Learning, Teaching, Learning

Click on photo or here for artwork details.

A week ago Friday, Tom and I had the pleasure of seeing San Francisco Film Society present An Evening with Don Hertzfeldt. Wikipedia states that “Hertzfeldt has never held any job other than creating his own animated films, not even in his youth.” This intrigues me. My curiosity was appeased when he asked the audience to thank his parents for never pressuring him to do anything responsible in his life. Wow! I appreciated him sharing that. And even more than what you’re given, it’s what you do with it, that matters. Nice to see an example of a working artist who was given a lot of freedom and has created his own unique, successful direction in a non-commercial way.

I’m continuing to work on Alyson B. Stanfield’s Relatively Pain Free Artist Statement e-book. I’m on the third question and it’s getting difficult. On a side note, I’ve started flossing on a regular basis. It just clicked, I made a decision and decided how I could fit flossing into my routine. What I’m really talking about is self-discipline and that’s what I’m dealing with as I continue blogging and working through Alyson’s questions. Eventually, I’m hoping it’ll become “just what I do”.

I’m writing about my experience creating the book above entitled “Honesty” at an incredible retreat: An Artful Journey with DJ Pettit in February 2010. My biggest takeaway was that it gave me the desire to teach differently. I’ve been teaching some project-based book binding classes and while I enjoy them, I’d like to encourage my students to do work that is their own. I’d like to teach technique, not necessarily specific projects and really encourage students to do work that speaks to them. I want to provide less materials, less control and more freedom.

In teaching bookbinding classes, I’ve provided the majority of the materials. It’s been an easy way to focus on the binding technique. It’s similar to what I’ve learned in other bookbinding classes I’ve taken. Occasionally, students will come up with alternative ideas from what I demo and I’ve been encouraged. I want students to think about how they can make their work theirs. I want to teach technique, share inspiration and create a more open, creative structure that doesn’t stifle the students’ freedom.

I’d like to create a space where students make work that oozes their passion and personality. I want to bring people out, connect with them and help them connect with themselves. When I saw DJ Pettitt’s work on her website I knew I had to study with her. Her books, her texture and colors… I was drawn to her. I felt I wanted to learn to paint on photographs as well but late Saturday night at the retreat I wasn’t so happy with my photograph paintings. I got a chance to connect with DJ. She appreciated my photography and suggested I could use my own photos by themselves without painting over them. I was encouraged. She also said, “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do” and relayed a sweet story about her husband. It made sense. When I struggle with something, I need to look and be super honest with myself… What is my purpose in doing this work? Am I really enjoying it? What I had really been enjoying was my previous day ‘s art where I was making a “mess”, painting abstracts and creating a lot of work in effortless excitement. I focused on that fun, inspiring work and cut it up into smaller pieces (with some inspiration from Kelly Warren!) and created the book above out of my work that really spoke to me.

I know there’s a learning process and things don’t always come easily and immediately but if I focus on what I most enjoy, I produce my best work. When I go back to projects that I haven’t finished, many times I’ll realize why and be gentle on myself for not finishing them. I made more books this weekend. That’s something that just comes easily. I’m a little obsessed.

6 Replies to “Learning, Teaching, Learning”

  1. Wow. I love what you are saying here, Leah, and can relate completely. Bookbinding is something I want to learn. Offering any classes this Summer?

    I am working on a new art form myself… I blogged about it just a second ago (isn’t that ironic?)


  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the link to developing an artist statement. I have always struggled with my artist statement and never feel really comfortable with it. I’ll check out the link and see how I do. Be sure to let us know how your process goes!

    1. Kathleen, thanks so much for reading! Ahh, the artist statement… I think it’s ever changing. As we grow, our work does and so does what we want to say about it. To me it’s interesting how much my work informs me of myself… just another way of getting to know who I am.

      Julie, thanks for writing! I am teaching a bookbinding/bookmaking class at SCRAP http://www.scrap-sf.org/ on July 10th.
      Description to be determined soon. So far, that’s what I’ve got scheduled. I’ll put you on my mailing list for upcoming classes.

  3. this book is more and more beautiful every time i look at it, Leah! i too learned so much from DJ, and from you!, about the value of just doing what speaks to you. i think we both went our own way in that class and produced things we truly learned from. i’ve been able to take the techniques DJ taught us and start applying them to other things too. i do like technique based learning more than project based. i’ve been taking roben-marie’s urban journal class and putting my own spin on that from what i learned from DJ. so when are you going to do some online classes so i can play along? 🙂

  4. Your book is fantastic Leah! I have never book binded myself. I love how you went into how you teach and how you’d like to move and grow as a teacher. i LOVE learning and have been toying with the idea of teaching down the road. Thanks for you insight. Oh and an artist statement – def need to do one of those someday. Alyson B. Stanfield is a wealth of information for art biz. Thanks!

  5. Kristen,
    Thanks so much! Yeah, it’s funny how learning and teaching go hand in hand. It looks like you are doing some teaching giving short art history lessons to two kindergarten classes. That’s great!

    I remembered Sister Corita’s Rules for Teachers and Students
    Some places on the internet say they are John Cage’s rules and another place said just #10 was his. Anyway, I enjoy them.

    Kelly, thanks so much!I I’m very encouraged to do some online classes. I spent the better part of the day watching Teesha Moore’s journaling on YouTube.

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