Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Close One: Chuck Close Painting Assignment

A Ray Charles Portrait gave students a chance to practice
Last summer I enjoyed seeing Chuck Close's paintings in the National Portrait Gallery, which is when I decided that this would be the year to have my students learn to paint in his style. I love introducing my students to artists, who have been successful despite having disabilities, to show them that they can overcome their own challenges.  For most of my adult life, Chuck Close has been an example of someone who has made millions of dollars doing his larger-than-life portraits, while confined to a wheel chair. It wasn't until the last several years, however, that I realized that he has has also had to deal face blindness and learning disabilities.  All of my students have a visual impairment and most of them are also learning disabled, so it is no surprise that they had fun learning about Close and his work.

For this project, students chose someone they wanted to paint: a football player, singer, mother, nephew, girlfriend, and friend were all in the mix. Some students choose to do a self portrait.  We "cheated" by projecting images of each chosen person and tracing them onto a piece of paper.  This isn't too far to the way of Chuck Close, who has been accused of cheating by working from gridded photographs.  Who cares?  There's evidence that even Vermeer used a camera obscura, and Leonardo would have been all over using smart phones if he had been given access to them. Tools are meant to be used. 
A grid was placed on top of the drawing and I hot glued all the lines for my students who were totally blind. I also helped mix paint for those students.

Most students laid in all the squares of color first, paying attention to the value shifts, so that shapes/ facial features could be differentiated.  Then circles of contrasting colors were placed in each square, like targets of skin and hair tones. There is usually a moment in which students say they hate their painting before working through it and coming to love it.  You'd think they'd learn to trust me by now when I tell them that it gets darkest before the dawn in art making. During our end-of-semester portfolio critique, many students choose this as their favorite project. So there were many lessons that came out of this lesson plan:  value and color, repetition and unity, patience and grit, and that your disabilities aren't necessarily liabilities. 

Our Student Exhibition contained several of the Chuck Close style Portraits

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