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VCE Studio Arts 2019: Area of Study 1 Exploration of studio practice and development of artworks

by Anne Fraser

Unit 2 Studio Exploration

Unit 2 - Design Exploration and Concepts

Unit 2.

Chapter 5.  Read the chapter.
Read the Study Design.
Read through the 2 outcomes and get
started on working through your theme

Outcome 2.

Studio Practice

Characteristics and properties of

materials and techniques


Reflection and annotation

Using wisely and safely.

Produce at least 1​ completed artwork
that is supported by development in
the visual diary.

Find information on how to use

assorted media and techniques.

Experiment with your photos -

filters in Photoshop, drawing on

and around them,

drawing from them, developing

into other media

eg. printmaking.


Preparation for 2019

1. Select an original, personally relevant, visually complex, readily-available subject or theme that can sustain your interest for a whole semester (see the accompanying guide: how to select a good Art theme);
  • *Brainstorm!
  • Write down all subjects, themes, places, things, activities or issues that are personally relevant and that matter to you (even random, unexpected things, such as a the art room sink, or heirloom knives and forks in your kitchen drawer). The purpose of any artwork is to communicate a message: to comment or scream or sing about the world in which we find ourselves in. If there is no emotion behind the work, there is no driving force – nothing to direct and shape your decision making. Write down the things that you care about; that move you.
  • Include topics that are unusual, challenging, controversial, gritty or inspiring: those that fill you with passion. Students who select substantial, heartfelt issues that they really believe in are more likely to achieve great results than those who choose aesthetically pleasing but superficial subjects. A tried and true subject can still be approached in an individual and innovative way, but choosing a topic that is novel and fresh has certain advantages. Strong, contentious issues are those which the assessors themselves have a reaction to; they provoke an emotive response. Such topics make the audience sit up and take notice: it gives them ample opportunity to see the merit within your work.
Evaluate your ideas
  • Think carefully about the topics that you have written down.
  • Eliminate those which are ‘cheesy’ (i.e involving pink hearts, glitter fairies and Brad Pitt),insincere (i.e. a theme of ‘World Peace’, when really this is something you couldn’t care less about) and overly “pretty” or lacking in substance (i.e. bunches of roses). This doesn’t mean that a traditionally ‘beautiful’ subject cannot be successful, (see the cupcake example by a student from Sir William Ramsay School – image sourced from Dan China), but think carefully before proceeding with such a topic.
  • Eliminate those subjects which you are unable to explore first-hand. In order to create artworks, you will need access to high quality imagery. For example, if you are exploring the way in which humans kill animals in order to consume their meat, access to the inside of a butchery or abattoir/freezing works is likely to be essential. Reliance on photographs taken by others is rarely a good idea. No matter how awesome a theme appears, if you are unable to explore any aspect of it firsthand, it is very unlikely that you will be able to do the topic justice. Remember that you will likely need to return to your source imagery several times during your high school course, so a submission based upon a particular plant that only blooms for a couple of weeks out of the year or a view of your village during a rare winter snow storm is very risky. The ideal subject is one that you can physically return to, whenever you need – to draw, photograph or experience first-hand.
  • Remove the topics for which the source material is excessively simple, i.e. containing only a  few forms, textures and patterns. A small pile of cardboard boxes, for example, might inspire a great drawing, but if this is the starting point for your work, the straight lines, rectangular forms and flat box surfaces are unlikely to provide enough visual variety to explore for months on end. Overly busy source material, on the other hand, is not an issue – it is much easier to simplify form and detail than it is to add back in.
  • Eliminate those topics for which the source material lacks aesthetic appeal. Do not mistake ‘aesthetic appeal’ for pretty. In fact, some of the ‘ugliest’ things can be stunningly rendered in an artwork or design. Art teachers (and artists in general) often speak of finding the beauty in the ordinary or mundane: seeing the magic in that which others have discarded or forgotten (see the electrical plug painting below by Amy Thellusson from Notting Hill and Ealing High School). This does not mean, however, that anything is suitable for your topic. Some scenes are genuinely unattractive and unsuitable visually. Certain object combinations (due to their particular shapes, colours or textures) are extremely difficult to compose in a pleasing way. Similarly, some items – particularly disproportionate drawings or designs by others – are very challenging for a high school student to replicate. A drawing, for example, of a doll that is proportioned unusually, may appear to be an inaccurate, badly proportioned drawing of an ordinary doll. In other words, the examiner may not realise that the doll is proportioned badly – they may think you simply cannot draw.
  • Eliminate topics which are common or over-done (unless you have an original way of approaching this topic). It doesn’t matter if some others have explored the same topic as you… With the millions of people in the world, it is highly unlikely that you will be the only one to explore a particular theme (in fact, this is beneficial, as you can learn from others…and no one will make art exactly like you), but, if EVERYONE is doing it – if it is a topic that the examiners have seen a hundred times before, you should think carefully about whether you have something sufficiently new and original to say about it.
  • Ensure that the topic you choose is something that you really care about and which can sustain your interest for a year. If you have more than one topic left on your list, pick the thing that you care about the most.

