Thursday, May 16, 2013

120 Learning by teaching

I recently finished teaching an illustration course at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. I've heard teachers say they learn more than their students. It was true in my case and I found my painting improving significantly over the semester. As I reflected on why the teacher learns more than the student I realized it was the first time I consciously formulated the most efficient steps to artistic improvement.

In the process of encouraging my students to embrace basic principles I experienced a broader appreciation of those concepts. As I shared my ideas they came into sharp focus in my mind and the distance between knowing and understanding diminished.

As I taught I wondered if my students would grasp the importance of what I was trying to teach them. Would they too shorten the distance between knowing and understanding? Because of this worry I found myself repeating basic concepts over and over. And I asked myself, do I practice these principles as well as I should? The answer, unfortunately, was no. But the process of teaching was a powerful reminder that we all need to periodically recommit ourselves to basic principles.

What were these basic artistic principles?

The value of design

Even when painting a complex realistic painting it is essential to have a solid, basic design. The bedrock of design is ensuring visual interest by interlocking three values zones; darks, lights, and grays. Any composition that has an interesting pattern of interlocking values will have the backbone of a good composition. There are other elements of composition such as the power of the edge and of the center but they don't rival the power of three interlocking values zones.

The value of the thumbnail sketch

A basic human tendency is to overestimate our abilities. This is readily apparent when we assess our ability to imagine. It is always worthwhile to give our imagination an assist by doing a lot of thumbnail sketches. There are subtleties that will be resolved as you express your imagination by drawing. Drawing a lot of thumbnail sketches is the best investment you can make in the future of your painting.

The value of daily sketching

I made my students draw a sketch a day in their sketchbooks. This was universally decried as excessive. I stuck to my guns. As I tried to keep up with my students by drawing everyday I rediscovered its vital importance to foster the basic skills of being an artist. I found my imagination enhanced, my manual skills revitalized, and my confidence increased.

I'd like to thank my class for helping me to rediscover these vital principles.

Brad Teare May 2013


  1. Good for you, Brad.

    In my IT profession, I've done a lot of teaching. And I can attest that it is true that the teacher learns more than the students. I don't know what it is, but when you are teaching on a subject, it's as if it makes it even firmer in your own mind somehow. Your brain somehow works with you on that.

    Keep up the posts and the efforts! Hope you're doing well!

  2. Robert, it's a cool process. Incidentally I got my order from RGH paints. Great stuff! I will be doing a blog on it soon.

  3. I'm glad you received your order. I just did my first painting with a complete RGH set and was very impressed. I don't want to be just a Fanboy of RGH and can tell you that out of the 12 colors I ordered, one didn't meet my expectations (quinacridone red). It's not that it was bad, but just wasn't as vibrant when mixed as I normally see.

    But the others were extremely good and I'm very satisfied. I will wait to see your blog post and review.

    I've got to order some Walnut oil from RGH. It's very cost effective, but I've never tried it. I want to see what it's like to keep the paints open for longer.

    Until next time, keep up the efforts!

  4. Ohhh this is so true!

    For me, I think part of it is simply the fact that in order to teach something to someone else, I first have to thoroughly analyze the topic and assemble notes as they come to mind, then work backwards from what I want them to gain and figure out the best order to present the material. I like to start with a basic concept and then elaborate on that, adding a little more information with each 'layer' of the lesson.

    Once I've gone through that process of preparing a class plan, I walk away with a clearer understanding of what I know about the topic. It's a sort of 'aha' moment, where I realize I knew more about something than I thought I did - I just hadn't really thought about it before.

    So I've actually 'learned' more about the topic than the students do. That is part of the personal satisfaction that comes from sharing my accumulated knowledge with others. It's addictive. And it keeps the classes fresh and interesting.

    If I ever lose this feeling of 'gaining more than the students I'm teaching', I think it might be time to give it up. I'd rather be remembered for 'fresh and enthusiastic classes', rather than 'dull and boring' ones.

    1. Good points Sharon, teaching can be an act of discovery. The hard part is articulating those discovered ideas. Thanks for the comment!


Thanks for your comments!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...