Saturday, 28 September 2013

More on Giron and fess-point drawing

I never knew where the terms came from but perhaps they are linked to heraldic ones. A ‘fess’ or ‘fesse’ is a single horizontal bar that runs across the middle of a shield and ‘gyrons’ or ‘girons’ are the triangles that can radiate from the centre of a shield. Interestingly in English armoury one of the lines forming the pattern must be in fesse.  Therefore a gyron must emanate from a point on the fess.

The reason I have returned to this topic is because I’ve had an e mail (text in italics below) from Adam Stone asking me to clarify some points.

I'm fascinated with your discussion on giron's and fess points. I'm familiar with the Coldstream/ Uglow approach but this other approach sounds to be as you suggest more reflective of our perceptual embodied experience. I'm keen to know how you determined the fess points as the students obviously all have different perspectives of the subject. I'm also interested to know if the exploratory giron's are purely lines that register relationships or are they able to describe forms. I hope these don't seem stupid questions I'm interested in introducing these concepts in some drawing classes and just want to get a handle on it. Perhaps as you also point out its often better that these issues are only partially understood even by the tutor. As we're dealing with perception I guess that is understandable.

He picks up some interesting issues. The fess points were sometimes physically determined, but they were meant to work as points held in the mind. For example, we might construct a series of string lines through a space, by masking taping the ends of string lengths to selective points on the edge of objects that were to be drawn. In order to get students to focus on an important position in the space that had now been activated by the string we might clip a peg on the string line that represented where a fess point might well be. From that point we could clip another string end and take its other end to another significant point. We would then take out the string construction. Students had to imagine the point in space where the peg was. (They had probably already done some measured drawing so were getting used to making decisions as to where something might be). We would then start to construct another simple set of relationships, perhaps the bottom of a easel’s leg to the edge of a box, pointing out as this was done that the significant moment in space has shifted as our attention had moved to another set of relationships. However what had not changed was the overall position of what we were drawing, the box and easel were still in the same place, but our scanning and attention within and around the dynamics of the space was altering as our eyes and head moved in order to explore the situation. Patrick Oliver used to use the analogy of a bird flying through a thick-set hedge. It was able to do this because it flew through the space rather than trying to avoid the mass of tiny branches and thorns. These fess points were therefore points on the eye’s flight path through the space. OK it might not be an exact science, but that was also the point, you had to imaginatively inhabit the space.
The girons would search out important points as they radiated out from the fess points through the space and as Adam has suggested they could at times feel their way across a surface and help to define its shape and mass as well as its spatial presence. A curve was usually described as a series of constantly moving tangents; this enabled a curve to be thought of as a series of straight lines forming the edges of an infinite sided polygon. Each imaginary line was therefore capable of seeking out a connection with another spatial point. In simple plan view it would be like this. (below) 

Students would however construct curves over and around solids that moved back and forwards (imagine a slightly curved perspective plane) to help understand how the mass moved into the space. More like this. (Below)

Above all this is an imaginary curved space rather than a flat measured one. There is no right answer, but there is an implication that students must try and inhabit the space in their minds and as they do so move through that space and make sense of it in the same way that we do in everyday situations such as walking through a crowded room We seem to manage to get through from one side to the other of a room without constantly bumping into things, therefore we must be walking through the space, an ability that is never about a static set of measurements but about an active series of readjustments.

At some point when I have more time I will make a drawing based on the issues we used to set out and photograph each stage. As always there is a huge distance between the written description of an act and a visual record. 

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Working on the part-time access programme

I’m doing a few sessions with the part-time access programme on evenings, something I’m really happy to do as I was involved with setting the access programme up and this will I’m afraid be the last run of something I have always felt was a fantastic opportunity for adults to come back into education. Whatever I might feel about this opportunity disappearing, it’s still important to give this final year of students the best that can be offered.
Because I’m only doing one session a week I am working with someone else who takes over on Thursdays and a key issue is how the direction is maintained and how to ensure both tutors are singing from the same hymnbook. Jonathan, the other tutor is an ex access student himself so will bond easily with the group and be sympathetic to their particular needs, however he is still a relatively new tutor. He came into my session last night and sat in on my briefing, which was great, however I’m too busy to do the same on his, so we agreed that I would keep him in the picture by e-mail.
The initial project involves students responding to sounds made by objects they brought in last week. I kicked this off with a lecture and got them going last Tuesday night and Jonathan has had one Thursday session alone with them but I did manage to pop in to college before his session started to go through what I thought were the main issues. 
Below is a copy of the text I sent to him this morning, hopefully it will allow for a relatively seamless progression for the group.

