May 16, 2009

The big day

Friday I had lunch with a good friend in a Mediterranean restaurant, one I had never been to before. The food was great, the company the best. Then I went to Graduation Day for NSCAD University students. I sat in the middle of the faculty section and bathed in the thick artsy atmosphere. Everything in the ceremony was about becoming/being an artist, working in a field of creative process with no definite return other than the excitement of discovery. The graduating kids looked fresh and excited, ready for their next adventure. For the first time, most of the females wore dresses, and pretty ones at that. A delightful fashion show as a side bar.

Of the comments made by speakers, the memorable ones were:

Don’t be afraid to take risks.
Friendship is important.
It’s not about being the best but about doing your best.
Generosity is important.
Have lunch with friends.

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May 07, 2009

An open book

I recently taught a six-week abstract painting class. I don’t know why I didn’t say anything here. Maybe because it was such a new experience for me. I’ve never taught nor been taught about abstract painting. That doesn’t mean I’m not qualified to teach it but that I needed to figure out how to teach it. I’ve been working in abstraction for fifty years. It was a commitment I made long before I went to art school. Non-representational painting just feels right to me. But I had to learn about it on my own.

My education in art school was not representational but process oriented, with objects for reference. Now, if you understand that, you can paint abstract! To translate, we studied how to create form with color (or marks of color) and the form includes the space the objects live in. I hope that makes sense. It is a difficult concept for young painters to understand. I’ve tried to teach the way I was taught but rarely find a willing student. It took me two months of struggle in art school to even begin to understand this way of working. So I thought abstract painting would be a more enjoyable subject for me to teach since it is my main preoccupation. It’s something I know a lot about now, after so many years of painting.

In the class I gave them lots of exercises that were taken from ways in which I approach a piece of artwork. There were times when various students expressed frustration with the exercises, with abstraction, with their work, my teaching methods. But in the fifth class, suddenly everyone in the class got it. A very thrilling moment for all of us. I felt I could eat the excitement in the room with a spoon. I plan to teach the class again in the fall, with a few changes, additions, and this time I’ll know it can be done.

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November 21, 2008

The anatomy of beauty

I took my drawing class to the Dalhousie University Anatomy Museum last Tuesday. It was a fascinating experience. First let me say, they are a wonderful group of students. They are eager to learn and work hard. The technician at Dal said he’s never had such a quiet group there.

Then there was the Museum itself: dozens of skeleton parts, plasticized body parts and jars filled with, well, you know, body parts. Somehow it doesn’t upset me. I know we will all die at some point. I’ve never heard of anyone who can avoid that particular part of life. I can’t watch violence and bloodshed in movies but this is an anatomy drawing class. It’s not war.

Then, as a bonus, Dr. Richard Wassursug, who teaches anatomy at Dalhousie, came in to look over the students drawings, critique them from an anatomist’s point of view while I gave the student ideas how to fix (from a drawing perspective) the problems he pointed out. It was enormously helpful for them. About fifteen years ago, Richard and I co-taught the Anatomy Drawing class at NSCAD U. He taught the anatomy and I taught the drawing part. Now I’ve been doing both so his input was greatly appreciated this past week.

Towards the end of our class time there, Richard gave a talk on the anatomy of beauty. He told us there was a study taking photos from a wide variety of people, morphing them into each other and coming up with the example of what would be considered beautiful. It turned out that result was the average person. The conclusion is that we find beauty in what is familiar. It’s when things deviate from the norm that we are uncomfortable. As when someone has a limp or is missing a limb.

As a result, in order to express individuality, people make small adjustments to symmetry: an extra earring in one ear, parting hair just side of center. Tattoos, intended originally to express individuality, are often group signage, almost like a date stamp. Certain decades have specific common denominators in choices of tattoo (as Chinese characters were used in the ‘80s and peace symbols in the ‘60s) so the person (wearing it forever) tells the time it was placed there (like a best before date).

Richard will be teaching a class in May about humanism and anatomy. I’d love to take it but it is a three-week intensive course. I don’t know if I will have the time.

Posted by leya at 10:00 PM

November 06, 2008

On grading

My class this semester (Anatomy Drawing) has been a most enlightening experience. I have twelve very dedicated students. No, maybe I should admit, there are thirteen of us. I’m learning along with them. As I’ve said before, I’ve never been a fan of anatomical studies as a necessity for good figure drawing. Yet I have thoroughly enjoyed studying anatomy so I could teach this class.

Yesterday I apologized for not grading their homework. I told them I find grading art almost totally impossible. Should a grade be based on talent, intelligence, effort, creativity? Obviously, all of the above but it is so very personal, how one person reacts to a piece of art as opposed to someone else. I told them as long as they are doing the work, working hard and learning, I’m happy. And if they want to grade themselves, that’s fine too. Just if they do, tell me what grade they are giving themselves. They said “A” of course.

Posted by leya at 11:19 AM

September 10, 2008

Back in the classroom again

School started again for me yesterday. This semester I’m teaching the Anatomy Drawing course. To be quite honest, I don’t really believe you need to know anatomy to draw the figure well. You just have to look carefully. But whatever it takes to get someone to be more observant—in this case studying bones and muscles—is fine with me.

Several years ago I co-taught an anatomy class with an anatomist. He taught the anatomy part; I taught the drawing part. I learned a fair bit but what I learned most decisively is that studying anatomy for the artist is, as I said before, not a necessity. For homework in that class, I had the students draw a part of the body (for instance, the back); then they studied the back and after that, drew the back again for homework. The first few assignments on the various parts of the body showed considerable difference in the before and after drawings. But by the fourth session, the drawings done before studying that particular part of the body were as good as those done after studying it. So I feel my point was proven.

Still, it’s an interesting subject to teach and students enjoy the learning process. So I’m spending my free time studying anatomy.

