Thursday, April 29, 2010

Something to Crow About?

If you found yourself passing by our yard on a summer evening sometime in the mid-1970's and heard a cry of "WILLIAM!", followed by a frantic scattering of children, you might think you were witnessing a game, perhaps some local variant of tag or British Bulldog. But in that notion you would be mistaken. "WILLIAM!" certainly wasn't a game; he was a rooster.

For reasons I can no longer remember, in my childhood I developed the strange hobby of breeding Bantam chickens. Certainly they were pretty birds, coming as they did in a wild variety of colours and with all manner of fancy plumage. I had Cochins and Silkies, a black Polish hen, a beautiful pair of Mille Fleurs, and.... William. I don't remember what breed he was, but he was tiny and multicoloured: gold on the neck, dark on the breast, with rusty wings and back, and he had a long opulent tail of the most exquisite dark iridescent green. He truly was a handsome little fellow. Yet only a fool would have been deceived by his lovely appearance and diminutive size. Simply put, William was a nasty piece of work.

An interrupter of games and a spoiler of fun, determined to eradicate all forms of childhood entertainment, William was a ferocious flurry of hackles, talons and spurs. Fast and devious, he would surprise us coming around corners or spot us from across the yard and then run at us full tilt. Nowhere was safe. He chased us. He jumped at the backs of our legs. And worst of all, if he could manage it, he flew right up at our faces.

Not only was he a misery to me and my family, but woe betide any visiting cousin or neighbour. The last straw came one day when I was playing outside in the yard with my best friend- a girl with waist long hair. William spotted us enjoying ourselves from some distance away. He ran at my friend , launching himself at her head and somehow in his fury, he got himself tangled in her hair. She was screaming and crying; he was flapping and fluttering. To remedy the situation I did the only thing I could think of: I grabbed a stick and swung.

Luckily, I missed my friend's head. Unluckily for William, I did not miss his. The rooster dropped to the ground like a stone and lay there too stunned to move. I thought I had killed him. After what was probably only a few seconds (it seemed much longer), he got back on his feet. Humiliated and chastened, he made a staggering exit from the scene. And his pride wasn't the only thing that he left without: he also left without his tail. Every single one of his beautiful tail feathers had fallen out and lay in a small heap on our lawn. William was never quite the same after that. Perhaps his change in personality was due to that blow to the head, or perhaps he was simply embarrassed. Either way his reign of terror ended. His tail never grew back either.
Almost William- preparatory line drawing, ink on paper ©2010 Alyson Champ
What's on the Easel

I have a series of commissions looming- all collages. One will be my first ever large-scale landscape. I am both excited and a bit apprehensive about that. Soon I will also start work on a couple of dog portraits. Those are always fun. I'll post photos of the work in progress as I go. Strangely, the collage commission which has piqued my interest the most is an order to produce a series of roosters. I've gotten as far as making some preliminary drawings, shown here above and below.

Pretty Boy Floyd- preparatory line drawing, ink on paper, ©2010 Alyson Champ

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lighting the Way for Others

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires. ~William Arthur Ward
Painted paper collage art project for children- Alyson Champ

I've had a regular teaching gig for about seven years now. Although I have been teaching music and art privately for decades, it wasn't until 2003 that I first set foot inside a real classroom. There was nothing quite like standing in front of a class of twenty or thirty energetic children to make it painfully obvious that I really didn't know anything. OK, maybe that's not entirely fair. I do actually know quite a lot about making art. But knowing, and being able to impart this knowledge effectively to others, especially children, are not at all the same thing. Teaching is in itself an art. And just as a great work of creative genius is something marvelous to behold and is not easily forgotten, so it is with great teachers. A great teacher teaches you in way that makes you want to learn. He or she inspires you to go beyond the set lesson, to strive and to experiment. No, I'm not claiming to be one of these rare creatures. Most of the time, if the kids enjoy the project, have learned something, don't have glitter glue in their hair or paint on their good clothes, and the classroom isn't on fire, I call it a good day. Great teachers are memorable. I have had a few truly wonderful teachers in my life, and one of them was my high school art teacher, Mr. Tilley.

Mr, Tilley was an Englishman, transplanted to Quebec, who somehow found himself responsible for the art program at Chateauguay Valley Regional. How he came to be there I never knew, but during the five bleak years I spent as a high school student, I was awfully glad that he was. The art room was a haven to the school's social misfits and creative weirdos, of whom I was obviously one. My friends and I lived in that room, spending every free moment there - and Mr. Tilley let us. He certainly wasn't a strict teacher. He explained and assigned projects and then pretty much left us to ourselves. We did things in whatever order we wished and as long as we did our work and made a reasonable effort, he was happy. Help was always available if we needed it, but mostly we were responsible for ourselves and left to learn at our own pace.

And boy did we ever learn. We explored everything from three point linear perspective, to traditional lettering, basic elements of graphic design to Carolingian calligraphy. We hand lettered diplomas and made posters for local events. We painted in the style of the impressionists, the cubists, the fauves, and the pointillists. We studied colour theory and art history from cave art to modern art. We learned a great deal and we learned it painlessly, or so it seemed to me, because it was fun. Now, when I look back over the past (gasp) thirty years, I am shocked not only by how much he taught me, but by how much I have retained and continue to use.

I have read that the skill of a great teacher is like a candle: it burns brightly and in so doing consumes itself to light the way for others. Mr. Tilley has been dead for many years, but his light lives on in all of us whom he taught. One teacher in a rural high school helped to create the careers of many professional visual artists, graphic designers, illustrators and photographers. He also helped to foster an appreciation for art in countless others. Mr. Tilley probably could not have guessed how far reaching his influence would be. That's the thing about being a teacher. You never know whose life you are changing.
Mr. Derrick Tilley, CVR yearbook 1982