Help me start teaching art to adults.
November 9, 2009 4:31 PM   Subscribe

I need some advice on teaching art skills to adults.

How do I not suck at this?

I’m going to start teaching some drawing and painting classes to adults in the evenings. I’m in my 20’s, and while I’ve done a bit of teaching in the past, (short free workshops and demos for students) I’ve got no experience dealing with a group of adults who have paid good money to listen to me for several weeks.

I think I’ve got a decent handle on curriculum stuff- in each class we’ll be covering a new skill per week, building on the previous week’s techniques. I know what I need to talk about, just not how to talk about it. The skills I’ll be teaching are things I’ve done for years, and I worry that my hands know what to do, but my brain and words will forget how to explain it to a novice.

To boost my confidence a bit, I could use some answers to questions like these:

Does anyone have some reading resources on teaching to adults- especially those related to art or manual skills? Is there some golden ratio of explaining, demonstrations, and practice that I can use as a rule of thumb? In what ways have some of your teachers failed at teaching a new skill, and how can I avoid making those mistakes? Any awesome class or teacher anecdotes? Is a feedback survey a good idea (at the end of the class, or midway through)?

Any other general tips?

Thanks in advance.
posted by alight to Education (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I took a drawing class at the community college that worked well for me. The teacher spent the first part 5-15 minutes demonstrating the new techniques. There was a hand-out which duplicated what she just said and gave visual examples (good for people who are not auditory learners or who can't remember all of the details 30 minutes later.) When you ask if there are any questions, leave a pause long enough for people who are a little shy to think of how to work their question and get it out. Respond warmly to encourage others to ask their questions too.

She then gave some specific short "warm up" exercises to practice using the skill. She walked around the room, answered questions and gave comments to students as they worked. If she noticed a common problem, sometimes she would stop us and elaborate on that specific issue. If there were multiple parts, she would usually demonstrate it all at the beginning and then call time when she wanted us to move on (along with a reminder of what to do next)
Then we would have a short break and come back and work on a single larger piece. We would have at least an hour to work on this. Meanwhile the teacher would alternate between walking around the room and commenting or doing her own example but being available to be interrupted with questions.

Important advice: First, always find something good to say about a work. Second, suggest only one, specific change - it lets people focus on that one idea of how to improve instead of being overwhelmed with too many critiques.

I think you should also be very cautious about doing any drawing directly on a student work. You might say "The nose should go a little higher, like here" and make a small mark. Or "lips usually have a bit shadow underneath like this" and then draw it on a piece of scratch paper so they can copy it themselves into their picture. My pictures are mine. If the teacher draws in the eyes, then everytime I look at the work it becomes "my picture with the teacher's eyes" - not so good.
posted by metahawk at 5:01 PM on November 9, 2009

Yay for you teaching art. I hope you have a great experience. I love it, and have taught art for about twenty years.

I highly recommend "The Artist's Manual" by Angela Gair $25, Chronicle Publishers, have not memorized the ISBN. Great pictures, explanations, soup to nuts on the most traditional to progressive technical applications and techniques.

I find out what my student's interests are to start and teach from that pool of personal information. Some of the groups I have worked with in the past have been: seniors, poor high school kids, rich trust fund college kids, community college mix of everyone and technical trades. Their needs are very different.

I bring some stuff to draw, have them fill out a personal information sheet and make a drawing of one of the objects on the back of the information sheet. The drawing will actually tell you a whole lot about them. Drawing first helps them focus.

I build my course gradually in steps. Drawing, for example, builds from line, value, relative proportion, until they get to the figure. A lot of it is them building their momentum, so I give a lot of motivational talks.

I limit concept talk to under forty minutes, give a twenty minute material demo, then have them find a resource, research to work from. This helps them bring out their own thinking actively, which is very successful.

Good luck. Some days its a blast and other days.... ;)
posted by effluvia at 6:00 PM on November 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

I remember being nervous about teaching an art class once. I wasn't teaching adults, but I was teaching college-age students, and I was still in my 20's myself.

I expressed my insecurity to an older colleague and she said, "Don't worry. Just remember, you know more than they do."
posted by cleverevans at 6:26 PM on November 9, 2009

Best answer: The three things that really helped me when I was a beginning art student were:
1. learning that i could really be loose and messy and scribbly as I began to figure out where the object was on my page and it's proportions, and then get more and more refined as I built on top of this tone.
2. learning that the shadows define the form.
3. being loose and free is a good place to be when drawing.