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March 20, 2008

Sitting it out for a while

Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day. Not a cloud in the sky. I went in to teach in the morning. Discovered the model had canceled. (Every other person seems to have a bad case of the flu.) Luckily we were able to get a substitute at the last minute, a favorite model for some students so there was no problem.

For one of the exercises, I put the model in the closet (I’ve done this with him before so he didn’t mind, didn’t take it personally). The students had to get up from their seats, go to the closet, remember what they saw, and go back to draw. It’s hard. I’ve done it in art school myself. My teacher used to put drawings by Inge at one end of the room with the model in an adjoining room and we had to draw the model (in the other room) in the style of Inge. I’m not great with visual memory drawing and so I was often the one who got up from my seat the most.

Yesterday one of the students had brought in a big container of popcorn she had made. She put it near the closet and the students could grab a handful on their way to and from looking at the model. Very entertaining!

At about 11:30 (class is from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm) I told them I was putting them on the honor system: they’ve paid their tuition and it is a rare privilege to have a live model to draw (and we almost didn’t have one yesterday) and I had a plane to catch at 3:15. They were fine about it so I headed home to pick up Lila and Sean (who is staying with her while I am visiting Tamar and family).

I made it to the airport with time to spare. But was told the planes were delayed because of bad weather in New Jersey. Low ceiling on the entire Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. Once we were almost about to board when they told us all planes were stopped in Newark. Another hour’s wait. In total I waited four hours to get on the plane. It was a mildly bumpy ride but I’m here at Tamar’s. And after a good night’s sleep, feeling good.

Posted by leya at 12:01 PM

January 12, 2008

The cat came back

This has been, without a doubt, a very busy week. Enough that I laid myself down for a few hours yesterday just to recuperate. Yes, school started this week. And it takes a lot of thought to make it work. Picking out slides, picking up the class list, gathering materials, Xeroxing outlines and copies of skeletons.

It did work and well. I was pleased. I made them work hard, set them up for the rest of the semester. First I had them draw the skeleton standing on its post, then lying down on the floor (the skeleton, that is!), then copy a drawing by Degas and finally, draw the skeleton in their copied drawing.

Lila went to visit a friend for the morning while I was teaching. She enjoyed her visit, didn’t miss me, was a proper guest. And I was very pleased.

Besides teaching, I’m preparing canvases for new paintings and working on others. One of the pieces I am working on will have twenty-five 20” by 20” panels, put together in five rows across, five down. I’ve done this before, sometimes as nine panels (three across, three down) and also once as twenty-five. The biggest problem at the moment (besides time) is that the company I have been buying the prepared canvases from (the smaller ones, I have the larger ones specially made and I stretch them up) changed the quality and size of the stretcher bars, reducing them, without reducing the cost. I like the frame to be thicker and sturdier than the new ones. But I have no choice; I have to use them. But I have spoken about my discontent to the store and they say a lot of people are complaining. Right now it’s what I have so I’m moving on.

I’m also working, at the same time, on a nine panel piece. It is with the older stretchers so I am grateful to have some of those from before. Meanwhile, my studio is almost impassible! Paintings everywhere! I’ll have to figure out a way to clear some space.

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January 04, 2008

Well, it's almost time to start again

I went to the Art College yesterday to check it out, get my course outlines Xeroxed, get new keys, pick out slides for next Wednesday’s class, and get a tour of the newly renovated building. Basically, what I did was chit-chat, shoot the breeze, enjoy being back there. I went into a few offices just to say hello, I’m back and enjoying every minute of it.

I actually didn’t think I would ever get another class to teach, never be asked back. And I didn't think of that as a problem. I missed the students, seeing what they are doing, but I have kept in touch with quite a few. I found I liked the freedom to paint as much as I want, to make my own schedule. Not to be beholden to anyone, no responsibilities other than painting.

My identity used to be tied up in the phrase “Yes, I teach at NSCAD” but it’s not anymore. After a year away, I’m just a person who paints. So they are dragging me from my pleasure dome, but not kicking and screaming. I’m really looking forward to teaching again. It’s funny how, when it’s not the most urgent thing in my life, when I don’t feel I HAVE to do it, how much easier it is to enjoy it.

Posted by leya at 05:52 PM | Comments (2)

December 06, 2007

Back in the saddle

It looks like I’m actually not too old to teach! I’ve been asked to teach again in the winter semester at the Art College (NSCAD University in Halifax). I guess they realized something (some one) was missing. When I received the contract in the mail I was in shock. I had been asked if I was available (first all the regular part time people had to have their course loads filled before they could give me a class) but then a month or two went by with no further word. So I put it out of my mind.

I must admit, it feels strange. There have been big changes around the school—new buildings, renovations, new students. And there have been big changes in me. After a year of not having a schedule, not having to be anywhere I didn’t plan myself, having all day to paint, day after day, I’ve come into a feeling of spaciousness about life and mind I never knew before. It will be interesting how this carries over into the classroom. I will be teaching my favorite subject, figure drawing. I’m a little nervous, excited and looking forward to being back in the classroom.

Posted by leya at 09:31 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 16, 2006

It’s a done deal!

Thursday afternoon was the official ‘retirement’ party at NSCAD for me. I must say, although I didn’t expect it, and certainly didn’t want it to happen, I really enjoyed the event. There must have been about a hundred people there, faculty, staff and student union. Lots of food and decorations with subtle lighting in the drawing studio where I usually teach. I was given carte blanche (by my faculty friends) to do whatever I wanted, more or less, like breaking into the food line, sitting where I wanted (moving someone else’s things off “my” chair) and such.

The “ceremonies” were friendly and thankfully brief. Not only was I given a Long-Term Service Award in a beautiful walnut frame, but was surprised to receive a magnificent azalea plant and also a handmade box with inlaid NSCAD traditional design, filled with drawings by the Fine Arts Faculty. I was very touched. The comments were complimentary and honest, mentioning the students’ protest to my forced retirement. One student offered a tribute to me that was read by the head of the department. Alex showed a list of all the classes I have taught over the years, never missing a semester: fall, winter, summer. (It was impressive, although as part-time faculty, that was a financial necessity.) He also mentioned it was hard to believe I was ready to retire, with my youthful spirit and abundant creativity. Then another instructor took the microphone and said she once came into my classroom and saw a “hot young chick” bending over another student’s work. When the “chick” turned around, she realized it was me. “So”, she said, “Leya is not only young in spirit but also in body.”

