Getting Creative with Creating

Author: Arkansas Arts CenterFiled under: Adult Classes, Education, Faculty & Staff, General, Museum School, Youth ClassesLeave a Comment

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By Robert Bean
Chair, AAC Museum School Drawing Department

Robert Bean teaches "Urban Sketchbook," a drawing class that goes beyond the classroom

Robert Bean teaches “Urban Sketchbook,” a drawing class that goes beyond the classroom

Artists use lots of materials to make their work. Sheet after sheet of paper. Roll after roll of canvas. A pound of clay here, a pound of clay there. It’s expensive. Period.

So what happens when you teach art? You need materials so students can grow into the creativity you see peeking out already. But those resources might be just out of your budget, or you don’t have easy access to them. What do you do?

I was lucky enough a few weeks ago to spend time with a room full of art educators, sharing with them some of the techniques, ideas and materials I’ve learned over the years, not only in my own teaching practices but within my own studio. Here are just a few of the ideas we covered in the workshop:

  • Layering is not only a great way to strengthen the student’s ability to focus, but it generally uses less consumables like paper. Developing exercises that push the student to work in layers – a drawing on top of a drawing on top of a drawing – allows the student to develop aspects of his or her visual vocabulary they may not otherwise get. Forcing the student to contend with the imagery he has already created and work over it, the student must make decisions on what stays and what disappears as new artwork is created on top. …And it saves paper!
  • Incorporating cross-discipline information into your teachings allows you to branch out in terms of materials used and ideas. It can also lengthen the process of individual projects. It broadens the student’s understanding not only of the visual arts and how they are made, but helps them see the why that often goes into the work. Find ways to incorporate literature and science into your art classroom. Have the students write passages that are combined with the images they’re creating. Teach them the science behind how paint is made. This all broadens their understanding and allows them to start making those logic leaps that are so sought after, and it also cuts down on your resource expenses and usage. If you can use notebook paper for writing passages, you aren’t spending money on the more expensive art paper, and if the student understands how paint is made and works, he or she will have a more responsible idea of how to use it.
  • Find and use materials that aren’t on the shelves of the art supply store, or find more creative ways to use the ones that are. Ever painted with coffee? It creates a beautiful sepia tone and can be controlled in terms of intensity simply by adding or removing water to the grounds. It can easily be drawn over with graphite or charcoal and can be incorporated as a stain into drawing exercises. If you make coffee in the morning, save the grounds, or simply go by a coffee shop and see if they will give you their used grounds. A little goes a long way. Learn how to really use the artist materials from the art supply store, and find new ways to double, or triple, their uses. Acrylic Gel Medium is a fantastic substance that can lengthen the life of your acrylic paints (and is cheaper than the paint), can be used as a glue, or in photo transfers, or in a dozen other creative and expressive ways. By gaining a greater understanding of the materials out there, or finding materials that aren’t often thought of as artist materials, you can reduce your dependence on the expensive store bought materials.
A sketch by Robert Bean

Sketch by Robert Bean

Being creative not only in your own artwork but in your use of materials and in your teaching methods is a must for the modern day teacher. We all have to make do with limited supplies for our students and stretch what we have a lot farther than we’d like. I’m proud that I got the opportunity to spend time with some of the educators here in Arkansas and share some of the things I’ve learned. Hopefully their classrooms will reflect some of these new ideas as they move forward this fall.

Robert Bean is chair of the Arkansas Arts Center Museum School drawing department. He teaches several adult classes including the popular Urban Sketchbook class. For more information and to register for Museum School classes, visit or call 501.372.4000. The fall quarter begins September 10. 

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