As a beginning adult student I was very intimidated, and tried to be really exact, and of course things came out terrible....So the teacher who really opened my eyes to these concepts, that was the teacher who really made me advance the most. And I think instruction should only be about 20% of the class, because for me at least, I needed to do more than listen.
posted by extrabox at 6:38 PM on November 9, 2009

Response by poster: These are really helpful responses so far, guys. I'm really happy to hear from both teachers and students.
posted by alight at 7:10 PM on November 9, 2009

Best answer: I taught for several years at a not-for-profit arts centre (I still teach art but in a college now). It was a great job and I still miss it in a lot of ways. What I most loved about it was that that everyone who was there really wanted to be there. I had some students who were blowing off stress from difficult day jobs, others who were trying to put together portfolios to apply to art school, some that were taking there one night a week away from the kids. It was so much fun to work people from all different kinds of backgrounds who were really enjoying what they were doing.

In working with adults in that type of setting it pays to remember that most (though not all) people think they have accomplished something when they learn a particular skill. This can be thinking about value changes, one point perspective, scumbling, wet-into-wet, how to stretch a canvas, basic colour theory, gel transfers – it doesn’t really matter as long as they finish the evening or lesson thinking they have learned one thing. So be very skill oriented in the classes, even if it sometimes feels unnecessary. People like something concrete to hang their hat on, I’ve found.

Do lots of demonstrations. This serves a couple of purposes. It allows students to see rather than hear what you are saying and it also allows them to see that something is actually possible. I tend to exaggerate when I do demos – I draw bigger, paint faster, use more intense colour – because many people are hesitant. Seeing me go over the top gives them permission to go a little further than they might have. Bring in examples. If you are working with collage, transfers, whatever, make up some stuff and bring it with you to pass around so they can see and feel it. In introducing a new topic or project I will usually spend 15-20 minutes on intros and demos over a three-hour class.

When I started teaching I never drew or painted on student work. It seemed like a no-no. I do now and find it can be very helpful, but I will only do so after I’ve got a feeling for the student. Some people tense up and obviously don’t want you anywhere near the work while others throw the brushes at you and beg you to ‘fix the mouth!’ For the former I will sometimes whip up a copy if they are really stuck.

Criticism is another area where you have to read the student. Some people are looking for a great deal of critical feedback while others are quite fragile. Encouragement goes a long way and should not be underestimated but it does need to be balanced with some criticism so students can learn (and just as important, feel as if they are learning). I love getting feedback from students and often change my classes based on suggestions.

Encourage discussion in the room, and work to break the ice so that everyone can enjoy themselves. They will learn as much from each other as they do from you and that is as it should be. Crack some jokes, have fun and enjoy yourself. If you know what you are teaching and you have fun teaching it 90% of your work is done. Good luck!
posted by Cuke at 7:10 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I took an continuing education/adult ed drawing course about two years ago. I would second just about everything metahawk said. Even though it is a visual medium, people learn differently, so visual examples, yes, but describe as well and have a handout if you can. It was also somewhat tactile, in using different media (the resistance of different leads, the way you could rub charcoal).
I was (am) just terrible, but the instructor tried to be encouraging. When my sizes and perspective were hopeless, she would help me work on textures or shadows. It is a fine line away from patronizing (I can tell that the shapes are wrong and mis-sized), but even disasters can yield lessons about what works and does not.
At the end of each class, we would all post the work from that session, more or less anonymously, and then talk about not what was good or bad but what works, what speaks to you, what was successful. A double edged sword certainly -- I dropped out after the third class because I just couldn't get it and suffered by comparison -- but it was helpful to see how different people approached more or less the same subject. Tough call, but I would say it was more helpful than less.
Good luck.
posted by mr_felix_t_cat at 7:21 PM on November 9, 2009

you will love this book. Read the reviews.
posted by naplesyellow at 7:53 PM on November 9, 2009

Response by poster: Man this is why I love MetaFilter.
This is helping me to remember that this whole experience is going to be a lot of fun- discovering what works for people and watching them figure it out. I had kind of forgotten that in the mechanics of worrying about it.
You all are great.
posted by alight at 8:35 PM on November 9, 2009

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