The event left me with a very warm feeling towards something that is not my choice. This is a big change in my life. Probably I will be asked back at times to teach, given classes when they are available, maybe, but basically it is a change in my income, in my security, and most important, my identity. It’s hard enough to be a self-supporting artist, to wait for sales, to ride the fickle market, receive praise and criticism from the viewing public, acceptance and rejections often equally. To teach at NSCAD University carries status. At least I can say I did, and, if the rules change, may again. I’m too young, in every way, to be put out to pasture.

Posted by leya at 07:44 AM | Comments (2)

December 07, 2006

The end of term

This was the last week of studio time in my classes. Next week we have individual evaluations and then that’s it. No more school for me. Unless things change. Which they might in the future. St. Mary’s University faculty are going on strike to protest mandatory retirement. Not NSCAD University. But still, things can change.

Meanwhile, I had a couple of very enjoyable classes this semester. Both groups worked hard and produced interesting work. This week we had models in both classes. In my Foundation Drawing class the model was older (than the students), probably in her fifties. These students have not, for the most part, had much experience drawing the figure, and I was surprised how they depicted aging. It was definitely not flattering. Mostly, they exaggerated the sagging body. Once I had a model who had had a mastectomy. Some instructors didn’t want to use her. But she was an excellent model; I’d known her for several years before her surgery. She was also older, in her sixties at the time. In one particular class, a water-based drawing class, the students did their best work with her. Their compassion showed in their work. They were also more experienced with the figure.

At their request, I also showed slides of my work in both classes, gave a forty-some year view of my own artistic search. One student asked where my ideas come from. That would take several hours to explain. Basically, I can say they come from other paintings I have done. One painting leads to another. There is an inner push within each painting to become another one, and another one. Or sometimes what is left out of one becomes another.

My figure drawing class had asked me to bring in drawings I had done of the figure. These were from the early 70’s when models were paid very little. I drew a lot, sometimes sharing a model, often on my own, and perfected line drawings where the figure is pushed beyond the edges of the paper. I have a large drawer full in my flat files and it was interesting going through the drawings to pick some to take in. I don’t look at them often and I found I liked them better than I remembered. I wouldn’t draw the same way now but I still enjoy them. And the students appreciated seeing them as well.

I feel very sad at the thought of not teaching next semester but will definitely appreciate more time in my studio. And who knows . . .

Posted by leya at 05:29 PM | Comments (1)

December 01, 2006

An updated weather report

A few years ago I named a painting Use My Sky. I don’t know where the name came from. It just did. It appeared and it felt right. It wasn’t a blue painting, but that didn’t matter. It was my sky, my vision. As time goes by, my vision changes. At the moment, my sky is open. No boundaries, no rules, no script. Things are changing for me now and I have no idea if I can verbalize anything. I will try.

I am an artist. I paint. I have been teaching, mostly drawing, at the Art College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for the past twenty years. Due to someone’s view (not mine) I am now about to face mandatory retirement. To make room for younger, fresher, less experienced teachers (yes, I’m not happy about it). My students have organized a brigade to argue on my behalf, to express their appreciation of my teaching skills and to try to override a rather archaic/immoral rule. They went to the President, the Vice-President, the Dean of Academic Affairs, and finally, to the Division Chair of the Fine Arts Department. All to no avail, it seems. It feels very good to know that the people who really make a school, the students, care and are willing (and eager) to challenge the rules to keep me teaching.

Yet as of December 15 my life will be uncertain. Several students asked me, in the hall a few days ago, how I felt about it. They all know I would prefer not to stop teaching. I said I have mixed feelings. I am looking forward to more time to paint. I’m looking forward to being able to stay home on cold, snowy, storming days, not having to drive into Halifax in bad weather at seven in the morning. I will miss the students, the fashion shows, the tattoos, their ideas, their projects, their work. I will miss the paycheck. I’m not predicting the weather. I can only hope for more sales. I can only hope for clear skies.

Posted by leya at 06:10 PM | Comments (4)

November 04, 2006

Street fair

A few days ago when I was out with Lila on the road, we passed a (very) young man walking home from the school bus. He asked me if I was Leya Evelyn. I said yes. He then said he heard I had some great paintings in my studio. I asked him if he painted or drew. He said only a little, doodles, he really couldn’t draw, he said. I told him if he can write his name he could draw. Really! he said, drawing his name in the air. So that’s drawing, he dreamily mumbled.

I have a new career: street teacher. That would be a good gig!

Posted by leya at 07:16 PM | Comments (1)

October 29, 2006

More on off

This morning I was talking to a friend who asked me if I had a back-up plan, for when my (Un)Employment Insurance runs out (at least I get something—but not a retirement package—to help me through this big change). (I will definitely need to repace the loss of income somehow.) My plan is to paint and paint and paint and find places/homes/galleries that will appreciate (monitarily) the paintings and allow me to (buy more art supplies and) paint more. My back-up plan is to paint and paint and paint and find places/homes/galleries that will appreciate the paintings and allow me to paint more.

My job at the Art College has been a good one. It pays well for what I do, although not as well as it could if I had had full-time status (which also would have included committee work and a lot more responsibilities to take me away from painting, so it was fine being part-time). I’ve tried teaching from my home and also in other places. But it would never pay as well nor would the students have the same immersion in their work which is such a thrill for me at an art college. And at this point my studio would not accommodate anyone else. It is very crowded with me.

