightenment on these and other color condundrums.
I’ve never liked color wheels. Until our current (4th) year at Firstlight, we haven’t even made anything that resemles one in classes. This week we are making something that does indeed, sort of resemble one.
The fact is, that the color wheel is old and a bit flawed. It was first created by Sir Isaac Newton, and revised only a few times until the modern age, when color has now been delegated to a few simplistic systems in two basic forms. One is color from light, or Additive, and uses the Red/Blue/Green model (Screens use this). Light is scientific and all the scientists have done a pretty good job at getting color from light seriously figured out with their millions of variations. Computers use 6-digit numbers that define a boatlaod of them.
The other form of color is from pigments, or Subtractive, and uses several different models and gets all kind of confusing. The pigment model is used for artistic medium, like paints, pencils and pastels.
Since we are artists, we are only interested in color by way of pigments. So, now we can forget all about lights, RBG, that additive vs. subractive junk, blah, blah, and just focus on the pigment form of color, which is a lot more fun.
The whole confusion thing seems to be a result of the need for humans having to fit everything into a perfect model. Guys love models, and every color model was created by a guy. “Hey look!” you can almost hear Newton (and all those other guys who came after him), say, “my color wheel shows how color never ends, it just goes round and round forever. Isn’t that cool?”
Color is predictable, yet being extremely complex, cannot really be tamed by a simple geometric model. Squeezing the way that pigments work together, and how color is percieved, into a circle, or a couple of triangles, or even a 3D lattice work, is nearly impossible.
However, it can also be very helpful, and that is why we have the color wheel.
The color wheel of today, as everyone knows, uses 3 primaries, 3 secondaries, and 6 happy little tertiaries. How tidy. But why then do we have two blues? Why is printing all done with magenta, and what the heck is magenta anyway? What happend to plain old red?
Go to the art store and you will see a choice of reds: Crimson, Crimson Lake, Rose, Rose Madder, Purple Rose, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium red light, Cadmium medium, and dark, Cadmium red hue, Napthol Red, Pyrrole Red, and on and on. So which one of these is red? Which one should I buy and paint with. Do I need all of them?
And which one is the real red that sits on the red spot in the color wheel and supposedly can’t be made from any other colors?
There is no easy, simple answer to these questions, and so they have generally gone unanswered for the sake of the simple model. Every pigment is different. Every brand of paint is different. Oil is different than acrylic.
Red, as in the basic fire-engine version we know and love, is actually a mix of two different kinds of reds on my palette. Magenta and light Pyrrole red combine to make it. Blue is the same. A light blue, like Cyan, mixes with a dark blue, like Ultramarine, to make the basic royal blue of most color wheels. The two blues are actually two distinct colors and are both primary, meaning that one cannot be used to make the other. The reds are distinct as well.
Yeah, that pretty much blows away a lot of what you knew about color wheels from grade-school art. But it is true, that blue is a primary, there are just two of them. Surprise! you have twins. From now on, when saying red, blue or yellow, I will use a plural for the primary colors. Each of the the twin primaries has a warm twin and a cool twin relative to each other. (way too many puns in this paragraph).
And speaking of that, you also probably know that there are hot colors and cold colors. What no one talks about, is that the primaries are unbalanced, with two hot colors, reds and yellows, and only one cold color, the blues. Why then are the full 6 colors of primaries and secondaries all split into 3 hot and 3 cold colors? Well, because it’s just all so neat and tidy, that’s why. OK, and the fact that blue is a dominating pigment. Blue pigment added to a color makes it instantly cool. Just not cold. There should be hot, warm, cool, and cold, with more on the hot side. Note that I said pigment, not color. Red tends to be a dominant color visually, but blue pigments affect reds and yellows more strongly than the reverse. Most of the time. Usually.
There are not a lot of perfect rules in the world of art. Get over it. For instance, there are not really two distinct yellows. You can make the deep warmer yellow out of the lighter, cooler yellow. Also, several pigments are in-between the two reds or two blues, and some are actually off the chart somewhere in the nether regions.
Which brings us to my main point – A tool for artists should be non-conforming. (Like me!)
The color wheel for an artist should be tailored to their own palette and useful for seeing how their own pigments behave.
