In Digital Photography class Adobe Photoshop has spoiled my students giving them easy, cool-looking effects with not too much effort. But there is limited meaning to special effects with no conceptual development or experimentation behind them. An artist tinkers, experiments, fails and tries again. That’s the creative process. I teach my students that they should not be satisfied with a few easy clicks of the mouse, but should push further with their art digging for deeper meaning. The Portrait of A Place unit teaches this lesson, challenging students to go beyond their pre-conceived notion of what a photograph is.
During the unit I show my own artwork to students, describing the possibilities of pushing the limits of what we’re doing. I also use a wiki to teach this course and require students to do research before making their art. The wiki tracks their explorations and includes links to videos, pinboards on Pinterest and also some other great resources. It enables students to have a clear understanding of the vocabulary involved when creating their final piece. They learn the differences among image transfer techniques such as gel medium transfers or Purell soap transfers; creating a digital ground using Ink Aid products; digital substrate construction with fabrics, cheesecloth and collage materials and printing on fabrics, such as organza, canvas and silk. They learn why and when they would choose to do one vs. another. The best part of this unit is that students are given permission to fail. Through their stumblings they learn a great deal about the art making process.
Choice is also a key component of this unit. Students pick the path they will pursue based on the mood they wish to evoke in their Portrait of A Place by personifying the place through light and mood. The printing techniques they choose enhance their concept. Adobe Photoshop is used to further edit and enhance the images. Students then choose a technique to produce their print. Final products may end up being pieces of clothing, photos on wood, and more. One year a student image transferred a 360 degree view of his drive up to school each morning onto the windshield of his car! We have two inkjet printers that have been pushed to the limits. Our new Epson 3000 is used to print the transparencies and images on fabric. The older Epson 1400 is the workhorse printing on canvas and some of the thicker substrate materials such as collage or canvas. Choice in printer results in varied results too and is part of the experimentation.
The end results are not always dazzling, but the thinking and creativity involved in the process make this unit one of the best and most favorite amongst students. It challenges me as an instructor too, for as students pursue divergent directions, I must be a cheer leader, coaxing them through the failures and helping them be patient and perisistant in creating a final work of art. I become the “fix-it mechanic” too, as I tweak and cajole the printers to do what we need.
Experimentation is inherent in this unit. It can be painful, but the marriage of new media with old produces exciting results that have students cheering their peers when a transfer works particularly well or when the substrate they’ve just created from cheese cloth and collage becomes a gorgeously layered work of art. Students increase their artistic aesthetic and learn that there is much more to producing a print than just a few clicks in Adobe Photoshop.
Resources for this Unit: