Art techniques taught outside of the box

At-home instructor expands students' minds, skills, interests

August 03, 2008|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

On a recent morning, several youngsters learned how to look at nature through a third eye.

Equipped with a digital camera, a makeshift viewfinder, drawing paper, a pencil and an eraser, each child chose subjects to draw.

Then Nicki Jergensen, their instructor, gave the children an assignment. Look at a chosen object through the viewfinder with one eye closed. Zoom in and zoom out until you find something interesting about the object. Next, draw the contour of the item on transparency paper with a dry-erase marker, and then sketch the item on drawing paper.

"This is a technique that was created by Renaissance painters," said Jergensen, 36, of Bel Air. "It will teach you how to look outside the box."

Jergensen was teaching the children the "Rule of Two-Thirds," a concept that says the human eye is naturally drawn to a point about two-thirds up a page. The lesson was part of a weeklong summer camp at Swan Harbor Farm in Havre de Grace offered through the Exploration Art School, which Jergensen started last year at her Bel Air home.

The visual arts school gives children a place to explore art forms in a safe environment, she said.

"I started my school because I believe everyone can learn, and everyone can learn to draw," said Jergensen, a former public school teacher who earned a bachelor's degree in art education in 1995 from Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., and a master's degree in art education in 2001 from Towson University. "And art meets a lot of needs for a lot of children."

The recent weeklong digital photography and drawing camp was divided into five 2 1/2 -hour sessions, during which the children learned the basics of photography and drawing, how to use a viewfinder, how to get proper lighting and how to edit photographs. The activities culminated with the children sharing their work with their parents on the last day of camp.

"The camp is designed to teach the children photography techniques that can be applied at home," Jergensen said. "Children are growing up with digital cameras, and I want to help develop their skills."

Walsh Kunkel, 13, said the camp was thought-provoking.

"I've learned how to make a drawing look more interesting and how to align a subject on paper," he said. The eighth-grader worked on several drawings, including a depiction of flowers. "I have to think about what I want to put on my drawing and where."

On a recent morning, Sarah Golczewski, 7, sat on a brick sidewalk near a pier and worked on her depiction of the water. "I like art because you get to create your own things with different colors of the rainbow," said Sarah, who enjoys drawing landscapes.

Yvonne Golczewski, Sarah's mother, said she enrolled her daughter in the class because she wanted her to have another outlet to nurture her love of art.

"Nicki provides her with information about the technical aspects of art," Golczewski said. "And her pictures and drawings progress throughout the week. It's really amazing to see how much her work has improved."

Sarah also learned to properly use a viewfinder.

"I'm learning how big the picture should be," Sarah said. "And how big I want things in the pictures I take to be in my drawings."

Jake Kunkel, 8, said he has learned the value of having everything in the right place.

"When you put the picture in the right place, it looks better," said Jake, a third-grader who sketched driftwood and flying geese. "I used colored pencils today to add detail, and this also makes the drawing look better."

Bryan Norris, 13, said he has always been passionate about art. He took the course to fine-tune his skills, he said.

"I've learned the importance of getting lighting right," said Bryan, an eighth-grader. "I know how to make sure light is on my side, or the sun is to my back when I take photos. I'm pretty sure that the camp is helping make my drawing and photography skills better."

Seeing a child understand and then become enthusiastic about art has increased Jergensen's passion and interest in art, which began when she was in high school, she said. She enjoyed ceramics and photography, she said, but the turning point occurred during college when she took a summer parks and recreation job in Pennsylvania.

"I loved my time working with the kids," she said. "Some of the children have gained so much confidence because of what they were able to create."

After graduating from Mercyhurst, she taught art in Baltimore County public schools for nine years. When her son, Matt, now 4, was born, she took a child-rearing leave. And when her two-year leave ended, she decided to stay home with her son.

However, when she and her son attended "mommy and me" classes, she noticed that there weren't any on art, she said. She missed working with children and art, and decided to create a home-based art school, she said.

She founded the Exploration Art School and held her inaugural parent-and-child photography and drawing classes last year.

Called "Let's Explore Art," the class is geared to parents with children ages 3 to 5. The class combines an introduction to artists, through visuals, vocabulary, books and the creation of a piece of art.

When the camps or classes are over, Jergensen hopes the children take away a love of art.

"I hope that they can make the connection between drawing and painting," she said. "And I want them to enjoy it so much that they continue to build on the skills I introduce them to in my programs."

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