One new kind of teaching I’ve been doing recently is with workshops. I’ve been enjoying it very much. The next one is in a couple of weeks on the French Shore in Nova Scotia. It will focus on color and oil bars. The last one was color and abstraction. I would enjoy doing more of these workshops—itenerent teaching.

Posted by leya at 06:57 PM | Comments (2)

October 28, 2006

The other side of off

When I walked into my figure drawing class last Wednesday morning, if anyone had started talking to me I would have cried, no doubt. It seems this may very well be my last semester teaching at NSCAD. It will be very hard not to have this in my life. It’s been so much a part of what I do for the past twenty years. I love teaching figure drawing the most. It’s my favorite, but I enjoy teaching. Mostly it’s the students that make me enjoy it so much. They give me as much if not more than I can ever give them. Not only do I enjoy learning what they have been exposed to, what they know, but also being a part of their lives, teaching them to see their work more clearly. And I also like to see the latest in young fashions and hear their thoughts.

But . . . the Union (with pressure from the administration) voted in Mandatory Retirement a couple of years ago and I’m a casualty. Even though I am part-time (which means no vacation pay, no sick leave, no dental plan, no benefits, less pay for the same work). I don’t want to stop teaching. But . . . maybe it’s time. I keep telling myself little things. Like: one door closes; another one opens. And things like that. But I have no idea what door is going to open or what’s behind it. Right now . . . it hurts. And it’s scary.

But then there is the up side: more time to paint, not having to drive into Halifax in the early morning traffic and often treacherous weather, more time to paint, not having to park Lila in Halifax so she won’t be in her kennel for too long, more time to paint, more time at home, more time to go to art events. I’ve been teaching year-round for twenty years. Hardly ever a summer off. So it would be nice to have a rest. But it is a steady income that won’t be happening. Painting is good, in fact it’s great, but it is not a secure income.

Some students are sending around petitions on my behalf. They had over two hundred signatures in one day (and it’s not a very big school). It’s very sweet of them. But rules are rules with this administration. One of my students is a professor at St. Mary’s University here. He said their faculty would strike over this.

I’ve heard several reasons why our past President Paul was so eager to have this mandatory retirement passed. It doesn’t really matter now. I’m slowly getting used to the idea. It’s a new world out there for me to discover.

Posted by leya at 05:25 PM | Comments (3)

September 14, 2006

So . . .

School started this week. I have two large classes again. Especially the figure drawing class. It was over the limit before it started. But at least everyone is eager to be there. And that counts for a lot with me.

In my figure drawing class yesterday somehow we started talking about how making art, being an artist, is an act of faith. On that thought, I told them my daughter, the night before, had asked me what was the difference between magical thinking and positive thinking. No one seemed to have an answer but several said they would go home and ponder the question. I then told them, by the way, my daughter is forty-four years old. They gasped: “Really!?” I said “No, not really. She is actually almost forty-five.” They had a hard time believing me, said I didn’t look over fifty. So I told them I am sixty-eight. Then it was: “REALLY!?! And I said “No, not really. I’m almost sixty-nine.”

Posted by leya at 06:43 PM | Comments (1)

April 22, 2006

Another day; another artist

Today was the graduation ceremony for NSCAD students. Lots of very happy faces. Even with the world in as much instability as it seems these days, I still believe art can make a positive difference. And obviously, so do the graduating students.

An honorary degree was given to Betty Woodman, a ceramic artist of renown, who is about to open a retrospective exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I wasn’t familiar with her work before today but am intrigued by what she had to say. She addressed the women in the audience directly as she felt they had more obstacles to face as artists. And her experience is as a woman artist. She began by saying she is seventy-five years old, married, raised two children and never stopped making art. The art was her first priority. She would go into the studio as soon as the children were off to school, before washing dishes or making the beds. And maybe the dishes and beds were never attended to that day. The art always came first. She has always been passionate about her work and the passion is expressed as integrity, her own personal, honest search and discovery. That integrity can only enrich the experience of people who connect to her work.

Betty Woodman certainly didn’t look seventy-five. Her hair was dark brown (yes, I know, I do it too!), she was lively and smartly dressed. So maybe we need to revise our thoughts of what aging is, but that’s another topic (although I do think being involved in making art does keep a person young: living on the edge). She’s a good role model for anyone, in any occupation. Her dedication and focused passion are inspiring.

So the message is be honest. I know the statistics aren’t so great for being a successful artist. And government funding is getting even more insecure. If you can’t do anything else (because it's a difficult path and needs to be a considered choice), then make art with all your heart, passion and integrity.

Posted by leya at 06:22 PM | Comments (1)

November 06, 2005


One of my students said, during a figure drawing class, about making art: "It's a challenge to relax!" I think that about says it all.

Posted by leya at 05:34 PM | Comments (2)

October 08, 2005

What about the dog that sits and creates a painting

Another interesting section of How Dogs Think was in Stanley Coran�s descriptions of dog training. He described how it is possible to train a puppy without a leash. When the pup is doing an activity that you want to encourage, you praise and reward. For example, if the pup is naturally coming towards you, you can say �Puppy, come� and then as she approaches, say �Good puppy!� and reward the dog when she arrives. The same with sitting. Of course, you have to be very aware of pup�s activities. Catch good behavior and reward it. The timing is essential for proper training.

I was talking to a fellow dog-lover a couple of days ago about teaching and rewards. Telling her about How Dogs Think. She told me she had seen a TV show that showed the value of reward. Two people in an audience were chosen to leave the room, knowing that when they returned, there was something they were supposed to do. The demonstrator then put a pitcher of water and a glass on his table and sat behind it. When the first person was called in, he was greeted warmly. As he approached the desk, he was given encouragement, told how well he was doing. So within a couple of minutes, he knew to fill the glass with water.

On the other hand, when the second person was called in, he was greeted with scolding: �Why are you always so late!� etc. Such harsh words continued from the lecturer. The man never did figure out what he was supposed to do.

