Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Art Instruction Books #1: different ways of learning

I absolutely love reading art books - I could really do with a library attached to my home just for the books! However I find I'm increasingly frustrated by the range of art instruction books on offer.

I'm also trying to write an art instruction book and I obviously want to try and make it as effective as possible to help people learn. The question I'm confronting at present is how best to do that.

With my 'There are no shortcuts' principle in mind, and following on from yesterday's post Outstanding performance - a talent or 10,000 hours of practice?, my post today looks at art books and the curse of the 'five easy steps' mentality.

What follows today and tomorrow are some thoughts on:
  • the way people learn
  • the way people learn about art
  • the nature of instruction available in art books and
  • the economy of publishing.
I'd be very interested to hear your views on this topic too!

Art Instruction Books

Art Instruction books are supposed to help people learn. So - here are some things to think about:
  • Is it possible to become an artist just by reading books?
  • Can you really learn all you need to know from books?
  • Do art instruction books help to make it easier to become an artist?
  • Can art instruction books - which show art as a simple step by step process - make it possible to speed up the process of learning how to make art?
Bear in mind today's post is focused just on instruction books. The debate about art education is actually much, much bigger. I recently listened to a debate about whether you could learn art at art schools and whether it was actually possible to teach drawing or painting! The debate - between teachers - tended to focus on different ways of teaching while personally I felt it needed to start from the perspective of different ways of learning.

How do people learn?

Here are some of the ways that I know about how people learn.
  • On the left of the table below are some of the generic ways in which people learn
  • On the right are some of the ways in which the generic approaches are employed. The right hand column is about art instruction rather than art instruction books. I've highlighted the latter to demonstrate how often they play a part in the process
I hear, and I forget;
I see, and I remember;
I do, and I understand.
Confucius (China's most famous teacher, philosopher, and political theorist, 551-479 BC)

Analysis of process: Breaking knowledge and components of a skilled process down into parts and steps - creating an appreciation of the whole and how it is constructedStep by step demonstrations of a work in progress

- in art instruction books
- in art class
- in an art video

Being very focused on the task to be learned. Focus is generally recognised as being a characteristic associated with those who achieve exceptional levels of performanceFocus can be advocated however it tends to depend on the student rather than the medium of instruction
Watching how a specific process is executed - a very traditional method of instruction across many different skillsWatching the tutor demonstrate how to mix paint or how to make brush marks or paint a picture.
- Art instructions books can try and replicate this
- however art instruction videos and class/workshops probably work better.
Action Learning - get the tools, follow the instructions and find out what happensCan be advocated in art class/workshops and and by art instruction books and can involve homework
Less feedback and chance to compare outcomes with others when not done as part of a group or class.
Reiteration (simple) - learning a process or skill through practice until competence is achieved Art tutors and art instruction books can advocate this but the practice of reiteration is essentially down to the student
Students can be influenced by the practices of and the tone set by the tutor/author
Reiteration (complex)- deliberate and reflective repetition of a process or skill until mastery has been achieved or the subject matter has been fully explored
Essentially down to the motivation and drive of the individual artist - possibly helped by a tutor/mentor/coach
Master Classes are more usual for musicians than artists.
Osmosis - being in an environment where a process is talked about and practised all the time leads to "a gradual, usually unconscious, process of assimilation or absorption of ideas or knowledge,"Simple if one or both your parents are artists!
A benefit allegedly available for students attending art school (although some would disagree)
An apprentice could well find themselves in an environment conducive to osmosis
Story telling - a traditional way of transmitting culture, beliefs and practicesTutor may tell stories - in a workshop or in an art instruction book
Buddies/Peers may also tell each other stories
Collective learning through social interaction and dialogue with peers - participation in story-telling and problem-solving in groupsThis form of learning is confined to those who are members of a what is usually a peer group (ie minimal presence of a tutor or intervention by a moderator).
Members of an art school, art group or workshop or online network may
- tell each other stories
- review problems and find solutions
- discuss and debate different perspectives
- show each other images of merit

A commitment to lifelong learning

Essentially an attitude of mind and personal to the individual
Can be promoted through the practices and tone set by a tutor/author

Have I got all the bases covered? Can you think of any other ways of learning? Do please leave a comment.

