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Coloring Outside the Lines

Kath Weider-Roos is the Creative Arts Producer at A&D. She snaps photos and asks questions.

Coloring books.

Granted, they are not what you fantasize about when you think about art school. Neither are they an obvious place to start when approaching a lesson in abstraction and conceptual thinking.

Yet, (somewhat to the dismay of his freshman students) this is exactly how Ed West began his  CFC (Concept, Form & Context) class this winter – by handing out coloring books and a fresh pack of crayons.

“My dad, who wasn't crazy about the idea of art school in the first place, was mad when he heard about what we were doing,” said freshman Della Paul. Other students thought it was a demeaning exercise, and protested that they were being treated ‘like children.'
“I always get some resistance when I first start this exercise,” Ed admits.

The students, and even Della's father, eventually grasped Ed’s point – that nothing is too mundane to be a source for creative ideas. As Ed sees it, this class is a journey from representation to abstraction – why not start with our earliest experience of representation?

Summed up, the journey looks something like this:

Sit down with your crayons and a stack of coloring books. Enjoy the soft, cozy pleasure of not having to think.
And then... start thinking.
Start looking.
Start asking questions about what you see.
Start responding to assumptions.
Experiment. Play.

Synthesize.

So, after the coloring, came a series of exercises that gradually moved farther and farther away from the conventional use of coloring books.

The first exercise asked students to work with representation, but mix it up through collage. For example, an exquisite corpse:




Gradually, the collages became more abstract...like this one from Mary Rountree,

Charlie Naebeck, who clearly remembers those Spiderman days,

and Sarah Banks Uffelman...

 

Questions are posed: The plane of a coloring book is flat – does it have to be?

Below, Della Paul and Travis Reilly respond to this question...




Next comes looking at the lines. Coloring books are basically line drawings: what do you see? How can you experiment with line?

Sol Park begins mark-making around an action figure...


In fact, if you look really closely at the lines of coloring books, you'll notice lines showing through from "the b-side", as in this image below:

To really see this, Ed had the students put the pages up against the window so they could trace all the lines, including those that showed through from the other side.

Stephanie Love's tracing produced this lovely result:





Using a projector, the students experimented with scale.

Mary Rountree enlarged her window tracing to create this...

then enlarged it further to create this....

which finally, became this...




This window line drawing...



got shredded...

and transformed into this final piece by Sara Banks Uffelman.


 


And so on.

Below are more final responses to the coloring book assignment. It's safe to say that all of the students ended up in a place they never could have predicted when they first sat down with their crayons.

For Ed, the final destination is not the main point – it's learning how to travel without a map. 

 

Ellis Mikelic

 

Sol Park

Della Paul

 

Charlie Naebeck

 

 

Charlie Naebeck


 

The Beatles without John Lennon

Discovering the power of the image through Photoshop

Kath Weider-Roos is the Creative Arts Producer at A&D. She snaps photos and asks questions.

This image is slightly mind-bending the way it plays tricks with time and history. And, god, it even makes me want to cry! It does all this without using any original art work or words.

What it does use is...Photoshop.

The image was created by a freshman, Chelsea Noel. This is her response to an assignment in Seth Ellis' class, Digital Studio 1, a required course for all A&D students on the fundamentals of digital tools such as Photoshop. Seth's goal in this class was to figure out a way to teach the technical fundamentals of the program while also teaching students about the power of visual communication.

“It is a foundation course after all, " he says. "Drawing is essentially about learning how to look. Photoshop, as a tool for making and manipulating images, can also prompt students into really looking at visual information and examing how meaning is created."

The assignment above asked students to choose an image and then, using a method of erasure, alter the image in a way that significantly changes the meaning of the original.

Coincidentally, Marlene Lacasse also chose to extract a Beatle from Abbey Road. Together these images could set off another fire storm about which Beatle was most important. (Seth has no idea why this image would be hitting a chord with the young people.)

 

Here's another striking extraction by Hayley Tanisijevich:

I noticed how, even without the central figure, the painting still seems somehow 'pained'.

Here's an even more ominous use of Photoshop by Holly Prouty. Look how easily and perfectly the effects of pollution were erased:

 

In an act of mercy, perhaps, Samantha Balyeat chose to erase "Hiroshima bombers" from these men's resumés:

Here's the original:

 

 

Assignment Two: Insertion

So, "erasure" required students to get familiar enough with Photoshop to use the texture and clone tools, among others. In another exercise, Seth asked the students to alter an exisiting image through insertion.

Marlene Lacasse's insertion effectively depletes all terror from Yves Klein’s famous photo, “Leap into Void”:


 

The image below is actually of this School of Art & Design back in the 50s. Hayley Tanisijevich's grandfather attended the school and she chose to insert herself into this scene from the past.

Here's the original photo, which she found in the MLibrary Online Archives.

Lonny Marino applied her considerable drawing skills to the exercise. She drew a sketch of herself to insert into this picture in order to suggest an alternative narrative for this poor governess.

Here's the original:

 

 

Photoshop is brilliant and scary. Let's hope Seth's students continue to use it as a tool for good and not evil.

 


 

Observe. Study. Respond

the culture of A&D, what is it?

Kath Weider-Roos is the Creative Arts Producer at A&D. She snaps photos and asks questions.

I've been noticing some strange things popping up around the school lately – little huts in corners, odd signs on doorways, large bulletin boards with markers and duct tape attached.

Students in Rebekah Modrak's CFC: Culture class are the culprits. They have been studying us – ie. the culture of A&D – all semester and now they have made their move to affect this culture in some way.

During her weeks of studying the school, its building and its people, Marla Jones noticed that, despite this being a school of "art and design," the actual architecture of the building was very traditional, devoid of color, with hard edges and bland surfaces. She decided to alter the environment for us by adding splashes of surprise and warmth, wrapping surfaces in wools and other materials which she knit herself.

Allison Knoll, on the other hand, noticed all the inner beauty of the building: the anonymous doodles of former students inscribed permanently on desks and walls, the soft wear of the stairs from so many shoes passing through...

She decided to make a tour map of the building's hidden treasures, which she then left at the coffee stand and other places for people to discover. She has no idea whether anyone actually took the tour.

While studying the school with this new intense focus,  Ji-Woo Won began to notice all the signs – the constant instruction, the voice of authority that prescribed a way of behaving. She decided to gently poke at this cultural norm by offering playful alternatives to the signs.

Ji-Woo told me that part of the fun for her was playing with logos and fonts and figuring out a way to mimic the typographic feel of the sign. The signs are done so skillfully that, for a moment, we can imagine what it would be like to live in Ji-Woo's version of A&D.

Ji-Woo was thrilled to find that her sign had indeed affected at least one person in the school. One day she came across a student pulling out papers from one of her altered recycle bins for his project.

Other students noticed the relationships among people as they moved through the school. Melissa Weisberg noticed that her fellow students often tuned each other out as the listened to their separate songs on their ipods. She decided to organize a silent rave where students were invited to send in their favorite songs and all listen to the same songs simultaneously after a Penny Stamps talk one day.


 

While at this same Michigan Theater, listening to a Penny Stamps speaker, Anya Klapischak had a longing to see the work of her fellow students on that very same stage.  "I came out of the research phase [of the class] completely struck by the level of work being done by the students of the school, " she says. "It’s amazing and inspiring and provocative- and somehow under-celebrated."

Anya decided to organize a 'coming-out party', asking students to donate $2 each to help rent that same Michigan Theater stage to show their work, one slide at a time. Anya wore a uniform every day for the whole semester as a commitment to her project and so students who wanted to donate would recognize her in the hallway.

[And, by the way, if you'd like to attend: the event will be held on Thursday, December 15th at 5pm at the Michigan Theater.   You can read a great interview with Anya here.]

Mary Clare Harrington observed that critiques were sometimes stressful events for most students here at A&D. She devised a friendly persona, "The Booth Lady", to offer a sympathetic ear. She noticed though, that the chair ultimately became a place to express secret desires, fears and philosophical musings – "anything really."  Mary Clare told me that one student sat down and told her that he had always had a desire to run and slide on the tables lined up along the hallway. The booth lady encouraged him to live his dream and he survived with only a minor injury.

Dean Rogers sat down at the booth lady's chair too. "I didn't actually know he was the Dean when he sat down," she admits. "The first thing he asked me was "do you believe in life after death?",  which kind of surprised me, but I went with it. We had a good conversation after that."

Sang Hyun Lee noticed that students around him don't always have a forum to articulate their goals and wishes for the future. He wanted to invite the students to think about their aspirations and create a collective place to share them with one another. So he built the "Wishing Tree" out of aluminum vent hose. The tree comes out of the wall, as if growing out of the school itself, holding the individual wishes of the students.

The students wrote out their wishes on ribbons and attached them to the tree. Sang wasn't sure what to do with the wishes once the tree had to come down. "I'm storing them in my room for now," he says. "I need to respect the thoughts that went into them."

 

On the quieter side, Isabel Cohen created this cocoon, a small dark cushiony place where students could find a moment of quietude or just darkness, to help them refuel during their day.

All in all, the kind of public engagement that this assignment incited was new to many of the students but seemed to expand their thinking about what art-making can be -- not necessarily tied to a specific media or material -- but a way of studying the world and responding to it.

And, by the way, if you're tired of picking out what to wear each day, the students also designed a uniform for the school as part of another assignment. Take a look at the photos below and see if any of them tickle your fancy.