Obviously this applies to all classroom education. I find more and more students are overwhelmed with their assignments, feel stress about homework and class work. Considering the statistics in art, how few people actually continue and are able to earn a living, succeed, at this as a chosen field, it would seem that enjoying the luxury of being in school would be paramount. When else will the opportunity and encouragement to make art be so available. And encouragement is definitely a major factor in learning.

Posted by leya at 05:30 PM | Comments (1)

September 07, 2005

It's that time of year again

School started today. My first class. The second one starts next Tuesday. This was Intro Figure Drawing. It is a large class, twenty-two students, very crowded with easels and drawing supplies. But everyone was very attentive, listened and worked hard. So far, very good.

I think I had forgotten what it was like to teach. I came home exhausted. I have had two months away from school. Just painting and playing. It�s been wonderful and the weather has been supurb. A real summer. And it was still very warm today.

When I came home, I had a big piece of watermelon, checked for messages and then my friend Molly came over to talk about art. I showed her my paintings and we discussed what worked and what needed help. It was very fruitful for both of us. Then we jumped in the lake. So very refreshing

Posted by leya at 07:09 PM

April 14, 2005

Boys and girls and girls and boys

Yesterday, excited about there being only three more teaching days, I was chatting with the man who oversees the Service Centre at school. (I often get there long before class starts, leave home early to miss the traffic congestion, prefer to hang out at school than in a car!) I was telling him that my two classes this semester are so very different. It has been a good term, good students. But one class is very talkative, the other painfully quiet. The two classes balance each other out. With the group that is so quiet, hardly talks at all, Ive tried every trick I know to engage discussion and nothing has worked: breaking up into small groups, calling on them individually to choose another work to discuss, working together, etc. The other class is so verbal that I have to limit discussion time. They are a delight to teach, for sure. The Service Centre man, Dave, asked me the makeup of the class, how many males, how many females. So I counted up: more than the usual, maybe one to three in a class of twenty. (The makeup of the College is about three males to seven females.) Both these classes are half and half: half male, half female. And the quiet class is a much younger group, being Intro Figure. The other class, Intermediate Figure, has had more time to adjust to the give and take of art critiques. And maybe it is quite simply the group dynamics.

Dave said its the hormones keeping them from talking, not wanting to expose themselves to the enemy, the enemy being other males. An interesting theory. If so, the male competitive nature has backfired here, limiting the learning process because of their natural protectiveness toward their own vulnerability.

The differences between the sexes has always been a pet subject for me. My children have always been able to have close friends of the opposite sex. And their partners are their best friends. I always envied them, their ease with gender differences. It was not the way I was taught to see the opposite sex. But one that makes so much more sense. I do now have one very close male friend and also know some men I would call friends, men I can talk to, who can talk openly to me.

Liberating women from years of repression, prejudiced situations, and subservience has been a good thing in many ways. So now a woman does not have to be like a man to succeed. Maybe. Although that is still an idea that is percolating for women. But I feel it has been hard in other ways, especially on men. Too many women feel that men have to change, AND they have to change and be what women want them to be, more like women. So this can make some women very demanding, and rejecting, of men. Maybe all these qualities were there before and women are just more open about it, expressing it more openly. It certainly hasn't made it easier for either sex.

One bonus of an art school situation is that it is expected that men be sensitive and aware of feelings. But perhaps Dave is right, the male competitive drive is still strong and can be inhibiting when it comes to communicating feelings and perceptions about something as intimate as creativity.

Posted by leya at 09:08 AM | Comments (1)

December 11, 2004

On beyond zebra

Another (very good) student asked me Thursday during crits if I thought of my work as feminist. She and a friend had been looking at my paintings either on my website or on the Harbour Gallery site and they had been thinking about their own process, how they worked from their own personal lives and in that way, being female, they thought of it as feminist artwork.

Thats an interesting perspective. One I have pondered often and also, not at all. If I were to think too much about being a female painter in what has been over the centuries a very male-dominated occupation, then I would either stop painting (not very likely!) or gear my work to address an issue that I feel would be limiting. I prefer to paint because I am intrigued by the process, because I have a vision that transcends the personal, transcends me and my life.

As I see it, there are two distinctly different ways to approach making art. The first is to take a very personal idea/feeling/thought and make it universal; the second is to take a universal idea/concept and make it personal. I, of course, prefer the latter. That is in many ways what attracts to me abstract art: that I am not in the painting. I start out with very personal imagery and feelings: photographs (of people who have deep significance to me) silk-screened onto canvas that I collage onto the larger canvas. Then I write on top of that whatever thoughts are generated from the photographs. Obviously all this is nothing that I want anyone to see! But I do want the feelings to generate the painting. And for it to be read without my personal life as part of the story that someone else reads. (Something like the novelist writing from his or her life but not telling that story, just using the energy of their life.)

In NYC there was a well known artist who sews (and I dont know if he still does) his paintings. They are very good paintings. For a few years in the 70s, even before I became acquainted with his work, I did some sewn canvases. At that point I was looking for a way to clean up my paintings, to make the statement of the work clearer; they had been too fuzzy, no definite imagery, just a color field with some faint lines. In the sewn pieces, I would stain canvas (with thinned acrylic paint), cut it up and sew it back together in more obvious forms than I had been using. But people would usually comment on the fact that sewing equals female (even though most tailors have traditionally been male). If you want to push the point, I use male/female imagery now: circles/lines. But I dont think much about that part of the painting, just about what feels right, what works at that point, what makes a painting sing, more about what kind of song than who is singing it.

I told my student that I used to think that the best thing to be, as a female artist, would be black (and tallI just hit five feet which actually usually surprises people as my paintings are big and have boldness that belies my size, I am told). As a (tall) black woman I could proclaim ME, but as a short Caucasian, I dont really think it is worth talking about. It is not the uphill battle of race discrimination, along with gender, for me.

And what I really feel most (strongly) is that the paintings REALLLY should speak for themselves!

