An eye on drawing

Students' artistic skills shine in the classroom

Students' artistic skills shine in the classroom

December 02, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

When she was younger, Kathleen Palmer, a 16-year-old junior at North Hagers-town High School, didn't think she could draw. She watched her older brothers and sisters draw and thought they were really good.

Now, Kathleen draws and says she enjoys it. She likes to put what she thinks on paper.

Kathleen is a student in Michael Gouker's Tuesday afternoon art class at North. There's a range of artistic ability among the students.

"You hardly ever hear a kid brag about how good they are," Gouker says. But class members know who the talented artists are.


Robert Whittington, 15, and Jill Shah, 14, are ninth-graders in Gouker's class. Both talk about family members' artistic talent. Both are humble about their own ability.

They admit to enjoying creating, however. Robert likes making animal sculptures with colored clay and also paints watercolor landscapes.

Jill draws objects mostly from nature - flowers, trees - and says she's not as good at drawing people. "But I practice."

Some of Gouker's students tell him they can't draw.

He can relate to their insecurities when he thinks how he would feel if he had to sing for a grade. He understands that students have different levels of skill. But effort is a big part of art, and he expects students to try.

Gouker gives lots of encouragement. He likes seeing the growth in kids' work - and there's growth even among students who aren't the most talented.

He also gives them a lot of room to create.

"We deal with problem-solving in a way no other class does," he says.

In math, 2 plus 2 equals 4. In art, 2 plus 2 is anything you want it to be, he explains.

A recent assignment involved a Coca-Cola can. Students could do anything they wanted with the image of the can - distort it, enlarge it, make it smaller. They were to make something new, Gouker says.

The results were as different as the students themselves. Robert stretched his Coke container into a bottle with beams radiating behind it. Jill turned hers into a vase with flowers. Kathleen's Coke can held flowers, and miniature people climbing on it, with another hanging from a parachute. She drew a blue eye in a picture frame in her creation. She definitely made something new.

Art is a good learning tool, says Gouker, who's been teaching in Washington County Schools since 1969 and at Washington County Museum of Fine Arts since 1989.

Although he's never taught at the elementary level, Gouker says he loves elementary art work. "It's free and spontaneous and full of life."

Tina Cavanaugh, art teacher at Fountaindale School for the Arts and Academic Excellence in Hagers-town, would agree.

Most little kids will pick up a pencil and start making marks, she says. They are creating. They are happy, with an attitude of "I'll do anything you want me to do."

Cavanaugh notices a change in many kids' approach to making art when they're about 10 years old - around fourth grade.

"They want realism," she says.

They start analyzing - which is a good thing, Cavanaugh says - and many get frustrated when their work doesn't look like what they're trying to draw.

Cavanaugh tries to teach her students how to see things. She tries to teach them how to draw what they see. She presents elements and principles of design, introducing different media - clay, paint, drawing, printmaking.

She gives students a set of directions for projects, but there always are options - room for individual expression.

Cavanaugh, who's been drawing and painting since she was 3, sometimes shares her own artwork with her students. She paints - acrylics - anything that pops into her head, she says. "It really excites me," she says, adding that she can't imagine not making art.

Robert says he's always doing some art.

Kathleen just draws because she likes it. It's kind of fun to watch something take form while you're drawing it, she explains.

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