Friday, June 3, 2011

Four Stages of Learning

As a teacher and painter for more than thirty-five years, I have come to know many things.  The process of learning any and everything holds great interest to me.  More than ever before, I have focused on the learning process for myself and others in the area of painting.  Because of my experience as teacher and painter, my adult students have said that they have learned more about how to paint from me than any other teacher they have had.

Now mind you, I'm aware that there are many people who are good painters, are masters of their craft BUT can't get it across to others.  Having taught children and adults from the elementary to the college level my entire adult life, I can say that teaching is one of the most difficult things to do well.  Just the other day, I was in the studio with one of my adult ladies working on painting light shapes and shadow shapes.  We were both failing miserably using just a limited amount of colors on the palette.  After she left, I felt like I had failed (sorry, good teachers have a tendency to internalize the failure of their students taking it personally).  As they say, back to the drawing board.  What exercise could I give her to help her see what I was talking about?  What step(s) did I not give her? Was it not enough practice in the early stages, or something else?  All questions a good teacher asks when a student doesn't "get it."  Remember those days in school when you said, " I just don't get it."

Remembering some of the basics I had practiced as a student using plaster casts, I went to the local hardware store and bought a couple of wooden finials that go on top of fence posts.  After a little sanding, I painted them with a coat of white paint.  One finial had an egg shaped top (the halftones were a slow wide turn before going into shadow.  The other was an obelisk that tapered toward the top but the sides were somewhat of a right angle (no halftones with light shape touching the dark shape).  For her next class session, we set up both shapes and painted them in tones of gray.  This exercise did the trick; she got it!  She now understands the concepts, but may not be able to fully operationalize the concepts learned; that will take more practice.

The last statement reminded me of something I learned years ago in an education course and has served me well over the years.  I would like to pass it on to you.  There are four stages of learning:
  • Unconsciously unaware
    You're unaware that there is a skill to be learned, and that you don't have mastery of it.
  • Consciously unaware
    You're aware that there is a skill to be learned, and that you currently don't have mastery of it. You know just how bad you are and have some idea of how far you've got to go.
  • Consciously aware
    Through practice, you've become competent at the skill, but you have to think about it to make it happen.
  • Unconsciously aware
    You've practiced so much that your competence has become unconscious, you can do it automatically without having to think about it. You've completely internalized said skill.

    With so many skills needed in painting for mastery (if there every is a time you have really gained mastery), you can be in more than one stage during the painting process.  That's why I love the indirect method of painting because you break down, or separate the major steps, to lessen the challenges they present.

    Those steps look something like this:
    1.  Draw the image out first on paper.
    2.  Paint quick color poster studies, as well as, a couple of notan value studies
    3.  Transfer complete drawing to the canvas
    4.  With tones of gray, block in light shapes and shadow shapes
    5.  Complete your grasaille with halftones--keep the values to a minimum of 3 or 4.
    6.  Add color with thin transparent glazes.
    7.  Adjust colors and continue with more opaque colors on top.

    Painters like Richard Schmid are masters and for a good reason.  They go right to color and can see everything together-value, hue, and intensity .  Mr. Schmid truly exemplifies a person who is "unconsciously aware."  Here is an example of his work.                      



  1. Really good post, Deborah. Impressed that you find time to teach and paint. Both are so time consuming. I appreciated your comment on the teacher feeling a personal failure when a student doesn't get it. It follows that good students must make their teachers feel like they, in turn, are good teachers. Insightful. My husband is a teacher, too. All teachers deserve good students :o)

  2. I appreciate your comments about teachers and teaching. I haven't blogged much about my personal classes I give every week. Yes, they do take up a lot of time both with the students and the thinking/preparation time. Because my students come in at all levels, I have a pre-conference meeting with each person. They bring in samples of what they have done and during this time, I ask them what their immediate goals are. If you would come in on any given day to observe, you would see everyone working at their own individual level. I've only had one "bad" student and I told her it looked like we weren't a good fit. She got the message. I could write a whole different blog just on stories about teaching but I would be afraid someone would recognize themselves. Thanks again. Deb


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