Posted by leya at 03:58 PM

December 10, 2004

When an "A" is not an "A" it must be "U"

Tis the season to be gradingand it is anything but jolly! I always thought good artwork was about integrity but I had some challenging exchanges yesterday, and not of gifts. An A seemed to be spelled with an E (as in Ego) or with an I (as in I Want). I was seeing students individually yesterday for one of my classes. First one student than another said they WANTED a better grade then they earned, therefore they thought they should have it. O boy!

The most outrageous was a student who said that if he had known what I considered better work he would have done more of that (which he did sometimes) and less of what he was doing most of the time (which was definitely inferior from a good art or art school point of view). He explained that, coming from a design background, you listened to the clients wishes and then worked to give them what they wanted. And that, in his mind, translated into giving the teacher what she wanted. O my!

What I want is to have the students understand the process of making art and discover what they want to create and how to go about that, to learn the disciplines necessary to have the control to let things happen.

The reason this student WANTED an A was because he NEEDED it to get into Teachers College. Therefore I should give him an A. While we were continuing our (long and intense) conversation about grades, the next student walked in, whereupon the first student said, Now THEREs an A Student! And I said Yes, she IS. So obviously the first student, the one who is COMPLAINING to me, knows the difference between what he is doing and what an A student does.

The second student is definitely/obviously an A student. She works hard in and out of class, her work is original, she is not looking to achieve but to discover, she has good critical evaluation of her work and of others work but especially of her own, leading her to continue to grow.

The whole question of grading art is suspicious. How many times do we discover a great artist long after they could have benefited from the recognition! A grade is based on talent, intelligence, hard work, progress, discipline, class participation, but what percentage of each of all of the above is really fair. Students come to school with different backgrounds, different kinds of talents, different personalities that effect how they relate to a classroom situation. Ultimately a grade is nonetheless subjective. There is no objective measure for judging creativity. No multiple choice exams, no outside standards. It isnt fair, I agree, to be harsh in grading unless it is helpful to a student. Encouragement can often go a long way in helping a weaker student progress. But it isnt fair to other students whose work is superior to inflate a weaker students grade.

Next semester I think I need to talk about grades much sooner so that students who are working for grades have an equal opportunity with students who are working to understand the process of making art. That doesnt mean I will like that attitude any better though!

For my next group of critiques on Tuesday I hope I get a good nights sleep before and I should probably come in (as my friend Brian suggested) with a catchers mask on!

Posted by leya at 04:43 PM

November 27, 2004

My self-portrait; perfecting imperfection

Theyve painted the walls again at school. The washroom looks different, for sure. Right away one student (I assume it was a student, not faculty or administration) wrote I miss the free reading material. That too was painted over quickly. But some of the previous writing still shows through the new paint and another student wrote: The pen is mightier than the paint. I wonder.

The quote beside the mirror at the Art CollegeWatch out for the two way mirrorreminded me so much of my pre-teen years, when I had a serious crush on a young man and almost convinced myself that he could see me when I looked in the mirror in my bedroom. So I studiously avoided looking in the mirror. And still dont much.

But my figure drawing students have challenged me to do a self portrait. This because I told them my self-portrait stories. The one I mentioned on March 31 was a turning point in my life. Not because of the portrait but because of the paint. I discovered a love of painting. Another experience I had with drawing a portrait that was revealing to me was when I was about fifteen. There were a pair of girls, very pretty twins in our school. One of them was in my art class. As I was a very jealous little teenager, I decided I would draw her and show all her imperfections and thereby let everyone know she was not really so attractive. So I set to this task, focusing on what was not so beautiful about her. And in the end, my drawing looked exactly like her. AND, she was beautiful in my drawing. So I learned the reality of perfection, that it is not perfect.

I also saw an article in Newsweek or Time magazine a few years ago that showed photographs of famous people, like Elizabeth Taylor, Ted Kennedy and so forth. In these photos one side of the face had been duplicated onto the other, so that both sides were the same. And surprisingly it was hard to recognize the (famous) faces and also they were no longer as attractive. So once again, imperfection rules.

Nevertheless, Ive been, finally, drawing my self portrait and it is not so painful as I expected. Its coming together and I just might like it. I definitely like doing it.

Posted by leya at 04:07 PM

November 26, 2004

Sometimes things happen

Well, its a done deal. Today I am a year older than I was yesterday. But yesterday was soooooooo much fun! My Aqueous Media Class gave me a party. What a surprise! After class last week, I was chatting with one of my students and happened in the course of my conversation to say that I had a birthday coming up. And as she has a big heart, she brought in the most extravagantly decorated cake, gingerbread ladies with gum drop breasts and licorice curls, moons and stars on top and blower/noise makers and confetti all around.

As it happened, the model didnt show up, so after looking at homework we indulged in the cake and then the discipline fell apart. The students wanted to party (why not) so we took a vote, all those in favor of staying in class and working (none) and then all those in favor of going to the Split Crow Pub (all). I made them promise they would draw while they drank. And they did. They did some exquisite corps drawing (one person starting a drawing, folding the paper, passing it along, until it is finally a complete composite piece) and some individual drawings. The waitress was amused. I couldnt say thank you enough times to express how good it all felt.

And we had some wonderful conversations about, among other things, painting, color, being an artist and the need to be open and such.

Can the real birth day top that!

Posted by leya at 10:16 AM | Comments (3)

November 09, 2004

Drawing from the well on the mountain

My friend Brian came over with an interesting snippet from an article. He doesnt remember where he got it but it reads:

To draw" from other artists does not mean merely to imitate. To draw implies everything the word stands for: to pull or to drag or to draw forth, as from the earth, a vein, or a well When a figurative artist such as Balthus goes into the museum to draw from the past, he certainly is aware of the present. He embrace the tradition of painting so that he can make it uniquely his own. And in doing so, he pumps new blood into the vein, fresh water into the well; for other painters, he becomes seed, fruit, root, and soil.