Every artist needs to make their own color wheel or similar device for each of their painting mediums. I have made a color star (more on why I like that better than a wheel later), that works well for my own palette of 10 pigment tube colors in acrylics. I will make another color star for oil, and another for watercolor. I use different pigments in each medium, so I’ll need a different star for each.
a better color model
The Firstlight Color Star
However, the basic star that I’ve designed works well as a framework for tailoring each artist’s pigments into a wheel-like structure that is much more useful than a conforming sort of standardized wheel. By taking into account the 3 sets of twin primaries, and the corresponding 3 sets of twin secondaries, and using whatever pigments each artist uses to represent those twins, the star shows artists how the colors that they paint with are going to work. It’s not a completely perfect model for color, but it does help define and organize your pigments in a way that is more understandable.
The simplified color wheel we use today, with these 6 primaries and secondaries, is still useful. Without the wheel, it would be hard to quickly find a complimentary (opposite) color. All you have to do is look at a color wheel, and find your first color. Right across the middle, on the opposite side of the wheel is the complimentary color. this makes figuring out that blue-green and red-orange are opposites, fast and easy.
But I didn’t think it was fastest and easiest, so I made it into a star with 6 big points, and 6 small points for the tertiary colors. Each large point is divided in two, like the two sides of a flower petal, with the twin colors residing on their favorite sides. (“favorite? What do you mean? Why do you keep saying weird things?” – I’ll explain momentarily). See the diagram. You’ll see that the points are easier to use than an ambiguous spot on a wheel, where all the colors blend, and some are in different spots than other wheels have them because of the different kinds of blues and reds. You can also see the basic in-between colors that are made by mixing the two twins on each star point. Oh, except…
Orange! there aren’t enough variations to warrant a warm and cool version of orange, so the two sides and the mix are all just one simple middle of the road orange. Like I said, there are always exceptions. I wouldn’t want to force orange to fit the mold of the other colors when it doesn’t make sense. I will probably write another post on why one side of my color star has only two pigments and the other side has 5. There’s a lot going on in there. For now, just trust me. Orange is simple. Shoot, it wasn’t even a separate color for centuries. That’s why we call them redheads.
As for the favorites thing, the two blues are each said to have a red or a yellow bias. The lighter Cyan blue has a yellow bias, and the darker Ultramarine blue has a red bias. Magenta has a blue bias, and so on. The star places these in an order that makes the color reside on the side closest to it’s bias, without making it move out of it’s spot as a primary or secondary main color.
The star, (and wheels) also are helpful in allowing one to choose known color schemes. Every colorist knows certain color schemes with 1-4 colors each. If you don’t know them, that’s ok. Just always keep your colors limited to 4 or less for any composition and you will fit into some sort of color scheme. If you like your colors, that means that they must be pretty good. Or you wouldn’t like them, right?
I’m finally happy with the “wheel” now that it has become a star. Once I put all of my pigments on the star all kinds of things began to make sense, that were just brushed under the carpet before. I hope to continue and explain more on this sooner or later, but I think I’m done for now. If you have color questions, you can post them below and maybe I’ll write more sooner.
© 2010 Dennas Davis
4 beliefs that keep you from making art and why they aren’t true.
Two criminals get a chance and they take it. They start running away from their captors but no one notices. quickly they manage to put a great distance between themselves and the authorities before they’re noticed. Freedom urges them on until suddenly, wham! They fail spectacularly, slamming into each other via the handcuffs that link their arms and the annoying telephone pole that somehow found it’s way between them as they ran. They lay dazed on the ground until re-apprehended.
Yes, that would be failure. There are mistakes that lead to negative consequences, but not for you. There are no mistakes in art. You cannot fail. You cannot waste your time or effort. I will go so far as to say that if you are not making art that is bound for the trashcan, then you are not a real artist.
Think about the consequences. At the very absolute worst, you throw some materials away and take what you’ve learned to steer yourself in a better direction. What is there to be afraid of?
But the feeling that this is something bad – that to create a lousy-looking painting is a huge failure – persists. Why? The answer to that question is complex, but most of it has to do with the perceptions of our culture in general, not with any one person’s ideas. So now I’d like to suggest some alternative thinking. Here are 4 reasons for fear of failure.
Number one. A big reason that we’re afraid of artistic failure is nothing more than an erroneous conclusion based on supply and demand. It has nothing at all to do with the aesthetic value of art. I shall explain. All of the “masters” have a limited supply of work, and each and every work therefore has a high value. Even the poorest work by Van Gogh, for instance, sells for amazing amounts of money. This is because his best work is valued even more. a rough sketch by renoir is also highly valued, even though he might have intended for it to be a learning step towards a finished piece. It’s because all of the masters’ work is so desirable, whether or not it is their best work, that we get the crazy idea that every single thing that a “real” artist produces, must be excellent. We don’t differentiate between their good work and their not so good work.
