Welcome to The Helpful Art Teacher, an interdisciplinary website linking visual arts to math, social studies, science and language arts.

Learning how to draw means learning to see. A good art lesson teaches us not only to create but to look at, think about and understand our world through art.

Please click on my page to see my personal artwork and artist statement: http://thehelpfulartteacher.blogspot.com/p/the-art-of-rachel-wintembe.html

Please contact me at thehelpfulartteacher@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Heroes and Villains: How artists respond to history

On October 29th 2001, less than a month after 9/11, this magazine arrived in my mailbox. In true art teacher fashion I put it away thinking to myself, after I had a good cry, that one day I would use it in an art lesson. That day is now.

Halloween is the perfect time to take a look at what is happening in the world and to recognize the heroes and villains of our generation. Children's costumes often reflect the times we live in, who we idolize and who we fear. 

Let's take a look at some other Halloween New Yorker covers from the past century and how they reflect our changing times:
 What happened in October of 2013?

What was so popular in 1999?

How do you think the midterm elections of 2018 influenced this cover?

Who was knocking at our door less than 3 weeks before we entered WW2?


Butter, fat and cholesterol, oh my!

19 years after that 9/11  New Yorker  arrived in my mailbox, I finally have my art lesson.

 We have a whole new set of heroes among us in the year 2020.

We also have an entirely new generation of young artists who were not even born yet that day the planes struck the World Trade Center and Pentagon and crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.

Now it is your turn to respond to history

How will you design this year's New Yorker Halloween cover?

Create your illustration and photograph it. Email the picture to yourself and download it to your Chromebook. Download the picture below and open both your artwork and the blank New Yorker cover on the website Photopea. 

Create the New Yorker cover that will grace my mailbox this year on Halloween. It is your turn to show how visual art can cause us to reflect on what is going on in the world.

Advanced Design: How to get started

Advanced Design

Prerequisite: Students must have taken the class 'Visual Design' as a junior and 
'Foundations of Production and Design' as a sophomore.

Students are expected to be proficient using Photoshop and digital art and comfortable with digital photography prior to taking this class. Students are expected to also have some experience with computer animation.

Interested students will have the option of 
pursuing AP Studio Art credit. 

If you are planning on taking Advanced Design next year, 
you will need to get started developing your portfolio right now.

Start out by exploring art that fascinates you. Collect interesting images, websites and videos. 

This collection is a reflection of your personal tastes. 

 Experiment in your sketchbook with the ideas you find.

Many high school students are used to copying pictures they like but have trouble coming up with something original. While there is nothing at all wrong with creating fan art, it cannot be used in a college portfolio, submitted for AP credit or even legally sold. 

How do I start creating original art that is uniquely mine?

 If you ever find yourself stuck, try selecting three completely different examples of  the same subject matter from your collection. These can be photographs, links or videos from the internet, examples of images by other artists, or pictures you took yourself. 

 If you are inventing a landscape, pick three completely different landscapes that you love. If you are doing an underwater fantasy scene, select three completely different underwater images. An outer space scene? Find some cool pictures of planets, rocket ships and stars. You get the idea.  

Do not pick more than one image by the same artist. Do not select images that are too similar in style. For instance, if you love manga, you may only select one manga image. 
Since the manga style originated  in Japan, you could try exploring Japanese printmaking or brush painting.  You could find a photograph of a Japanese landscape or examples of Japanese clothing design. 

Better yet, find an image that is the same type of subject but in a completely different style, from a completely different source.

A high school student who plays Dungeons and Dragons or watches Game of Thrones may pick a single image from their beloved game or TV show. After that, they should start looking at real castles and historic armor from around the world.

Do some research into what inspired the designers who created your favorite TV shows and games. Find out what your favorite artists looked at before they started creating their art. It is very likely that whatever inspired them, will also inspire you.

Next, figure out what drew you to each image in the first place. Find something in each of your three pictures that you want to learn how to draw.

Create a new image that contains elements of all three pictures. Maybe you like the dramatic lighting in one image, the colors in another image and the textures in a third. There really is no wrong way to do this assignment. The simple act of finding out why art appeals to you and combining ideas from three different sources will result in something completely new and uniquely yours. Have fun. Play with your ideas.

To show you how artists do this, I have decided to share my own artistic process:

 I happen to currently be exploring Steampunk. 

My goal is to create drawings, paintings and animations of mechanical animals. 

