Monday, October 31, 2011

who's the best teacher you ever saw?

If you are familiar with the movie The Right Stuff, you may be waiting for that arrogant reply of "yer lookin' at 'em". That is definitely not the case. I had a young student of mine ask me "who was the best teacher I ever had?" for our school's newspaper. I did not hesitate to reply with "Mr. Killian, my 5th grade teacher".

Every student should be lucky enough to recall an educator who changed their entire outlook on what it means to be a student. I had such a person in 1981 when I made the leap into the 5th grade at Greenwood Elementary in Altoona, Pa. Mr. Killian was simply born to educate and to inspire. He created an environment of competition which is considered a total NO-NO in the current classroom. If he could figure out a way to have us challenge each other and/or him, he did it. It worked. We rose to the daily challenges. We wanted to show him how well we could do. We bought into his plan with everything we had. I loved him and was anxious for the next school day. I love him to this day for what he gave me. He gave me an outlet for my competitiveness. He took my greatest fear (public speaking) and weakest subject (spelling) and had me excited about the pre-test challenges. We had to stand up in front of our classmates and spell. If we spelled the word correctly we were given a chance to throw a chalkboard eraser across the room and try and hit the trash can. He would begin the challenge by throwing the eraser himself and the class would have to beat the number of made baskets that he posted. It was fun. Learning spelling words, spelling them in front of my peers and tossing that eraser was huge fun. I worked so hard to know those words.

The elementary schools in the Altoona Area use to have an annual track meet. It was a big deal. To me, it was like the Olympics. Mr. Killian was our coach and we, of course, wanted him to be proud of our performance. We had an athletic group in our fifth grade. I was in the 4x100 relay with three extremely fast kids. I might have been the slowest in the group. Mr. Killian had us practice with a dandelion stem instead of the large plastic baton that we would eventually use in the race (yet another way to teach us in a way we would feel special and to breed confidence). That dandelion stem started out stiff and easy to pass but by the end of our practicing, it was flimsy and limp and very difficult to hand off at full speed. You really had to concentrate. He knew how to teach regardless of the task. I'm sure he was responsible in having us compete against the 6th graders. A pre-meet warm up. He wanted to show us off and he also wanted us to see how good we could be at the big event. We cruised by those sixth graders. We ran circles around them (literally) as we used the pavement around the oval median in front of Logan Junior High as our track. We were on top of the world. Greenwood went on to win the district track meet and again the following year as Logan Elementary (school consolidations). Though I competed in athletics in Junior and Senior high, the positive feelings were never quite as strong as they were with Mr. Killian as our leader. 

Mr. Killian will always be that "best teacher". Thanks Mr. Killian! If anyone knows him and sees him, tell him "Randy McKee says thank you".

thanks mom...happy birthday

Friday, October 28, 2011

the year was 1988

Yes, folks, it was just 30 bucks back in the day to see 6 home games at Beaver Stadium. Fresh outta high school, $30 seemed like a pretty good deal for the worst seats in the stadium (Yes, I was one of the few who went to the games to watch football!!!!). Those were great times with some great folks. My friends from that time were like family to me and some of them, though quite a distance from me now, are still my closest friends. If any of you are reading this, "I miss you". I looked up the current pricing for these same endzone freshman tickets and it has soared up to $218 for the season. I'm not sure I could part with that much dough if I were a freshman today. The seventh game of the world series is on as I type this....I worry about maxing out a credit card to have my children experience a quality sporting event in this crazy age we're in. GO STATE!