Hi Jonathan
It went well last night again and they have started to craft their images much more and are thinking about structure. I kept stressing control and careful manipulation of their marks, trying to get them to not overwork sheets and to think about how the sheets would be presented in a portfolio so that they would tell a story about their investigations. For several I suggested they include either an invisible or drawn single line as an anchor or measure against which they could decide whether marks were above this, below, to the left or right; (for instance deep bass sounds below and sharp high notes above). They had to craft this line as much as any other mark. The best ones were able to bend the space slightly by changing the quality of the line very subtly as it traversed the paper. 
The last part of the session was devoted to getting students to think more about space and 3D form. 
For those who wanted to stay flat.
I gave them 4 ways to think about this.
1. To think about the way one thing could overlap another, so that one mark appears to be passing behind another. Perhaps putting masking tape down and working some marks up to the sharp edge and then removing this, so a different mark could be made that looks as if it sits in front or behind the first one.
2. To mix a range of tonalities of ink or paint to make marks with so that they can start to use the implications of atmospheric perspective, dark marks coming forward and paler ones receding. 
3. Size constancy. To vary mark size and spacing so that a 'perspective' can be achieved. I reminded them that they had been told how to make a simple perspective grid and could work using something like that (to pencil in very faintly so it could be rubbed out afterwards) or they could use cameras to photograph marks from a low angle, print these off and use a photocopier to generate lots of different sizes etc.
4. Shape and mark energy. Perhaps trying to increase mark energy as they come forward or reshape marks or areas of marks so they they appear to bend in space.
Concentration on one or any combination of these would also be good.

For those more into 3D it was suggested that they could make marks over surfaces that could then be folded/constructed into responses to their initial objects. The new object's shape being a reflection of the possibilities raised by their initial mark investigation. (This to make sure they don't just copy their object) Lots of talk about how objects could be distorted in response to perhaps a cross between initial format and the dynamics being opened out in drawings. 
They could start to use a variety of 3D materials to draw in space (wire etc) as well as exploring nets which could be worked on flat and then folded and stuck together. 
Typical discussions: The student who has a round tin with tacks inside was spinning it like a coin. We discussed how the movement could be expressed by making a twisted cone, and the sound by covering the cone with spiky forms. The student with the small football rattle was making some very interesting large drawings using tape and scratched blue paint over chalk drawing, we talked about how she might remake the rattle so that it was very distorted and triangular rather than rectangular and the handle could bulge is a similar way to the way she had drawn a sound increasing. 

I also had a theme for the evening about paper. Trying to get them to think more carefully how they use it, how they choose it (reminding them of the different weights, surface textures etc that you can buy) prepare it, (pouncing, sanding etc) and where they might get it from.
Basically still getting them to go back and listen but now starting to push either more space into 2D responses or to let the 3D thinkers start to prove that they are makers.
Regards Garry

The other side of the coin of course is that two members of staff offer the students a diversity of approaches and sometimes being contradictory can be useful as it stops students thinking that there are neat answers. However this early on in the term it is perhaps best to try and avoid confusion.

In many ways this sort of work is far easier than working on the degree programme. I met the new first years this week and I’m very aware that their previous experiences are really diverse. Some have been on very good Foundation and ND programmes and some have come direct from ‘A’ level, some are mature learners (access again) and others coming back into education. Because the intake has been put up to 80, this is going to demand some serious layered learning and I have been writing handouts trying to respond to the issue this week to support my level 4 contextual studies lectures. My main worry is that I need to put together something that will really stretch strong students and yet not put students with less experience off. I’m also not sure that we have had enough time to plan practical sessions with layered learning in mind. This is something we will all have to keep on top of. I noticed a couple of students already starting to look isolated, their social skills perhaps not been up to coping with 80. This will be a real test of widening participation and I hope we can pass it.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Trying to put together lectures

Putting together slides for lectures is always a challenge. In the old days of slide projectors you never had text, everything was spoken and students made notes. Because I’m ‘old school ‘ as the jargon goes, I still try and keep text to a minimum, but the arrival of EStudio is forcing a rethink.  I’ve never really been a fan of PowerPoint, but it is given to us as standard with the Microsoft Office suite. In some ways the fact that you have some control over backgrounds, fonts etc makes it worse. Not enough to ‘design’ but too much to ignore. I always start with puzzling over how much the technology is shaping the content. That said, in the end I have to get on with it, as I am expected to have a slide show supported contextual studies lecture every week, as well as presentations designed to help introduce practical modules.
The introduction of EStudio (which is a replacement of what was Moodle) has been undertaken as a standardisation exercise right across the college. In reality it doesn’t seem to look or operate anyway differently to the previous Moodle system that I was using when teaching on the Digital Film Games and Animation course two years ago.
What it means is that all course content can be loaded up to an intranet and accessed by students on line. This has been standard practice for years in most institutions, but has previously been done on an ad hoc basis at the art college.
The problem for me is that most of the EStudio content is so boring. Briefs and timetables, module descriptors and codes of practice etc. If I was a student I would want lots of ‘how to’ videos, filmed in the same environment that I was working in, so that I could see where materials were stored, watch best practice in mold making for sculpture, check on settings for welding, how to make good canvas stretchers etc etc.,  as it is I couldn’t see anything that I would have considered useful when I was a student. Paperwork didn’t interest me then and from what I can see, current students are not interested in paperwork either, except for when it comes bearing a mark. Then they are suddenly really interested in why so and so has 2 marks more or less than them.
However my lectures will go up once they are prepared. This means that they go up without me. I’m not able to do my rambling preambles around the point. Not able to make noises, clap, jump up and down and do all that stuff you do to make sure people don’t fall asleep. Above all the fact that some points are very subtle and that I have to feel my way round them, engaging the audience in a story that perhaps has no single ending, means that the PowerPoint will in some ways feel like a disused theatre set. You can wander around it but will have no real understanding of the play that was acted in front of it.
My first lecture this year will be used to kick off the first year practical programme.