It seems to me that the main issue with art instruction books is that a number tend towards the notion of "a folk theory of mind" and don't embrace the wider aspects of how people learn. To my mind it's this sort of approach which generates the 'five easy steps' approach to learning.
a folk theory of mind as follows:
  • knowledge is ‘stuff’
  • mind is a container
  • learning involves putting stuff in the container

Creating open educational resources

My personal preference is for art instruction books which treat me as an adult and are a bit of a challenge. I really appreciate authors who recognise and talk about the complexity of making art. People who look at all the different aspects rather than the ones who want to boil it down to '5 easy steps'. Although I understand the rationale behind breaking processes down into steps I really don't want to read books which are choc full of step by step demonstrations.

The books I used to find worked the best for me were written by people who were practising artists and teachers who emphasised the many different aspects of making art rather than the '5 easy steps' (I'm thinking of people like Charles Reid and Robert Wade).

I've also noted in the past few years how many times I've seen people say in forums, groups and blogs how much more they have learned and enjoyed learning once they've started to participate in some form of online social interaction.

In writing my own book, I've concluded that that my main challenges are:
  • to try and pitch it at the level of the book I've always wanted but could never find.
  • to create a book which is accessible and emphasises practice
  • to find a way of relating an instruction book to some form social interaction
The question I keep asking myself is whether or not a book can actually work effectively if isolated from forms of social interaction such as a class, workshop or online network. I'm pondering how to link my book to some form of social interaction which does not become too onerous (either workshop or support network). The reason for thinking about this first is it will influence how the book is constructed and published.

...and finally

A couple of questions:
  • Do you have a favourite art book? What is is it and why?
  • Is there one book which had a huge impact on you and your work?
[Note: I want to set up a series of posts with links to introduce the Ecology Park Pond and hence that post is now held over until next Monday]


NerdyMom said...

I am a newbie to the whole making art thing, and as a middle-aged person with a job, marriage, kid, etc., I have had to rely on books, for the most part. And it is definitely frustrating, as you have most aptly pointed out.

The book that got me going on learning to draw was Danny Gregory's Creative License. It absolutely convinced me to pick up a pen and start drawing, fearlessly. I keep reading it, over and over. It's like having my own personal art coach in a book. I can't say enough about it.

As for mechanics, I've not found one book I think is just perfect. I think Bert Dodson's Keys to Drawing comes close, but I think I also love that book for his drawings. None of this "must be flawless" stuff in there - just excellent renderings with lots of feeling. Love them!

I would love a technical drawing book that wasn't so concerned with photo-realism. But maybe I already have all the books there are like that. Looking forward to your book, for sure! :-)

Felicity said...

I'll keep it short! No, I didn't find any one book useful but after many years of teaching myself (I didn't even have an art teacher in my last school) I discovered everything I taught myself had been gathered into Betty Edward's Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, but whether it would have been as useful learning through looking, I don't know.

mongoose1 said...

I am also addicted to art books Katherine!

One reason I read art books is to learn how an artist creates their work. You know, when you look at an artwork and wonder, "how the heck did they did they do that?"

I find they inspire me, I am not reading it to learn how to clone the artist’s work. But I will try the step-by-step demos so I can better understand what they are trying to teach me.

I like it when the information flows well from chapter to chapter and that the book is logically organized. Since I want to know about what motivates/inspires the artist a chapter on that is helpful-even if it’s a small chapter.

I doubt I would be interested in something that didn't assume I was an adult and that I was understand the tools (brushes, paper/canvas etc) I am using (I mean that they don't devote pages upon pages to this type of info).

I like books which have very high quality photos of step-by-step demos, so that I can see what the artist is doing as well as read it. If I am reading to learn a technique the language needs to very precise and clear.

What I like to read in an art book is what inspires the artist to paint a particular thing and what about it that is important to show/convey/express. It helps me to understand their message and to read their current and past works. It helps me get in their brain so to speak.

I know this is about art instruction books, but I also love to read books on artists (for example the Royal Academy’s Hammershoi exhibit book) it helps to put an artist’s work in context and explain outside influences that I am not aware of as well.

Hope this helps

Don McNulty said...

Bert Dodsons Keys to Drawing, Betty Edwards Drawing on the Right Side and her colour book are good. You just have to do it. Most art books consist of someone with thirty years at it selecting his all time best stuff and calling it Do it in a Minute.

laura said...

When I first began to paint and before blogging, since I live in a remote-ish area, art instruction books were a source of ideas: what to paint, how to apply paint, think about design ... and they were useful in that sense. I suppose I am lucky in that I don't take instruction well, so I never really tried to follow prescriptions.

I do like instruction books that include student work--e.g. Michael Crespo's Watercolor Class: it adds variety and helps you see the good things in a variety of work.
I also like books by Jeanne Dobie and David Dewey: when I leaf through these I am reminded to experiment with color.

larry said...

I've been a fan of the out of print Andrew Loomis and George Bridgman books. They were treasure troves of knowledge and were extremely generous in sharing it. Good points made about the requisite work a student needs to put in. Looking back, I might have squandered some great instruction because I wasn't ready to absorb it. That's the beauty of a book, it's always there on your shelf when your ready.

rghirardi said...

Usually, I don't find how-to art books very helpful. However, some may contain a pearl of wisdom. A book I found stimulating is Dan McCaw's A PROVEN STRATEGY FOR CREATING GREAT ART. Bill Creevy's book, THE OIL PAINTING BOOK, is one that is very informative and is good as a reference. If you're an oil painter, it's a good one to have on your bookshelf.

rghirardi said...

Free, downloadable books by Andrew Loomis.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

This site provides a list of and access to a number of places where the Loomis books can be downloaded.

I'm not clear on the copyright issues and can't vouch for any of them or which is best, although it would appear a number of them are Russian.

Nita Leland said...

May an artist who writes art instruction books comment? Everything written on this page is valid in one way or another--to someone. Learning styles are so different that you can't make one size fit all. I learn most from books that have a philosophical bent I can relate to, along with logical information I can store in my brain for future use. My first concern is to help my students believe that they can do what they seek to do. I don't use my own books as texts in my classes, but I use anything in them that's relevant to a class or an individual student. I hear from teachers who use them as texts. My favorite "fan" letter came three months after my first book, Exploring Color, was published in 1985. A woman in North Carolina wrote that she lived in a tiny town with no art supply stores or classes and no other artists she knew of. She thanked me for my book, saying she felt like I was with her in her studio, teaching her, as she worked with it. After I wiped away my tears, I realized I had found my life's purpose.

Kate (Cathy Johnson) said...

Interesting discussion! I think I learned watercolor, back 40 years ago or so, mostly from books, though one of the authors, John Pike, became sort of a personal mentor, too. And of course, how you REALLY learn is doing it and doing it and doing it again.

I attended art classes at the KC Art Institute, as I could afford it, evenings and weekends, and other than the Oriental Watercolor class, as we called it then, I learned very little. I couldn't understand much of what Mr. Furuhashi said in that class, he had newly immigrated, but watching those elegant strokes and seeing how clean and sure they were STILL has an impact on my work, nearly 50 years later.

There's a vast difference between learning a technique and having a talent of course--or at least so I have come to think. I still believe, quite firmly, that some people have more of a gift--almost from birth. They can hone their talent, of course, and those without quite such a gift can certainly rival a lazy, gifted person through hard work. ;-)

Comes back to that doing, and doing, and doing, to me. I write how-to books for the largest part of my living, but I hope I convey the idea that the actual learning IS the responsibility of the artist, and comes down to whether they really want to or not. And how much! At least I try to do that in my classes...

Do you have a publisher, Katherine? Sometimes how your book is formatted or organized comes down to what they want of you. I don't care for the "take this color and that brush and do this, now use THAT brush and do this" school, but a couple of my books have ended up that way. I prefer to say "this is how I do it, and here I decided I needed something different, so I..." I want the reader to see into a creative decision-making process.

I wish people could take the ideas I suggest and apply them to their own work. Some don't, some do, and some learn better by copying.

After many, many years of writing how-to books (all art, and some quite different from the others) I still am not sure of the best course for the READER.

And on that note I have to say that I own a couple of dozen how-to books, but I don't read them, hardly at all. I buy them because I find the author's art beautiful or challenging. I love looking at it. But I don't read the text. I wonder how many others do that?

I've just mailed off a new book to North Light, and worried inordinately about the text. Funny to wonder if it will be read...

janabouc said...

