120 Learning by teaching

I recently finished teaching an illustration course at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. I’ve heard teachers say they learn more than their students. It was true in my case and I found my painting improving significantly over the semester. As I reflected on why the teacher learns more than the student I realized it was the first time I consciously formulated the most efficient steps to artistic improvement.

In the process of encouraging my students to embrace basic principles I experienced a broader appreciation of those concepts. As I shared my ideas they came into sharp focus in my mind and the distance between knowing and understanding diminished.

As I taught I wondered if my students would grasp the importance of what I was trying to teach them. Would they too shorten the distance between knowing and understanding? Because of this worry I found myself repeating basic concepts over and over. And I asked myself, do I practice these principles as well as I should? The answer, unfortunately, was no. But the process of teaching was a powerful reminder that we all need to periodically recommit ourselves to basic principles.

What were these basic artistic principles?

The value of design

Even when painting a complex realistic painting it is essential to have a solid, basic design. The bedrock of design is ensuring visual interest by interlocking three values zones; darks, lights, and grays. Any composition that has an interesting pattern of interlocking values will have the backbone of a good composition. There are other elements of composition such as the power of the edge and of the center but they don’t rival the power of three interlocking values zones.

The value of the thumbnail sketch

A basic human tendency is to overestimate our abilities. This is readily apparent when we assess our ability to imagine. It is always worthwhile to give our imagination an assist by doing a lot of thumbnail sketches. There are subtleties that will be resolved as you express your imagination by drawing. Drawing a lot of thumbnail sketches is the best investment you can make in the future of your painting.

The value of daily sketching

I made my students draw a sketch a day in their sketchbooks. This was universally decried as excessive. I stuck to my guns. As I tried to keep up with my students by drawing everyday I rediscovered its vital importance to foster the basic skills of being an artist. I found my imagination enhanced, my manual skills revitalized, and my confidence increased.

I’d like to thank my class for helping me to rediscover these vital principles.

Brad Teare May 2013

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Updated: 17th January 2022
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