Since well-known artists were very conscious of their image, we can also assume that most of their learning work was destroyed by the artists themselves. I get rid of mine.
It is unreasonable to think that every single thing an artist does will be their best. All artists have to learn and create work that they do not feel good about showing to others.
Two – Massive Confusion. People are mostly unsure about what artistic talent is, and how good art is defined. It seems to be a mysterious thing without understandable rules. Here are five reasons for this confusion.
1) modern art has created a vast disconnect between what is deemed “great art” and what people actually admire. No one can name a nationally known painter or sculptor from 1970 to today. Why? Because serious art by serious artists is so far removed from relevancy that even knowledgeable people don’t like it or understand it. Most people cannot really decide if a work of art is supposed to be good or bad. They only know that they don’t understand why serious art is so weird.
2) We try so hard to not hurt anyone’s feelings, that we sometimes elevate all art to the acceptable level, whether anyone enjoys looking at it or not. Some teachers say that everyone is an artist. This makes us question the validity when people say that art is good.
3) Most people view art in photographs instead of in person. It is almost impossible to understand a work in this way. No photo can do a great work justice.
4) Artists themselves are sometimes very elitist, and reject other artist’s work as worthless.
5) There is a general feeling that true artists are born with some kind of indefinable inner muse, and that training would only ruin their artistic freedoms.
Do you know any musician who could play music that everyone liked to listen to without any practice at all? It’s like saying that a piano student who can’t play their scales on the first try, should give up. There is no more mystery to visual artistry than there is with music. Just like any other creative endeavor, artists must work hard and go through a learning stage. There are rules and tools that can be learned and mastered. And, just like other proclivities, an artist will probably be born with some amount of passion for their work, as well as a set of gifts that help them progress.
I am frequently asked about “talent” and whether or not someone in particular has enough of whatever it is, to be able to become an artist. I have given the same answer for at least 20 years. Here’s the math:
10% giftings, or genetic talents.
10% training in techniques and concepts
80% passion and the hard work that results from it.
I expressed the truth of this in a recent twitter post: Amazing talent without passion finds little purpose, but passion with only a little talent can find amazing purpose.
In other words, artists are self-created. If you consider yourself an artist, or if someone tells you that you are one, well… then you are. That doesn’t mean that everyone is an artist, or that all artists will do the same level of work. But it does mean that you should not be afraid to create and explore.
Three. We tend to hold artists up to a very, very high standard. Artists can falsely believe that they don’t measure up and quit because of this unspoken rule: Art isn’t useful as an endeavor unless you can produce superior work – the kind of art that sells in galleries and is shown in museums.
Wait a minute. Everyone is allowed to sing on occasion – even me. I love to listen to someone play the guitar or piano, but who could never get a record deal. In art, however, unless there is that special spark of genius, then there is some amount of pressure that says you really shouldn’t pursue it at all. It’s black or white. Be great or be gone.
Four. Art classes traditionally focus on critique and negative feedback. Almost everyone I talk to who is afraid to paint, has a story to tell where an authority figure squashed their enthusiasm by telling them something horrid about their abilities.
In our classes, we do not have mistakes. We only have LEARNERS and KEEPERS. Both are absolutely necessary and inevitable. The more learners you make, the more you will improve.
On the complete other end of that spectrum, if you have been told by an authority figure that everything you do is great, and you know it’s not, then you question whether any of it is good at all. Truth is encouraging, and the truth is that every artist makes learners and keepers.
So, back to failure and the fear of the blank canvas. The whole thing boils down to one question. “am I an artist?”
The answer is yes, because if you are asking that question, then you desperately want to be one. Can you fail? No. You can only practice.
There is an endless stream of creativity in an artist (you). If a work is a “learner”, then rejoice, learn, and begin the next one.
Don’t always clean out your brush. That bit that’s left when you just wipe it off can make your next color relate to the painting.better.
The brush is a dancer on your canvas. Choreograph your action, using different moves that are natural. Don’t let it become a pogo stick.
Water colorists need 3 water jars. 1 for cleaning paint from brushes. 2 for rinsing after, and 3: clean water for making the colors.
The more you paint, the more you see with a painter’s vision. The more you see, the more you want to paint. It’s a delicious cycle.