My first inspiration is the castle from Howl's Moving Castle:

Because this movie is an example of Japanese Anime, I am now not allowed to pick any other examples from the Japanese Anime genre. I can have more anime in my complete collection, but for the purpose of this assignment, I need to pick two other things, and they better not be anime.

My second inspiration comes from the Russian artist, Vladimir Gvozdev. 

Here are two links to his website and an article about his artwork:

I was first attracted to his paintings during a Google Image search. After exploring his website, I was hooked. 

I also found a few more interesting contemporary sculptors creating steampunk animals. 

I am not interested in building sculptures right now, but I liked learning about their art:

However, all these artists, Gvozdev, Verniy and Vitanovsky, are Russian or Eastern European, alive today and building clockwork animals out of discarded old machines from junk yards. They are too similar to each other, so I am only allowed to pick one of them. I have to pick a third image and the artist better not be Russian, contemporary or a sculptor that builds animals from junk.

Could I find a third resource? One that was not Japanese or Russian or contemporary?  

The answer was yes. After more research, I found some cool early European clockwork machines, with surviving examples dating back as far as the 1700's.

I was also reminded of my love for MC Escher and was able to find these images of his 'Curl Ups', imaginary insects with human like legs and armored bodies.

Curl Up, 1951, by MC Escher

In summary, I found out what I was interested in, I looked at art, gathered a collection of art and I created some art. 

It wasn't necessary for me to start out creating great art,  finished art or polished art. My goal was to experiment and try new things. 

Below are my first experiments.

Don't ignore your loves and interests, just dig a little deeper. 

The more time you put into a piece of artwork, the more time your audience will spend looking at it.

The more fun you have exploring and developing  your ideas the more your audience will enjoy looking at them.

High school students get so caught up in showing colleges how technically talented they are that they forget how to take personal and creative risks. Artists need to give themselves permission to experiment and fail.

When we sit down to do our own artwork, we  need to learn to let go of whatever it is we have been taught and just give ourselves permission to create.

We have to get away from ‘what does the teacher want’ and shift to ‘what do I want? 

While commercial artists also have to consider what their clients want, ignoring the question "What do I want?" and "What type of art do I want to create?" is always huge mistake in any genre of art. 

After all, your client is not hiring you to simply follow orders. They are hiring you for your creative ideas, for your unique artistic style and vision. They are hoping you will take their ideas and make them better. You can't really do that if you don't know what you like.

The child who loves Manga, cartoons, video games and spending all night painting D&D figures is at some point told it’s ’not real art’. High school has a way of teaching all of us to forget who we are and what we like. 

I propose instead that we acknowledge what we like, but also acknowledge that we need to do more research and sketching if we are to create art that is both authentic and original. 

I invented and painted this fun mechanical dragon using instant coffee, graphite, and Dr. Ph Martin’s White liquid paint. 

 Instead of copying another artist’s product, consider their process. Ask questions and give yourself a problem to solve.

What's next? Clearly I am not done exploring Steampunk animals yet. I still have sketching to do!

In preparation, I curated a collection of Steampunk clipart that inspires me, from around the web:

I curated a collection of  gears and clockwork 
that inspired me:

I found a collection online of 150,000 free botanical and animal downloads: 

Now I think I am going to go through them, download a few animals and create some drawings in my sketchbook showing how they might be mechanized if they were clockwork robots.

 Maybe I will draw exploded views of my mechanical animals and attempt to reassemble and animate them. Or maybe, as I sketch, I will come across a different idea.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Storyteller Without Words: Creating a graphic novel

Gods' Man, a wordless graphic novel, was created by the American artist Lynd Ward in 1929. A graphic novel is a novel told in comic book form. 

The pictures in a graphic novel are not mere illustrations of the written word. The are the key to the unfolding ideas, emotions and plot. In a graphic novel, the images are primary and the words, if they exist at all, are secondary.

Lynd Ward crafted this story exclusively from hand carved black and white woodblock  prints. In other words, he drew each picture on a piece of wood, carved out the parts that would remain white, rolled black ink onto each panel and created prints. 

When viewed in order, these images tell the story of an artist's life.

Look at the story below. Write a summary of the plot. Then answer the following questions in full sentences:

Does the story have a moral? 

Would you have made the same decisions that the main character made?

Why do you think Lynd Ward created this story?

Does this story remind you of any other stories you know about? These could include movies, TV shows or books you have read.

Pick a story you are familiar with  that reminds you of this one and tell me a few ways that the stories are similar.

