Revision Lesson from NAEA
In March of 2014 I was in San Diego for the National Art Education Association (NAEA) convention. At the time, I had been working in early childhood art education for about a year so I was trying to attend lectures with this focus. One of the most inspirational lectures that I attended was called “Show Me What You See,” presented by Sharon Hellinga and Gerda Klassen. Here’s how it was described in the catalogue:
How can we build drawing skill in an early elementary model of investigation? Revision, peer critique, and celebration come together to encourage young children to look and see as artists.
In this lesson, young elementary school students were asked to draw three times what they saw from a picture. Between each attempt they were to look at the original picture, compare it to what they had drawn, find the differences, and decide what they could do to make their drawings more like the pictures they were looking at.
I don’t know what I expected, but the results really surprised me.
This was an example from the lecture of a 1st grade student’s progress through the lesson.
Even at a young age, students were able to take a critical look at their own work and make decisions about how to better emulate what they saw in the source image.
My experience teaching it
At the time I was teaching several groups of 2-6 year olds and I was so excited to get back and try this lesson with them. The two year olds ended up not being old enough for this lesson; all three drawings were scribbling. The older kids (3 years and older) had fascinating progress.
This series was done by a four-year-old girl in one of my classes. The bottom one was actually her 4th drawing of the giraffe because she got too excited and scribbled over the top of #3 and got upset and wanted to re-do it.
I began this lesson by telling them that today we would get WAY better at drawing. I let them choose between a picture of a giraffe, a potted flower, or a pineapple. I explained that we would be drawing the same thing three times. After they finished the first try I had them look at the picture and compare it to their drawing and decide what was different about the two. “What is the difference between these two pictures” is a common activity in early childhood education and I was happy to change up the task by using the students’ own work. I helped them point out shapes and lines that were dissimilar. They all pointed out that their drawings were just pencil and the pictures were color, in response to which I reassured them they would be coloring their third picture.
Then I told them to really pay attention to the shapes and the lines as they drew their second drawing. When they were done with the 2nd drawing we again analyzed the differences between their two drawings and the source image and they decided what they needed to do differently on their 3rd drawing. A lot of times the 2nd and 3rd drawings were very similar but I’d say about 90% of the time the 3rd drawing was noticeably more developed than the 1st drawing.
At the end of the class I lined up all their art work so they could see their progression.
Dance—Revisiting the Basics
I’m not sure why it never occurred to me how important revision, critique, and self-reflection are in art education. I do these things all the time in dance. It’s the basis of everything I do. In lindy 4, the highest level at the studio where my husband and I teach, more often than not we teach how to re-consider the basics with a more advanced eye. We always introduce our concepts by saying that you learn how to dance and then you learn a lot of moves and it’s important to revisit the building blocks of the dance now that you’re a more advanced dancer. Often, dancers learn the basics and then never go back to them in order to tweak and correct unnecessary or unexamined habits. Basically they know all these moves but the most basic of steps haven’t yet been honed. Figuring this out was a huge turning point in my own dancing and I have no idea why I didn’t cross-apply this notion to art-making and, moreover, why I haven’t been teaching my art students how to do this. Perhaps it didn’t occur to me because I have been teaching itty-bitty kids art but teaching dance to adults and I expect them to be able to relate better to my process than children. Whatever the reason, I had been underestimating my pre-k students.
My own art, re-using successful parts
In my own personal art work, I’ve started re-using successful motifs that I liked the look of but felt like they could have been better placed, better utilized, or just made with better lines.
I really loved the wood motif in the middle of the first piece so I tweaked it a bit, trying to make it more precise in its dimensions. From the second piece I re-used flower shapes, leaf designs, and that bubbly center shape.
The next step I plan to take in my revision process is going to be taking works of art that I made in my small 5.5 X 8.5 size sketch book and re-do them on a larger scale either in a bigger sketch pad or maybe even painting them on a canvas and changing the media entirely. There are so many works of art that I’ve made that I would really like if it weren’t for maybe one or two areas that, had I known where the work was going, I would have done differently.
The more I started thinking about the process of revision in artistic pursuits, the more I realize it is absolutely necessary when trying to make a finished product that someone can do something with. I started making bowties for my husband. We decided that this holiday season we’d make each other presents since we we’re both creative and unemployed. My first try at bow tie making was not the best, but I didn’t expect it to be. For this reason I used the cheap practice material I had bought while I was getting the hang of it. The second bowtie attempt worked but still could be better, and while of course the third try could also be better my attempts are definitely getting closer to “actual bowtie”. I’m homing in on how to successfully make these things.
To sum it up
Basically, I have put into words what I intuitively knew all along: the more you do something, the more efficient and better you are at it. Especially if, whatever you are doing, you do it with a mind for improving and try to actively learn as you go. Thoughtful reflection is integral to practicing any art. I think it’s also integral to being better at just about everything in life.