Slide one:

With each slide in PowerPoint comes a notes area, something I haven’t really used before, but as students will access this on line, it seems a good idea to put an explanation in. I will put these in red, it will be easier to sort out from my rambling text:

Note: You will initially be focused on drawing – but you will also have workshop inductions as part of this initial module. So how to start? Here are some thoughts to help you – drawing is fundamental to many art practices, but you will also have to think about how you can use the various facilities and materials available to you.
Why do we start like this?
All of you will come to this Fine Art programme with existing ways of working and ideas as to how you might want to develop your practice. So on the one hand we would like to acknowledge this and give you a chance to present to others what you have been doing, however on the other hand your experience of different working processes will be very different and you may not have had a chance to explore other ways of working, or to think about how different materials and workshops might change or open out new and more challenging areas of practice.

This relates to what the students will be doing on day one. They have all been asked to do something for a ‘holiday’ project and to bring this in. This piece of work will be used as partly an ‘ice breaker’ as it allows students to introduce themselves and their existing practice to each other, and it will also be something that can be transformed into other things using the various approaches and processes introduced during these first few weeks. (I’m personally never sure about holiday projects, I would rather just ask people to bring in a piece of art they had made that they believed in)  Not that this matters too much, as students will need to let go of their existing ideas about these artworks they bring in, because the processes introduced will transform whatever the starting point is into something completely different. (Well hopefully they will, but I have run this project before and a few people have been known to stubbornly keep their initial concept going right to the end).

Slide two

I have decided to use a chair as a substitute for whatever it is the students will bring in. It makes the point that anything can be transformed and more importantly that everything can have meaning. There are no notes as the slide is all text.

Slide three

Note: Scale will be an important issue. Try and push this to extremes when exploring the potential of your initial starting point.

This doesn’t really tell the story I will verbally tell, but it will have to do. I like to get students to look underneath their chairs, get down on the floor and do stuff that means that they get their head into where they might find new or unusual viewpoints from which to see the everyday. Scale change is just one issue.

Slide four

This slide of Lucas Samaras chairs is the key slide. Students should be able to get the idea that they will be doing lots of drawings of something and using these to inform what they might make. They should also be timetabled to do several inductions into workshops while this project is going on. Their images will then be further processed in a classic 2D to 3D dialogue. Medium specificity will also be an important issue for them to think through.

Note: An initial exploration of possibilities using drawing, then taking the idea through different materials.

Again this note is very sparse. I would elaborate considerably in the talk, however part of me feels that without the banter of students asking questions I cant really explain beyond this in the note section.

Slide five:

This slide brings up the fact that students will be expected to play.  I particularly like Wurm’s ‘One minute’ sculptures, they open out the performative possibilities and are very cheap.

Note: The importance of play. Pure un-directional play can be very rewarding. But there is often a logic to this, even if it looks as if the logic is slightly odd or 'not as we know it Jim'. Take one aspect at a time and push the implications. What happens if I extend this aspect, or repeat this, or bring these things together, or make it out of unexpected materials etc.
Canhavato’s chair is made from decommissioned weapons collected since the end of their civil war in 1992. The throne is a product of the Transforming Arms into Tools project - whereby weapons previously used by combatants on both sides are voluntarily exchanged for agricultural, domestic and construction tools. Think about how the materials you make these transformations in bring with them new sets of meanings associated with their own provenance. 

I’m not going to put the entire PowerPoint up, I’m just trying to give an idea of what is being done, however these are the last two slides.

Slide 16

Slide 17

Once the talk is over students will work all week drawing and being taken out group at a time to begin workshop inductions. There will be three to four staff working across 80 students for most of this time. I shall just be there for the initial two sessions. The following week I will be giving a introductory contextual studies talk, 'What is art?'