A word about composition

Why are these panels so important? 

The poster below hangs over the drawing board of every single comic book artist at Marvel Studios. It serves as a reminder that each image must convey the story in the most engaging way possible.

To see these images more closely, right click on them and open them in a new window.

Revised version by  the artist
 Rafael Kayanan
In 2010 Rafael Kayanan looked through Wally Wood's extensive comic book archive, selected classic examples of each of these compositions and created a new version of the '22 frames', using Wood's own work. 

Below is a film adaptation of the 22 panels.

Wally Wood was born in 1927 and his famous panels were not circulated around Marvel Studios until the 1970's. 

Lynd Ward's book, Gods' Man, was first published in 1929, when Wally Wood was only two years old. Yet many of the compositional devices Wood used are evident in Ward's book. Go back and take a second look at the book. Can you find any examples of the 22 frames?

If you are one of my students at Perth Amboy High School and are having trouble viewing the PDF of Gods' Man, 

A word about plots and characters. 
 To see the graphics below, right click on the image and open them in new tabs.

The graphics above list character archetypes typically found in most stories. 

After studying them, identify the archetypes that most closely match each character in the story Gods' Man. 

Now it is time to create your own 
graphic novel. 

Before you start, take a look at some storyboard portfolios of professional animators:

What you are going to notice is a lot of their stuff isn’t polished or perfect. They are more concerned with telling their story and getting it onto paper. They’ll polish it later. They’re not afraid to show their pencil tests and half finished work because the main thing they are showcasing is their ability to work through and develop an idea.

When a student applies to art school, colleges look for their ability to work through and develop ideas. Polished work is important too but they also want to see pages from your sketchbooks.

When you submit a portfolio to the College Board for AP credit, they want to see your process. The way you develop an original idea is as important to them as the completed artwork you create. 

How do contemporary comic book artists and animators showcase their ability to develop ideas? Take a look:

Why is it so important for high school students to look at artwork that is not polished or finished? 

Most students feel overwhelmed when their teacher tells them to make up their own story. They think it will be too hard.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, you tell all sorts of stories all the time in your daily life without even realizing it. So, how do you begin using your natural storytelling abilities to make art?

 Plan out a story with a beginning middle and end. Just start making stuff up.

Throw every single bad and frustrating experience that you can think of at your hero. Get them to the lowest point possible where everything is going wrong.

Who helps them? Who gives them advice? How do they survive? What do they learn? Are they an unlikely hero like Harry Potter (nerdy with broken glasses and bad clothing)?
How do you make them initially come across as ordinary?

What makes writing so difficult is that your audience will only start to care about your character if they identify with them.

As we watch (or read), a good story draws us in. We become the character.

How do storytellers accomplish this? The best way to identify with a character is to

1) see them at first as ‘ordinary’, ‘flawed’ ‘like me’

2) to watch them experience everything going horribly wrong

Who helps them? 

Gives them advice?  

How can you put a little bit of yourself into the character?

 How can you translate your personal struggles into this story while still writing a piece of fiction?

 Picasso once said that "Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth." and he was completely correct. In every piece of good fiction there is an element of truth that makes it relatable.

Create as if you are writing in an imaginary diary. Create as if nobody will ever see your work. Write as if you are not completely sure how the story will end.

Don't worry about safe, comfortable or happy endings. Banksy once said that art should "Disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed."

Think of this story as a combination of your favorite video game, your favorite movie and that one book that you read once, growing up, that actually made you like reading.

Just start creating based on what interests you and see what comes out.

It’s going to be difficult at first, because you are going to like your hero, but don’t go too easy on them. Take them out of their comfort zone. That uncertainty is what keeps the audience coming back for more.

If you are one of my students at Perth Amboy High School, use the Storyboard That Website to help you get started. Remember, you must log in using my teacher account and then create your own username and password. This will give you unlimited access to the website. 

If you are not comfortable drawing and would like to focus at first on plot and composition, use the graphics from the website to help you tell your story.

If you are preparing a portfolio for art school, wish to become a professional artist or are planning to take AP Studio art as a senior, use your own drawings and photographs to tell your story.

Post updates of your progress in Google Classroom twice a week so that I can check on your progress and give you constructive criticism. 


The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck by 
Rodolphe Töpffer was the first graphic novel every published in the United States, in 1842. 

Rodolphe Töpffer, a Swiss cartoonist, is known as the father of the modern comic book. The book was first published in his native Switzerland in 1837.