One thing that really helps my learning with a teacher is when they make their thinking visible by doing a "think-aloud." That is not just demonstrating silently but rather saying what they see, talking aloud their thought process as they make strokes, mix paint, change elements of the painting. It's nice to see someone paint but to know why they do what they are doing and the theory/thought behind it really helps me.

I do find art books very helpful to a point, and I do read all the text as well as look at the pictures. But sometimes you just have to see things in action. Then I rent videos and/or take an in person class where I can ask questions and get the help I need at that point.

Johnnie Liliedahl's videos are a good example of "think-aloud" although she actually narrates them after the demo is done and they contain a ton of information. I don't care much for her actual paintings which I find rather trite, but like Helen Van Wyk, she gives the "why" she's doing something, what she's seeing/thinking, not just the "what" she's doing.

As to books, I agree with Felicity that Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is great for learning to draw. John Carlson's Guide to Landscape breaks down what's really going on out there in nature. Cathy Johnson's watercolor books are great for learning watercolor technique to achieve any effect desired. Creative License and The Artists Way are both great for getting moving with creativity.

If I was at home looking at my library I'm sure I'd come up with many more. It's probably a good thing I'm not!

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Thanks Nita and Cathy for your comments. It's always good to hear the perspective of art book authors.

I absolutely agree about the fact that people learn in different ways and the difficulties associated with a "one size fits all" approach.

My first degree is in Education and I spent a long time learning about all the different ways in which people learn. Unfortunately the downside is I find I'm now tending to think rather more about how people learn as I try to get this book underway!

I should add that I've got a book review of Nita's latest book in the pipeline - I was most impressed!

Carol said...

Have you looked at howard gardener's theory of multiple intellegence? This is something i build my lessons on as an art/textiles teacher in the UK. Also you might find the accelorated learning cycle, there will be stuff on this online but if you have any dificultylet me know and I am sure i can help.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Carol - you've found my weak spot. The problem with having got my education degree a very long time ago is that I'm not up to date with the latest education and learning theories - unless they filtered through to management theory and practice! It's proving fascinating to see what has stood the test of time, how much has emerged rebranded with another name and what 'the latest thing' is!

Here's the wikipedia entry about the theory of multiple intelligence

...and here's an interesting page from the BBC website about accelerated learning

Anonymous said...

I have a lot of art instruction books and the frustrating thing for me is that it all looks so easy and quick.

For a while I felt inadequate as sometimes a piece took me a long time to complete. There are more than 5 easy steps to a drawing or painting - getting the number of pages to show or explain that may be difficult.

Caroline said...

I do not think you can learn art only from books. I think feedback, and therefore classes or peer review, is very important. Some technical skills are easier to learn if you have practical, immediate feedback. Simple examples from my experience have been getting those corners right when stretching a canvas and how often to stick your brush back in the paint. (It's not a marker pen as one tutor kept reminding us!)

However, I use books a lot in my learning and I think a book would be very helpful, particularly if linked with an online network where one could get the feedback that is needed. Books that I have found useful have been Johannes Itten's "The Art of Color", Nita Leland's "The Creative Artist" and the Creative Painting series by Gemma Guash and Josep Asucion - Form, Color, Line, Space.

annie said...

I am very taken by your questions about linking the book to some kinds of social community and interaction, Katherine.

I've gained a lot from the little instruction book that Russ Stutler now has on his website, which is full of information at the most basic level. That and the flicker pages and CDs by CathyKate Johnson. Also, I have benefited from YouTube and other videos and DVDs that show art demonstrations. And I originally was interested in the computer for online resources. I'm thinking of your Resources on your blogs--some days I live in a squidoo lens.

I think all of us benefit from the websites and blogs that are out there. They have inspired me to work at sketching and painting more than ever before. There is no way to say what you and the rest mean to me.

As for a book-- a book is wonderful that can be propped up beside my art table as I try to follow instructions. It is also great to read in bed at night as we book nuts know, but I really think I learn more from the art community online than in a book. It will be fun to see what you do with yours.

vivien said...

mmm I've never been a fan of the vast majority of art instruction books - so many work at a very formulaic level and it's about 'copy what I do'

Your emphasis on different ways of tackling problems sounds excellent - I never teach my students just one way but teach methods of working out what to do and the options available. I want to produce a class of individuals (and do!) not clones.

I like sharing books like Shirley Trevena's or John Blockley's that simply talk about how they work rather than giving exrcises to copy.

I was recently shown some paintings of trees that a student had done at home - I said that they were ok but rather generic trees, without personality and it looked as thought she had been looking at the books of < insert well known author of how-to-books name > - she looked suprised and sheepish and pulled one of his books out of her bag!

I showed her trees by Kurt Jackson and others and she 'got' it immediately - that trees have character and personality and individuality and you can't make and exciting painting with generic elements.

I'm certain your book won't do this :>)

Anonymous said...

One aspect of learning that I've been interested in is deductive and inductive processes. In the inductive process, the student experiences many examples, and derives a principle from them. In the deductive, the principle is given, and from that the student makes many applications. I've seen art books give both approaches:
Rules of painting, which the student is supposed to apply--deductive.
Examples of successful painting, from which the student is supposed to find principles--inductive.
I think that the second approach is a bit neglected, in particular, that little analysis is given by writers of books, and it might be useful to include more of this in an instruction book.

One other point: Since almost every book seems to have a chapter on materials (and I get really sick of reading them) why not put that chapter at the end? It's there if the reader wants it, but not slowing you down before you get to the good stuff.

Margaret Almon said...

When I wanted to learn to mosaic, I read so many books that I thought I would burst if I didn't actually make one! Sonia King's book on mosaics was the first to actually talk about technique in detail, but also a gallery of mosaics. Looking at art is a kind of osmotic process for me--I soak up a lot. Betty Edwards Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain was the most exciting art instruction book I ever read--she had me do actual drawing, and learning how to see was intrinsic to her instruction, and I could transfer that to any drawing, not just an example one.

Terry Krysak said...

When I was in art school, I did not learn how to paint or draw from any of the instructors. I learned from my classmates.

However when I decided to major in pottery, I most certainly learned everything there is to know from my instructors. The head of the pottery department, Walt Drohan, also gave us basic lessons in Watercolor.

My two favorite books are;
Drawing on The Right Side of The Brain.
The best book on the planet packed with tricks, tips, and techniques to learn how to draw, or improve your drawing skills.
A Rocky Mountain Sketchbook by Donna Jo Massie.
An excellent book on how to learn to paint in Watercolors, crammed with everything you need to know to get started and continue in this medium.
In this age, I find painter's like Dave The Painting Guy, aka David Darrow provide excellent online live demonstrations that often are filled with tips on how to paint in oils. You can find him on Ustream TV, and ask questions as he is painting.

harrybell said...

I've posted previously about one of my favourite "How To" books - "Seeing with a Fresh Eye" by Chip Chadbourn:

It's still one I refer to for inspiration.

Jeff Hayes said...

My own experience: For the first 6 years of painting, I learned only from books and from doing. There is no question that a great deal can be learned that way. The problem with books, though, is that they often end up being digests of the author's style. I got to the point where that started feeling shallow; I needed something more, which meant studying directly with someone. I was very picky about who I went to, and only studied with him for a relatively short time (about a year of weekly lessons). Rather than teaching a bag of tricks, he taught me how to carefully think about what I was seeing and doing. It was exactly what I needed to progress at that point. I don't think it's impossible to learn that from books, but I also don't think it's all that efficient.

The best book I've come across: Light for the Artist by Ted Seth Jacobs. Out of print, very expensive, and worth every penny. Ted taught my own teacher, so I am a little biased :)

Mary Brewster said...

Please don't forget Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting. It contains lots of hard won information and tantalizing b&w prints. I can read it before bed every night, and let things sink into my subconscious.

However, a good group and teacher can get one years ahead of where you will be with only books and trial and error. And it's a great deal more fun in the process. At least that has been the case for me!

Astrid Volquardsen said...

The problem with a lot of instruction books is, that the first idea for it is born in someones publishers office. "What is our target group with the most possible sales?"
Very often it seems only the very beginners come to their mind. "So, don't scare them off, it all has to be easy looking = bigger sales."

Once I was approached by a publisher for a pastel instruction book. To get an idea what they wanted me to do, so I could fit within an instruction book series, they send me a memo with keywords. I remember things like "fresh","modern", "easy looking", "handy", "quick leraning".
To be honest: I was flatterd they asked me, but horrified by their concept, so I declined their offer.