My young (thirteen years) student asked for an assignment for work while she is away on a three week trip. Considering that she needs to understand drawing fundamentals before she can invent with impunity, I suggested copying drawings by such artists as Michaelangelo, Leonardo, Durer. Line for line, copy the quality of line, copy to understand the necessity of their particular lines.

Its not an easy task. Tamar once asked me to paint a dragon on the back of a leather jacket for her. As skilled as I think I am in drawing, I didnt, couldnt, copy the original drawing exactly. I put my own stamp onto the proportions, my own hand into the personality of the dragon.

That was a frustrating experience. Even though my dragon was still a dragon, I learned how important coordination of observation and mark can be. It seems drawing, which is so immediate an experience, so demanding of acute attention to the art itself, is essentially a process of getting out of your own way.

Posted by leya at 05:35 AM

October 22, 2004

How many toys does it take to make a classroom


The main ingredient in making art seems to be fearlessness. (Either that or stupidity, but I really think it is the former!) In my figure drawing class I have a young student, a very young student. She is about to turn thirteen. She is fearless. She participates in everything: group discussions, critiques, homework. Has a real voice in a classroom of students between the ages of eighteen to possibly forty-five (or more). She listens to suggestions and corrections on her drawings, is developing a good critical eye and her work is good (sometimes spectacular) and getting better.

Ive known her since before she was born and have seen her interest in art blossom. She has usually focused on imaginative drawing, fanciful, delightful images of imaginary beings. Now she is learning about proportion, foreshortening, line quality, composition and other meaty parts of drawing. She was interviewed by the faculty and given permission to take courses with the agreement of the instructor. Shes done figure drawing before but without an instructor. I am continually impressed with the courage that seems so natural to her, something I would venture to say is even more important than talent.

Another examination of artistic fearlessness is in comparing (which I cannot help wanting to do) the two groups I am teaching who are studying somewhat the same material. My NSCAD class is a fourteen week course exploring water media. Of course, with my bent, I focus on color. Then there is the group of Buddhist friends, some who have never done any painting before, some with a lot of experience, who asked for a four week series learning to use color. So for the past two weeks I have given both groups the same project. I put out all white objects and told them to use color, no white, just invent the color. The Buddhist students are very open to my projects, none of the resistance that I frequently encounter with art school students. The do we have to do that kinds of comments (that drive me up the wall!). But it takes a little more explanation on my part because of the lack of experience on their part. On the other hand, the art school students, when they do willingly connect to a project, take it on with an immediacy that comes from technical expertise developed over intense course instruction. It seems fearlessness comes in many forms but has a common denominator of just doing it!

Posted by leya at 01:57 PM

September 10, 2004

School again and thoughts from that

School started yesterday not only for Damian but also for me. And it was anything but boring. The student lounge was a beehive of activity. One student said it felt like a free lunch day: crowded, noisy, busy. I had been quite nervous beforehand, not sure about the course I am teaching, Aqueous Media. Im an oil painter. Sometimes I do use water media, but basically, oils are my true love. Nevertheless, the first day was good. A very full class and I encouraged them to try new approaches to using ink. At one point, I went around and spritzed their ink with water, just to see what would happen. It was effective!

One student told me he was new to Halifax, a transplant after five years in Vancouver, with a home base in Edmonton. So he has experienced cold winters and wet winters, and now he will have cold and wet winters. But he likes the pace of life here. Thats what everyone says first about the Maritimesthe pace of life. People are nice here and that counts for a lot. Driving home in rush hour (which was just a concept when I first moved here 20+ years ago) there is frequent stopping by one car or another to let other cars into the stream of traffic. Now that feels good, especially when you are in the car that needs to come into the flow.

But there is something left out when I hear people talk about the laid back energy here. It sounds like we are pleasant, easy going, not competitive or ambitious. Quite the contrary. People are usually pleasant here (if you ask where the band-aids are, for example, in a drug store, the salesperson will invariably get down from the ladder and take you to the section), yet that doesnt exclude the ambition, creativity, intelligence that has room to blossom here. Some of the best, most interesting people I know choose to live here. Instead of the tensions coming from the outside pressures of a large metropolis and aggressive people packed too close together, it comes from within, an inner drive that can be just as intense but more intimate. An okay place for me right now.

Posted by leya at 02:50 PM

August 11, 2004

For love or else............

Just after talking to Toni about her situation (where a man with cerebral palsy was inappropriately demanding of her time), I run into a somewhat similar problem with a student yesterday. This time the three-legged puppy, thehandicap, was pressure from the parents for the student to get As or they wouldnt continue to fund her education. And she knows, as do I, that she doesnt deserve an A. She was really heartbroken, in tears, totally overwhelmed with terror about her parents reaction when I talked to her yesterday. Yet it would be inappropriate of me to bend to the pressure to give her an inflated mark just to placate her parents. Her work is good, it shows promise, she works hard, she still has a lot to learn.

One of the harder parts of talking to this student was seeing how much she was striving to please her parents, a pressure that was not allowing her to experience school as a learning process. Nor did it let her see her strong points separate from her parents expectations. (Her parents are both artists with what seems to be rigid standards of what is good art.) The best I can do for her is to write a narrative evaluation that clearly describes her assets and give her an appropriate grade for her achievements.

When I got home, I turned on my computer to find an email from someone I hadnt spoken to (in any form) since last October, no reason to have communicated, no strong friendship that I knew about, scolding me for not calling months ago. Out of the blue. Sorry, Im not up for being bullied today.

Meanwhile, the day was stressful enough that I turned on the TV in the evening to watch a very stupid reality program, For Love or Money. I hadnt seen it before (and wont look for it again!) so I dont know what the ongoing narrative is, but it really was a dumb show. First the young lady was dumb, thinking she was looking for love yet trying to manipulate (with hugs and kisses and calculated flirtatious behavior) every man to fall in love with her so she could get a shot at a million dollars. And the three men left for her to choose as the lucky one, were dumb for (frankly, from my point of view) being there. With a million dollars at stake, how could love flourish? And no one seemed to talk about anything of significance. It was really dumb.

