I haven’t posted in a while, I have been suffering from adjunct burnout. But I am glad to be back and feeling re-invigorated.

I have a great 3D design class this semester and a few weeks ago we had a wonderful opportunity to work with a visiting artist, Mark Gagnon. The chance to work with Mark arose as part of a fabulous and colourful exhibit, The Warhol Effect, at the Weeks Gallery on the campus where I work.

To prepare for his classroom visit we viewed part of the excellent documentary series made by Grayson Perry and Channel 4, All In The Best Possible Taste, as a precursor to a discussion about the identifiers of the students “tribe”. Because Warhol’s work addresses issues of pop culture the students opted to choose icons of contemporary pop culture to use in the project.

I don’t want to give away all of Mark’s secrets, but the process uses cheap, easy to access materials and the students really enjoyed the project. Today was our critique, not all of the projects pictured are completely finished, but I hope you will agree that the students have captured something of the spirit of the time.

pop culture images from my 3D design class

pop culture images from my 3D design class

Yesterday I got to see a former student and celebrate with her. She has work in this year’s Southern Tier Biennial. Seeing her drive and energy is the reward for all those hours spent developing lessons, and in the classroom. Way to go Reese. I am sure this is the first of many such moments in your art career.


I often find that my freshmen are afraid of doing it wrong – when you find yourself at college really chasing your dream every mark seems fraught and laden and dangerous. I spend some time at the beginning of the year trying to encourage them to loosen up and let go – and remember how to play. In 2D design last week we did some very large scale experimental drawings using all the materials we could round up. First each student made a large drawing individually, pushing the materials, and then we tried to amalgamate the whole group of drawings as a single piece by reworking areas. It ended up being so enormous we couldn’t even hang it up!! As a complete work it was not entirely successful, but parts of the drawing were really quite beautiful, and even if it didn’t encourage my students to play, it reminded me how much I enjoy drawing and I have been making crazy big experimental messes and loving it!

The students produced some really strong work for the final critique. I think I should assign this earlier in the semester next year. If I get to teach any studios at all. Here’s the pictures!


a paper “wave” I made from old rejection letters as an example

My 3D design class has been grappling all semester with materials, I have tried to change how I mark this class to encourage more play and experimentation, and I have to say that it seems to have worked. I see my students in the studio outside of class, and they are happily making a mess and learning. Of course this gets pretty expensive, so I have inserted a unit on using everyday materials. The inspirational lecture featured some of my favourite artists, using nothing but cups, string, paper, thread, office supplies, and I am excited to see how their fully developed projects pan out next week. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek at some of their ideas so far


I was asked to put together a short lecture on Women Artists through history. I thought some of you who couldn’t make it might enjoy being able to at least see the slides. I will try to put together a version with audio at a later date perhaps. Anyway – click the link below.

Women Artists through History-web

I think I have mentioned before that 2D design is NOT my favorite course to teach, but I think I am finally beginning to find ways to make the material match my style and to introduce new media and materials along with the principles which keeps the students engaged with the class. These printmaking additions were the unanimous favorite of my students this term. For a couple of years I have been sneaking in some printmaking – our school has a press, but no printmaking classes – first using the line unit – and making simple Plexiglas plate etchings. The students really love learning a new process and it makes the idea of making an image with only lines come alive for them. Here’s a few examples from this term’s group…

But the absolute hands down winner was suicide lino printing (reduction prints). Once they had wrapped their heads around the process, they dived in and experimented on different papers and substrates, and with all kinds of colour palettes (which was actually the point of the whole exercise – to experiment with colour). They produced some pretty amazing prints for students who had never even tried the process before. I was really thrilled at the critique to see how much risk they were willing to take! It is hard to take a risk when there’s a grade involved! So here’s a sample of that work too…

Here’s a kind of recap of the presentation today!

“Meditating on the Filled Page”

As I started to put together this workshop it occurred to me that this title was indicative of the lives of most creative practioners, and teachers. I imagine that like me, all of you struggled to make a space in your calendar for this opportunity to replenish your own spirit – to refill the well.

It seems on paper as if my life is quite empty, I have an empty nest – the last of my children just left for college – I only work outside the studio 4 days a week, so that leaves all this “empty” time for my own art practice and studio work. The reality of course is that one of my “real jobs” – teaching, encroaches into that free time. I am always reading, marking exams and projects, devising new strategies to approach familiar material, working to be a better teacher so my students get the best possible experience from me. I still have family and community commitments. I have my own work, given only to me by the universe; “my secret jealous lover (my work) is always there waiting for me… he whispers in my ear that there is not much time left for what I am meant to do” Niki de Saint Phalle.  My pages are FULL.

Not only do I battle time, I also battle procrastination – What Steven Pressfield in his book “The War of Art” calls “capital R” Resistance. The exercise I am going to share with you today was inspired by the work of an artist called Will Ashford who “rescues, salvages and transforms” other people’s words. For me the page mediations have become a tool to trick my inner censor – I am not really doing any work, not being creative, just hanging out with this old page from a book. For me this works. I can switch gears and as I am “colouring” my pages the work of the day begins to unfold and I know where to turn next in the studio. This is work as play. You can’t do it “wrong” as there is no predetermined result. Any age level can do it – any person (self-defined creative or not) can do it – although I’d recommend experimenting with different sized/spaced text depending on the manual dexterity of the artist.

As time passes I often see preoccupations surface in this visual landscapes – words that some straight from “the soup” and into the studio. As an artist I am drawn to making highly detailed, labor intensive, large scale work that uses repetitive process, so this form of meditation fits my way of working well. And I find by the time I have finished the work fro the day is restless and ready to be manifested in the world – I know what I will be working on in the studio!

* the other person both Mark and I mentioned was Seth Godin. The other book I mentioned was this.

I want to thank all of you for diving in and playing with me today – I really left feeling energized and refreshed – kudos to all!!

If you’d like we to teach this workshop for you contact me at debraeck at debraeck dot com.

Yes! Finally the closing weeks of Spring term and it is Andy Goldsworthy time! Today was a balmy 80 and the sun was shining, so my sculpture class headed out into the wild for the morning. After some initial sketching and pondering here’s what they came up with so far

I am so excited! One of my art history students submitted her research on craft activism for Scholar’s Day at our college. ( I wrote more about hyperbolic crochet here) Tomorrow she will be presenting her research to the entire academic community. In addition to her required work she also created this amazing hyperbolic crochet reef. It will be cool to see everyone’s reaction to this intersection of maths and art! All of my visual survey students have worked hard on their research projects this semester which makes me SO happy. Maybe this semester I managed to create a few scholars, I feel as if I made a little bit of difference. My heartfelt thanks to the Institute for Figuring for inspiring her!