This brings me to a very important aspect of instruction books. You don't only have to take into consideration how people learn, but what kind of teacher you are, what is important to you and what you can offer best.
I believe this way it will turn out to be a good authentic instruction book.

Astrid Volquardsen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Katherine Tyrrell said...

A useful comment received via email

"In addition to the ways of learning you've listed, there's another factor--ie, understanding the process you're trying to learn. We may have underlying ideas that conflict with what we're trying to learn that we're not aware of, but are interfering with our learning. Our underlying ideas may conflict and cause confusion --what's going on in the head (and hands) of the instructor isn't visible, and we may think we understand, but we may be entirely wrong."

adebanji said...

This is a wonderful post, thanks a million Katherine! It would help me too, as I plan to have a book published too, hopefully.

What makes most of the instruction books come out the way they are, are because of the publishers demands!

The first Art Book I saw was in with one of my friends in 1992, by Alywn Crawshaw on "how to sketch", I have never recovered from sketching ever since then.

But my best influence among SO MANY has been Burton Silverman- this man offers me something I can connect to, I love his artwork, so I love his books, that's why I like his stuff. His books are a treasure to me! He seems to talk a lot about how he feels when doing the artwork and the things that make him do what he does and I can relate to that.

I learn so much from watching what people do. But when it comes to Art Books-what gets me hooked is the artwork- If I love the artwork-that's me hooked! Sometimes a writer may have a fantastic way of teaching but if the artwork doesn't strike a chord with me- that's it!

I would advice people willing to learn from Art Books to go with artists work they love . If you love something you'll love to go back to it, time and time again and that's what I do with my books

I am an artbook addict too and I can tell you I have never finished reading any because I believe the artworks teach me more than the writing... or probably I'm just lazy.

Gesa said...

what an interesting post and I'm curious to see where it'll be going. I had begun a series on participatory action research as a way of learning, but haven't got round to continuing with it. It's part of my exploration on how to connect my 'painting knowledge' with my 'academic knowledge'. And I wonder if it would not be worthwhile exploring the inherent limitations of learning through books? Irene, my art tutor teaches very much through images of other artists - highly specialised to the individual student it may be about palette, composition, realism, subject matter etc... a group context for learning in book format... hm... this sounds all a bit off the wall, but that would be fascinating - that's why I agree with Vivien and others about exploring different ways of learning without falling into the generic/formulaic instruction book trap (though, as others have also said: publishers may have other ideas in mind).

Becky Vigor said...

The book I learnt most from about drawing is Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. It taught me about the meditative state I need for drawing, enough theory and lots of practice exercises. I read it when I was 14, 20 years ago and have read many art books since but that one made the most fundamental impact.

cathsheard said...

The books I turn to most regularly are:
Acrylic revolution by Nancy Reyner
The new creative artist by Nita Leland
The new acrylics by Rheni Tauchid.

I own a lot of art books, but these are the ones that truly speak to me.

Laureline said...

Great discussion and comments. For me to learn from a book, I have to be inspired by the artist's work itself. That sounds tautological, but I've found that there are many highly regarded art how-to books, in which techniques are well presented, but the work used to illustrate is yawn-worthy. I can't learn from bland work.
My favorite books have powerful work that makes me want to try what the artist has achieved and, often, shows works by a variety of artists, as well. Sarah Simblet's 'Sketchbook for the Artist' is a case in point. Simblet is a masterful, exciting, intelligent draftsman and writer and her book is magnificent. She presents her own work as well as work by masters and peers so that you see many different modes of expression and can study line work and texture and composition as you wish. Another favorite is Lucy Watson's 'The Artist's Sketchbook.' This is full of fantastic work by many artists---you can see which styles and techniques speak to you most strongly and try to incorporate some of this into your own work. Too much text kills the deal for me. I simply shut it out. I learn best and most happily by seeing and figuring out on my own. I've had lots of training, though, so don't need basic instruction. Where I've had no training, as is the case with watercolors, I've profited most by seeing videos of artists at work. Charles Reid is a case in point, though his teaching and art style tend to produce Reid wannabes. I take only from him what I can use in my own way. I admire Kate Johnson's how to books in this regard, because her goal is not to teach students to paint, draw like HER, but to learn, through her examples, to paint and draw like themselves.
I look forward to seeing what you have in mind for your book, Katherine.

Adam Cope said...

Great post Katherine.

Best of luck with your publishing project.