So everyone is looking for love, from parents, from a grade at school, from a fantasy, from a relationship, from a million dollars. There are definitely better ways to find it. I think Ill get a puppy. And train it where to pee.

Posted by leya at 05:19 PM

June 24, 2004

No smoking.........

Before class Monday morning, I mentioned to the few students who were hanging out early that the room smelled like someone had been smoking pot in the room during the night. One student said there is often cigarette smoke in a room beside the painting studio. When she asked about it, someone said it was just the instructor, Joe Boss, he always smokes (even though there is a no smoking policy in the school). And no one says a thing, they just let him smoke.

It is all in the attitude. It reminded me of an incident a few years ago when one partner in a marriage was having an affair and subsequently left his wife (and two young children) for the other woman. The wife was devastated and began publicly accusing him of indiscretions with his children. Her manner was accusatory and anxious, whining and insecure. His new partner was proud and supportive. So the one who was seen as the problem was the wife, not the woman whom he left her for, nor the man who could quite possibly have been disregarding important boundaries with his children.

The one who smokes (against the rules) walks around the school feeling his importance, acts his importance and so no one questions him. (Not even me. Our paths dont cross and I dont seek him out.) Too bad. But it is a good lesson for all of us.

Posted by leya at 08:28 AM

June 19, 2004

Intensive teaching

I never thought I would turn down a teaching job. But I just did. I was asked to teach an intensive Foundation Drawing I class: three and a half weeks of teaching every day during July and August (along with the Drawing II class, once a week, that I am already teaching all summer). It was hard to turn down (the money question) but I need to have a summer (if Mr. Weather will allow it).

Teaching year round is hard. The advantage of part-time is no committe work and time to do my own work. The disadvantage is obvious: no vacation pay, no sick leave, no dental plan, low salary. But if I taught any more than I do, I am sure I would hate it. And that wouldnt help anyone!

Posted by leya at 12:19 PM

June 15, 2004

Ninety degrees of drawing

I have unconditional love for my children. I do not have unconditional love for my students. I do love them when they work hard. They did work hard yesterday. So I felt good. (This is a required drawing course so sometimes it is an uphill battle, depending on the group.)

In order to have them think more about how to compose, I put out some "arbitrary" objects on the floor in no particular order (far enough apart not to be closely related visually): a (white) plaster foot with a (white) sock on it, a (white) plaster leg with a foot with a (white) sock on it, a fairly tall standing (clay) figure, a standing fan, a large stuffed chartreuse snake, some dried flowers. I asked them to make their own composition of the objects, rearranging on the paper as necessary to make it work compositionally. They were attentive and did some interesting work.

Then I asked them to do a drawing using their first composition as reference point, and draw as if they had moved 90 degrees in the direction of their choice. It was hard, but they enjoyed using some new brain cells. It was like working on a jigsaw puzzle, only using their own drawings. Fun.

Posted by leya at 08:47 PM

May 19, 2004

Who's to judge

School started again last week, this time for the summer sessions. I have one class, Foundation Drawing II. It meets once a week for fourteen weeks, but since it is on Mondays, and there are two Monday holidays, there are twelve classes. And I plan to go to the Montreal Jazz Festival in July and will miss one class (have someone teach for me that day), so that makes eleven classes for me. Not bad. It will give me some time to enjoy summer (when/if it comes) and a small income.

My class is only ten students. A big change from the usual twenty. Monday morning I was musing that the enrollment at the College is 70% female/30% male and of my ten students, there are three male and seven female. Perfect statistically. But I couldnt say why there are more females than males, probably parental/career pressures even though the art fields are dominated ultimately by males.

At one point I was giving a slide presentation and included some slides of Parmigianini, an artist from the 16th century whose work was shown at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia recently. I had seen the work in Ottawa at the National Gallery when I was there in November. I found the work inferior, weak, too florid and said so. Several students seemed shocked. One said that if she could draw that well, she would be ecstatic. Next to the Raphael slides that I showed, this work definitely looked lacking.

Earlier in the morning we had been talking about playing music in the classroom. I asked them what kind of music they liked to listen to. One student said good music. So I asked what makes good music. The general consensus was something they enjoyed listening to. So I asked was it easier to tell what was good music or to say what was good art. Of course, being art students, it is easier to tell what is good music. But..I love jazz. I used to go hear Thelonius Monk play at the Five Spot on St. Marks Place (when there were only a half dozen people sitting around listening). And when I put on a Monk CD in class a couple of years ago, a student came over and asked me to please change the music, he really didnt like it at all. So who was right there? (Thats what makes for horse racing, as my mother would say.) If only there were some objective standard that I could trot out when giving critiques, listening to music, reading a book.

There is a slogan of Atisha that is one of my favorites: Of the two judges, hold the principle one. Quite simply, trust yourself.

Posted by leya at 03:44 PM

April 16, 2004

Teaching teaching teaching

One of my students asked me if I enjoyed teaching that class. I was a bit shocked by his forthrightness. Previously he had asked me who I thought was the best student in the class. This time I laughed and told him he asked the most interesting questions. And he asks them with such candor that I appreciate his questions.

No I hadnt enjoyed that particular class. It was difficult. An odd assortment of students, not ones who could communicate well with each other. Too many different artistic goals, many disparate aesthetics. The students were difficult to teach. They had specific ideas about what they were willing to try and what they wanted and did not want to do. Next time I teach this particular class I will take a very different approach. I would start out more experimental, give them more of a sense of play from the beginning. My expectations were not related to theirs. My only concern would be that they learn to broaden their expectations.

The class was a collage workshop. It is something that I know a lot about, something I use in my work every day. But my approach comes out of years of working with color, originally in the form of collage, and an education that was based on process, not product.

I am really happy to have three weeks before the summer session starts!

Posted by leya at 07:59 AM