Monday, October 17, 2011

my first real love of ART

I had seen countless works of art prior to my ninth grade year. Paintings from the masters, modern messes and locals trying to sell it at our Public library. My mother made sure I went through the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. as well. I knew all of those paintings and sculptures were important but none of them compelled me to look closely or to even feel slightly impressed or moved. It wasn't until I had seen a particular drawing by Leonardo da Vinci that something clicked. It was that "eureka!!! moment." I had been given a thin paperback book of some of his drawings. I remember thinking it wasn't the best gift I ever got but it was better than socks or something. Then, as I flipped thru, I saw it. It was a sketch for the The Battle of Anghiari. It was this man yelling with his head twisting toward his left shoulder. I remember stopping on that page for some reason. This reddish drawing had power lurking in it. It felt great to have it in my sight. There was strength in holding this flimsy book. It was making a personal connection in the same fashion as having that best friend. I felt like no one else had ever looked at this work the way I was looking at it then. The drawing was unfinished and treated with quick careless strokes on the shoulder and back of the figures head. No hair!!! I still am not totally sure why this picture still gets me. I have the same feelings toward it now that I did when I was 14. This brilliant man drew this face. This singular face. It survived. A simple sketch from a life of otherworldly intellect. I love this drawing.

I was given a chance to choose master artist and draw like them in my first few years at college. I couldn't wait to draw that image. It was weird that I had never made an attempt to do this on my own prior to the challenge of a college level grade. Maybe it just seemed so finished and solid that what was the point. I could draw that man's face for the next thousand years without adding anything to what took Leonardo a few minutes. Below is my drawing from that class some twenty four years ago. I regret to say that I still have this drawing but I've lost that book.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

angry strongo meets the press my attempts to find out who Angry Strongo would be and what he would look like, I couldn't get beyond this look in all my sketching.

I thought having him on a publicity tour where the world gets their first dose of him and he gets his first dose of the media would make for some interesting exchanges in this unvailing. But, like me, I am totally disinterested in what the media is asking or thinking so Angry just avoids questions and rants as if this all wasn't really happening.

ash gets this illustration SO RIGHT!

My father-in-law was once a driver up in Woodhull, N.Y. There's a dirt track up there where he showed his skills and mechanical savvy. His stories about trading paint and trickery in the pits never get dull.

I think of this rendering often. It is my favorite design from the hands of my wife. It is yet another card for her father's birthday or father's day????. There is something about the drawing's simplicity, retro style and overall feel that has me thinking that many possibilities for expansion are captured within. The helicopter logo and the pebbles are such nice touches. She impresses me more with every new artistic outpouring. She would disagree with my assessment of there being greatness in her work, but she would be wrong (don't tell her about this one!).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

the art of the art lesson

Teaching, in general, has always been an enormous source of stress in my life. Any time attention is going to be focused on me I worry myself to extremes. I have been an Elementary Art teacher going on six years and that stress never seems to dwindle. I do teach drawing, one on one (and hopefully small groups very soon), to willing young folks interested in learning more than can be gained from our public school art classrooms. My overall focus has been to make their time with me both unique and informative. I listed "unique" first because it absolutely should be different. I should be teaching differently, choosing different words and phrases and have them draw in different ways. All these differences need to have purpose though. It should not be like a collection of oddities at the end of the some early 1900's circus midway. It should be new ways of seeing, thinking and experiencing in order to open the mind and entice more learning. Most young folks who want to draw for an extra 2 hours after school or on weekends are looking for ways to improve. The goal is that simple. Improve.

Above (and below) is a lesson that anyone interested in improving their drawing skills should attempt every so often. Drawing everyday objects upside down. To add and an extra twist, I had my student draw something that was very small, very large on the paper. It forces the mind to focus on the line angles and spaces between them and shuts down memory and imagination. This is obviously a straight forward rendering-skills lesson. Gauging the scale and proportions of objects and their parts is something that needs regular attention. Below is my attempt at enlarging a quarter to dinner plate size. I sometimes draw with my students so they see that it is possible to complete my request and that I also make many mistakes on the way.

This was to be about a 30 minute experience. You were allowed to flip your work and check on your progress but you could not draw again until your paper was inverted back to upside down. This was made much more difficult due to the enormous scaling up of the tiny little quarter (the extra twist!!!).

Danny Gregory is a terrific artist/designer/illustrator/author/etc.etc. who reminded me of this technique. It is great to see someone so accomplished still building and rebuilding their already superb skills. If you just like watching a beautifully filmed artist draw for a bit while some upbeat tunes are overdubbed, check out Mr. Gregory doing his thing here