Your writing style reminds me of the house style of 'The Dummies Guide to...'. I like how they separate out 'hard' info & softer 'info' expressed in the first person voice. I'm sure they'd offer you a contract straight out & they'd be right as you write very well. A how to paint book is painted as much as it written, as the author's paintings should be central. Inspiration as much as instruction.

Nice to see the Chinese quote again , which was the leader quote in the manual for Further Education & Adults Teachers Certicate I & II, which I took back in the early nineties in the UK. Routes to active learning & not 'teacher knows best'!

Re-muliple intelligences : here's a quote that sums up my experience-
"You don't understand anything until you learn it more than one way." ~ Marvin Minsky

Re-your chart : good to see things laid out in another way but ,IMO, I feel it lacks a row expressely for 'feedback' as this is so important. I know it's integrated into various stategies such 'reiteration'. National Ciriculum teaching stategies are so geared around achieving objectives that it's sometimes easy for an art teacher to forget that the current passes by many different ways & that good feedback identifies points (objectives) that can be reiterated & thus integrated into a more natural way of painting.

Re-osmosis : yes, in my experience. I was lucky enough to 'rub shoulders' at art school with two well-known painters - Norman Adams RA & Peter Morelle RWS & tho' they didn't teach much in the formal way of nuts & bolts, their presence was inspiration & set the standard. But in fact, my very first art teacher, who was modest & not in the slightest way didactic, she just loved painting & us ten year olds responded the positive ambiance she set. Can a book give that?

Bravo for identifying your likes & dislikes in the art instruction market. I haven't done that with my book project of ten years standing, kind of just said "'well, if my book remains teaching notes & research, c'est la vie (for the momment)." Your rigour deserves to reward you. Bonne chance.

Jennifer Young said...

I am also a guilty member of bibliofiles anonymous ;-) I rely on most of my art books more for inspiration and ideas rather than true instruction. However, some of my favorite and most helpful (to me) art books have the worst quality reproductions. First, the previously mentioned Carlson's Guide to Landscape painting, and second ALL of the books by Emile Gruppe ("Direct Techniques in Oil", "Brushwork and "Gruppe on Color".) While these books do include discussions on tools and materials, I don't really consider them "how to" books. What is most compelling to me is that they write about ways of seeing. Gruppe, especially, is delightfully conversational. He disects his illustrated paintings (both ones he considers as successes and those he considers as failures) to bring his points home.

As to how people learn, I think the Confucious quote puts it simply and succinctly. Ultimately it is up to the artist to put these things into practice, whether they are trying to learn from books or from a "live" instructor. A student can observe all day long, but it's in the "doing" or the practice of the thing where the lightbulb really goes on.

Anonymous said...

The classic art instruction books are obvious from the replies to this post. To the list I would add, Nature Drawing by Clare Walker Leslie.

Currently, publishing for art instruction is like publishing for any other market: it's mostly about making money, most of all for the publisher. So many art instruction books are picture books for adults: in essence, eye candy that feeds, or feeds on, your dreams of becoming an artist without delivering much of value.

I was addicted to art instruction books for years, but have since found a much better, much more personalised and in-depth source of art instruction and inspiration right at my fingertips: art blogs. Why buy it when you can get so much better for free? My favourite sites/blogs include Robert Genn, Kathy Johnson, Anita Davies, Elizabeth Perry's Woolgathering, and you, Katherine Tyrrell. Your PDFs on sketching are among the best instructional exercises I've ever done.

For all you do here, thank you so much!


James Gurney said...

How wonderful that you're writing an instructional book!

I'm a great fan of art books. I learned far more from books than from art school, and I learned even more from writing an instructional book (The Artist's Guide to Sketching). I got the most from the Loomis books and the Famous Artist's Course, which was a correspondence course taught by the great illustrators of the 50s.

While videos and classrooms have some advantages for learning paint mixing and brush application, books are perfectly suited to providing the conceptual background and reasoning behind artmaking. It's hard to concentrate on such things while you're watching someone swing a brush.

Betty Edward's book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain did an excellent job of explaining to new artists how an artist sees.

For those people interested in the methods of the academic tradition, books are also the lifeline to the working methods of the 19th Century painters, and I put more stock in reading these primary accounts than in information passed down through four or five generations of word of mouth or master/pupil.

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