It’s not often that one of your first encounters with a class takes place underwater. But this is how it was with Ms. Story’s advanced painting class. In the natatorium, I watched as students paddled around in the water in preparation for Ms. Story’s critiques on whether the picture would make a good painting.
The students had been assigned a self portrait of sorts. They were to take an underwater picture of themselves and then paint it, simple as that.
It was interesting to see this behind the scenes work because while the photographs are majestic and intriguing, the process was honestly a little hilarious. At one point Ms. Story, in scuba mask and snorkel with an underwater camera, popped out from under the surface to remind her students to be loose and interesting.
All of the students could choose what to wear, with the intention of adding style to their ultimate self-portrait. Junior Mary Anglin Toole chose a flowy dress because it “would look cool underwater, and a lot of others did that too.”
Junior Christina Karem liked the way she was disguised in the water. “I like my picture because it could be anyone, not just me,” she said. “It doesn't show my face, just a body in water.”
For a lot of students, the idea of painting a portrait of themselves is terrifying, but Ms. Story thought this project would help combat that fear. “This is way to still do a self portrait, and be expressive with your self portrait,” she said, “without focusing too much on your likeness.”
Ms. Story said the idea of this project came from a former student’s mother, Priscilla Nelson, who was herself an artist. Priscilla is “a great detail painter,” according to Ms. Story and the class will get to visit with her once they complete their work.
By assigning this piece Ms. Story hopes to teach her students about concepts like “color mixing, blending, going from one gradient to another total gradient”. She also hopes to train her students’ eyes to pay close attention to details.
Ms. Schick, another art teacher assisting Ms. Story, said that this project helped students to learn tools to use when starting a painting like “using a grid method to transfer the image so they get their proportions right.”
Christina Karem is a big fan of this method when doing figurative painting. “This helps because free-handing the drawing would be impossible and it helps to match colors in certain parts of the painting,” she said.
Before the students even started painting with colors they had to use a gray scale, which means painting it in black and white first. “It really messes with my head on what shades of gray that I need to use,” said Mary Anglin.
And that isn’t even the hardest part. The underwater aspect adds additional challenges. “There is a complete reflection of myself that is distorted,” said Mary Anglin. “It has become really difficult to differentiate between colors and shading on the upper level.”
This difficulty is, in a way, exactly what the teachers were hoping for. “The water not only provides the reflection that is distorted up in the reflected surface,” said Ms. Schick, “but also the movement underwater is different, the angle, drape of the body, and the fabric of the clothes is different from anything we could take above ground.”
And the teachers are not expecting an exact copy of the original photograph, which gives the artists the freedom to paint what they see and go beyond that. “The painting may not look exactly like the photograph,” said Ms. Schick. “It can come into its own interpretation.” For Christina Karem this means changing the pattern of her dress. “I can be very creative with the color scheme because the actual pattern is hard,” she said.
Everyday after class the students walk around and look at each other’s paintings and compliment them on their hard work. In the end what Ms. Story really wants to teach them is that they are a family, “It is very important to rule out that competitive nonsense in a class like this” she said, “it is all about nurturing a child into an adult that also is carrying the understanding that we are all same, that we are all just helping each other.”