Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ravishing Radish!

Two things come to mind tonight. How much I love painting still life,  in between the rigors of portraiture, and how much I learn from teaching, albeit a bit of a love/hate relationship on some days if I am being very honest.

 Teaching just one day a week around long school semesters,  as I do,  is a commitment if you are trying to do it to your very best. It is not like a workshop where you get in and out before the dust has settled and no-one really has had time to process much before the teaching check is cashed and the teacher has left amid a glitter glow.

In semester teaching, as I have done for almost three years now, people get to KNOW you and hear your repeated teaching agenda over a 10 week span and 'process" in their individual way  if they are making progress. A lot of time to think.  They also get to show up on days when they have private dramas (putrifying skunks caught in the attic/loved ones rushed to ER/savings lost...all true) and I have private dramas of my own ( much loved family home suddenly on the market, abrupt studio move, and  putrifying menopausal face). I think there is a lot to be said for weekend workshop teaching.

 Bit like "IN and OUT BURGER". Good but fast. NO commitment.

SO as a semester teacher I take that commitment on. I prepare for my class in a steadfast way that I don't think many students understand.  Calls ahead to models for set ups, hunts in thrift shops to find interesting/lively set-ups. Color harmonies to think about. Thought-out 'mini' lectures, with art book examples from my personal library, to give. 

This goes on  week after week while planning your professional painting life around it including all sorts of other commitments, travel, sittings, shippings etc.. IT WOULD BE SO EASY TO GET LAZY. And that is where the love/hate comes in.

Having just read a great book on master painter Sergei Bongart (Sergei Bongart By Mary Balcomb) who painted and taught his whole career, as much concerned with teaching as painting it seems, producing a generation of  highly esteemed artists to this day in his school of thinking, I know this is the level required from a teacher if you are going to do it well for your students.  Not that I am close to Sergei of course.

Those in his school include Sharon Burkett Kaiser,, Ovanes Berberian, and Dan McCaw to name a few.

I certainly had my share of teachers in the past who just showed up and couldn't care less. I didn't know the difference.  Then I found a teacher, my mentor, Everett Raymond Kinstler, N.A., who not only showed me how it should be done painting-wise, a journey which will take me my life time, but gave me the confidence to teach through his masterful instruction which I will be eternally grateful for as all my students know.

There are very discouraging moments teaching if I am honest which is where the hate bit comes in.

Students are like kids in candy stores. Looking for the next perfect "bon-bon"  art confectionary from the teaching jar to give them the magic sweet pill of how art is done. 

One student of mine went to another class recently without saying goodbye after well over two years with me. I know students always move on, that IS the journey of it. I did it in the past too, with 'class' I hope,  until I found my school of 'art thinking' and knew I was home.  Didn't need that wretched candy jar anymore.

But all those times spent personally teaching this afore-mentioned person, caring that it was a great lesson for said person, personal emails/critiques etc. on non-paid time...and then not so much as a handshake goodbye. STING. 

I lost faith in teaching at that moment. And felt CROSS.

Why bother so much as a teacher? DETACH, I say to myself. CARE LESS. Afterall this is NOT paying the mortgage.

But then you get a nice email out of the blue tonight, which is where the  LOVE comes in.  from a former student who had to work SO hard to pay the $$ to study with me at an art school or two, between jobs, who is moving away from LA, and took the time to say she will never forget what I had taught her.  Wow...that is why I teach. It made my day.

So... let's get to these radishes. NO big concept in mind.  NO big aim to deliver a masterpiece. NO need to please a client. Just the delight of painting a few radishes after seeing how my students handled them.  All of them well. But a bit too much of a reflected light here, too shiny there: these are heavy dense little beasts. the lesson YOU paint them smart ass teacher!

I chose a cool color harmony of red and green, determined to make the leaves look abstract but good. Just like in portraiture, the hands/neck can let an artist down, so too in still life with the leaves. You will be judged by both your hands/neck and your leaves. Take time to study them all.  Hmm..note to self. 

Just like hands, Mr. Kinstler once said there is a whole workshop to be had around necks and to look to Sargent for that. So true. I was lucky enough on the evening of him saying that, to be standing in front of a Sargent or two at The Met. And it was a profound timely lesson. Sargent's necks were incredible. He knew what to leave out. Learn anatomy so you KNOW what to leave out. No bullet holes between the clavicle, I say. We do see a few of those! And I have done one or two myself.

We all know we don't need a radish workshop.

My new class semester starts Wednesday July 8th at LAAFA, combined portrait/still life. For all those of you taking a summer break....shame on you! But paint some radishes or a neck.

I go to France on a painting grant after the next semester ends so will be absent from teaching for while.  I will chew on a baguette and brie while I am missed. Hold the radish.


Marian Fortunati said...

You, Johanna, have been my teacher, person on a pedestal, mentor and best of all, my friend.
Although I have a long long long long way to go, I treasure what I have learned from you.

Those of us lucky to have taken classes from you do know the gifts that you have shared and most of that came because you do care!! (not to mention the fact that you know your stuff and you can teach!)

I will see you during the summer semester, I will miss you while you are in France (I'm jealous!) and I hope that we will continue to be friends for a long time.

Marian Fortunati said...

PS... what in the heck did radishes have to do with any of that, really??

Anonymous said...

You have become the kind of teacher that we all wish we'd had. More passionate about painting than their own egos, and willing to invest in their students!

hanh nguyen said...


You have the gift of teaching. You were my very first art teacher and your teaching is always following me through out my painting journal. Your commitments benefit a lot of us.

Portrait Painting By Johanna Spinks said...

Thank you Hanh...your words mean a lot! You were the perfect student and a great artist too. Don't forget to drop painting at Graphaids for the show.

Portrait Painting By Johanna Spinks said...

thanks Marian:

YOU have taught me almost as much as I have taught you about all sorts of things. Plus you are darn good and a delight. We will be BFF!

BTW..radishes have NOTHING to do with this post except I wanted to paint them after seeing students do them. Poor excuse for a post.

Portrait Painting By Johanna Spinks said...

Thanks Anonymous whoever you are... that made my day!

Theresa Rankin said...

Hello stopped by my blog and left a comment...I thought I would do the same...your work is lovely and I am most impressed. Perhaps one dat we will meet up...and I will take a class from you. I taught also....but have gotten a little selfish with my time for now. I still give workshops..which seem to work out better for me. Good to meet you! Editor said...

Hi Johanna,

Enjoyed this post. If you're so inclined, maybe you have some insight on how to be a good art student, given your perspective as a teacher.



Mary Aslin said...

Hi Johanna,
I love your musings and insight about teaching. Any student of yours is very lucky.

Keep your wonderful, honest, humble, insightful, and interesting posts coming.

Portrait Painting By Johanna Spinks said...

Thanks Mary. You inspire me to continue writing...

Portrait Painting By Johanna Spinks said...

Thanks Theresa...keep up your fantastic work!

Portrait Painting By Johanna Spinks said...

Thanks Karla

I will work on that list of student do's and don'ts. I have made all the mistakes in the book I am sure!