How to draw in three steps using problem-based learning

Daniel Schneider is a professor at Humber College’s School of Media Studies in the bachelor of public relations program. He teaches brands how to get their positive message into the press. Daniel loves contemporary art, sailing, longboarding and strong espresso.


Letter of Intent

As part of my Teaching Excellence Program (TEP) training at Humber, I had the opportunity to observe two exemplary professors: Lydia Boyko, bachelor of public relations, and Bernie Aron, bachelor of paralegal studies.

In Lydia Boyko’s class, Writing Lab 5, we learned about the art and craft of speech writing. In Bernie Aron’s Administrative Law class, he covered conflict resolution related to a real-life court case.

After observing both classes, a burning question that came to mind is how can we effectively teach students creativity, instinct and judgement? Whether we are writing a president’s speech or resolving a dispute, these skills are key in the problem-solving process.

What I learned from Lydia and Bernie is the importance of leading through example. Students can see what solutions have been done in the past, what has been successful and what hasn’t worked, and eventually the skills naturally absorb through osmosis.

After studying problem-based learning at TEP, I was inspired to explore this topic further on how students can acquire skills in creativity, instinct and judgement. Reflecting on my former experience in art education, I will springboard into a blog post called:

How to draw in three steps using problem-based learning

If stick figures are your style, you are in good company with some famous icons such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Yes, you too can learn how to draw.

When I studied visual arts at graduate school, we were always taught that the learning begins after we graduate; we were taught how to teach ourselves. After all, artmaking is about tapping into our own personal creativity, not that of our teacher. So, our advisors were always very careful to ask the right questions and guide us, but not tell us the correct answer.

In art, there are no answers; there are no rules, except for the ones that we create for ourselves. We can look to the past, see what has been done successfully and what has been praised in the history of art, but then we have to go on our own personal journey which could last a lifetime.

Now, I titled this post as a three-steps process; the only caveat is that it doesn’t always need to be done in this exact order. You might go to step one, jump to step three, revert back to step two, revisit step one again and so on. In any case, let’s let the creative process begin.

1. Getting started: Define the problem or goal

Amount of time required: 10 minutes to 99 years

I spent a lot of time trying to find a solution in which I hadn’t clearly defined my goal. My advisors in grad school asked me, “What are you trying to draw?” Unfortunately, the visuals were not always so apparent. I was driven to abstract art, particularly the abstract expressionists of the 1950s such as Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman and Willem de Kooning.

My faculty advisors simply helped me to ask the right questions. Have you tried looking at the work of this artist or that artist? Have you tried working larger? Have you tried drawing with both hands? They asked the questions to help me pinpoint what I was specifically trying to achieve.

Along with defining our own problem, we have the opportunity to write our own rules and set our own parameters. I might choose to stay within a certain size, format or medium. Or perhaps I might design a three-step layering process that must be performed in a specific sequence. When there are no rules in art, we need to create our own structure and order.

2. Learn from example: Identify what has worked well in the past

Amount of time required: one day to life

I constantly look at the work of other artists in textbooks, at exhibitions and believe it or not, even on Pinterest. What can we learn from the work of others? Cy Twombly taught me about the action and strength in a gestural line. Betty Goodwin taught me how to draw an anonymous figure with great simplicity. Barnett Newman taught me how sometimes all we need is one stripe to express 1,000 words.  And this is the “osmosis” part of the creative process, when ideas just sink in.

Sometimes I’ll come up with a new drawing style, and maybe it came from somewhere. Or, perhaps it came from several sources. Somehow when we look at enough examples, the solution residually filters through.

3. Experiment: Learning should be like playing in a sandbox

Amount of time required: unlimited

You wouldn’t believe the stuff I’ve tried over the past 20 years in the name of creativity. I’ve drawn with everything from oil stick and lipstick to peat moss and Earl Grey tea. Thankfully I have found my profound direction with pen and ink. The creative process requires an element of play. How can I get more action and speed into a line? How can I get the ink to spatter just so? What happens if I run an ink line through a wet patch? In the end, I’m really the only one who can decide what works successfully and what doesn’t.

This post was written as much for the teachers out there, as it is for the budding artists.

How can we teach students creativity? In the letter of intent above, I spoke of my visit to the classes of Lydia Boyko and Bernie Aron. For instance, let’s take a closer look at Lydia’s speech-writing class. How can we teach students to create a lively lead paragraph, decide on what information to include and what to leave out, or weave the words in a continuous flow? By showing us exemplary samples, including Michelle Obama’s famous speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Lydia let us experience Obama’s natural flow of words that so effortlessly rolled off her tongue. Then Lydia assigned us to write a one-minute introduction about a classmate. It was interactive, and for many students it was our first introduction.

I understand that this is not specifically problem-based learning, but for these students, this is when the learning begins.

And now the learning will continue for the students after the course is complete, and they will need to teach themselves. Eventually, they will set up their own goals, ask their own questions and develop their own solutions. Whether we are learning to draw, write a speech, cook or play music, the creative process is a long and rewarding journey.

Even Bernie’s lesson on conflict resolution is a creative process. He presents the students with two sides of a debate, some facts and parameters, and they need to develop a solution so that both parties win.

In TEP, our lesson on problem-based learning really resonated for me, because this is the foundation of how we can teach ourselves through experience. Lydia and Bernie have given their students the tools to self-learn. And when we get stumped, just ask the Oracle.

There is a great online tutorial on how to play the guitar. Apparently, it only takes three steps; I just might give it a try.

And so, I turn this over to you; what will you teach yourself?

Follow me on Twitter @damagecontrol7 and look out for my next blog post on how to manage your students on a field trip.


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