Reminiscing (Alternative Drawing)

My first year teaching high school was many things – tough, amazing, beautiful, life changing, and hard. I taught a class during the lunch block which meant that lunch was embedded into that classtime – for a third of the year lunch was at the beginning, then we had class; another third lunch was in the middle – so we had 20 minutes of class, lunch, then 20 minutes more; and another third it was at the end, so we had class, then lunch. (This scheduling has since changed) This class period also was my largest class and had one of the more variable personalities and student needs within. I learned a lot and fast with this group – I also loved this group more than any other because of how much I learned. This course was Drawing and then second semester was Advanced Drawing (although the “advanced” portion might have been a misnomer due to my own lack of teaching skills.)

First semester when it was just Drawing, the students eventually became engaged and did a lot of drawing. They grew a lot. One of my students M squealed with delight one day when she realized that week 1 of the class she did a self portrait that didn’t look like her and in week 8, her self portrait looked much closer.

But the second semester, students were watching their peers in other classes and courses work with clay and build three dimensionally. They also were tired of drawing and to be perfectly honest, I was super tired of it too. Sometimes something beautiful happens when everyone is tired of doing the same old stuff. 

I’ve only taught this lesson once – that year – because me and my colleague advocated for the course to not be taught because students really disliked it. But this lesson/unit something magical happened. And I’m going to share that magic with you because a little reminiscing is necessary for me tonight. 

The unit was titled Alternative Drawing. I really wanted students to know that drawing although oftentimes presented in a traditional way does not have to actually occur in a traditional way. So we began by collaborating on a large drawing. I wanted to students to work together and experiment but I didn’t want it to take too long. So they had to choose their level of difficulty without knowing what material they would get. This was a preview of the other parts of the unit where choice and difficulty would be up to them. Inside brown bags there were push pins, masking tape, and string.

The groups would choose an image to duplicate using that material. Students also had to create an artist statement in written or video form. 

We then watched Wasteland. If you haven’t watched Wasteland, do it. It’s the only time I’ve ever watched an entire movie with a class. We used a graphic organizer to help focus. This particular class I wasn’t sure if they would watch an entire movie, but they were enthralled. And it connected perfectly to drawing using alternative materials and connecting artmaking to a bigger cause. 

After watching Wasteland and discussing it, we began the artmaking piece. I introduced the unit describing the goals and how to make decisions on materials and content. We walked through the different levels. 

Level 1: 

  • This level is the most basic. You will use a material or method in a new or innovative way but it isn’t too “out there” or challenging. 
  • This is a safe method but can be very successful. 
  • Plan to be very precise and very realistic. I have very high expectations for this level. 
  • The materials available for this level were Wire, Collage, Text to Create Value, and Glue.

Level 2: 

  • This level is a bit more daring, more innovative and more of a stretch.
  • You will use an alternate material or method but it is similar to traditional materials or methods.
  • You will have a little bit more leniency in your outcomes due to the exploratory nature of the material or method.
  • This is a safe method but can be very successful. 
  • Plan to be very precise and very realistic. I have very high expectations for this level. 
  • The materials available for this level were Weaving multiple images, String, Found Objects, Hole Puncher, and Holes.

Level 3: 

  • This is the most daring and more challenging of all the levels. 
  • You are really reaching far outside of your comfort zone and what you may have used in your artistic history.
  • You will have a fair amount of leniency in your realism but high expectations still remain. 
  • The materials available for this level were Food Items (Chocolate, Syrup, Ketchup, Mustard, Salt, Sugar, Candy), Staples, Puzzle Pieces, Cassette Tape, and Pushpins.

Now the trick here is that each level is equally difficult and has the same level of expectation of outcome. It’s “choice” is in the methodology and comfort level. We talked about risk taking and experimentation that would be necessary to create a piece that was high quality, especially as students worked in the level 3 area. 

Honestly, I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out, my students had expressed really clearly how much they disliked drawing and although this unit was named “alternative drawing” it was still pretty much drawing. 

But here, let me show you some of the outcomes.

Sweet Little Birdy “My artwork is a unique representation of three birds resting on a tree branch made entirely by candy. My art work is focused on the vibrant and colored birds on the branch the help to color an otherwise dark forest similarly to how candy illuminates the lives of so many individuals throughout the world. Using such an unorthodox media to represent my work proved to be a monumental obstacle that had me second guessing the idea of doing my work, but with constant motivation and prodding from my dear art teacher Ms.Fortin I was able to accomplish my goal.”

“Throughout the year I have always wanted to be in painting, originally I was in painting first period and that excited me. Unfortunately I switched up my classes so I was subjugated to drawing 5th period.  This piece was the first, and only time I had the option to use a paintbrush. I based the mono print off of a Harold Pinter play Birthday Party that I saw when I was 11. I like this piece although it looked better on the plexiglass it was originally painted on I’m glad I was able to paint a little bit this year.”

And here’s the one that gets me. This student did two – one from level 1 and one from level 2.

What sorts of assignments have you had to dramatically shift in order to meet students’ needs?

Here are the resources for this entire assignment, let me know if you try this!

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