2. Complete 4-10 drawings of your chosen topic in your Visual Diary, using a range of black and white and coloured mediums such as graphite pencil, Indian ink, acrylic, coloured pencil, watercolours, oil. The level of realism achieved in these drawings will be dependent on your own drawing style and preferences. Mix and layer mediums as appropriate.  Include photographs if desired. The drawings may be semi-incomplete and can merge into each other. At this point, do not worry so much about what you are achieving in terms of composition. You are merely conducting visual research and exploring your topic and media and techniques.
3. Fill gaps around the drawings with notes discussing your theme / issue / message…why this is personally relevant to you; what appeals to you visually about the subject; how the subject matter might be composed in order to support or convey your ideas. Look carefully at what you have drawn and make notes about how the visual elements (line, tone, texture, space, colour etc) interact… For example, are there strong contrasts between highly detailed areas and sparse areas? Are the negative spaces as interesting as the objects themselves? Are there repetitions of certain shapes and colours? Are you exploring frames within frames? …In essence, establish what you are dealing with visually.
4. Select an artist model whose work relates to your subject matter and inspires you. Research this artist. Complete several pages in your visual diary, including composition studies, imitations and similar versions of their artwork, using a range of mediums.  Fill spaces around the illustrations with notes explaining/discussing their technique/s (mark-making methods); use of media / materials; style; composition (i.e. the relationship between the visual elements: line, shape, colour, tone, texture and space. Discuss how these elements form ‘visual devices’ that ‘draw attention’, ‘emphasise’, ‘balance’, ‘link’ or ‘direct the viewer through the artwork’ and so on). Write notes about the ideas, moods and subjects explored within the drawings and how all of the above relates to your topic or theme. Your comments should show evidence that you have researched your artist (using proper terminology) and should also contain your own thoughts and responses. Under no circumstances should it appear as if you are just regurgitating information from a textbook. Learn from this artist and establish how this artist is relevant / useful for your own project.  Ensure that you reference where your images came from.
5. Complete 10 – 15 artworks that show a smooth transition from your original artworks to images that are influenced by the artist(s) in your research..
Do not leap in and copy everything the artist does. It may be, for example, that you simply copy the way a particular artist uses foreground, mid-ground and background, or the way in which they apply paint onto a scratched, irregular surface. The purpose of this exercise is to learn particular techniques or compositional strategies – not to copy their work in its entirety. The result should be a series of artworks which show gradual changes and exploration. After each one you should have a discussion with your teacher about what you can do next to help convey your ideas more successfully.
6. When you have learned all that you need to from the first artist, select another artist and repeat the process. Once you have learned from this artist, repeat again. The intention is that by the time you get to your final piece, your work is a beautiful combination of your own ideas and the influence of several others. Your work should look absolutely original – a beautiful mixture of wisdom gained from a multitude of sources. It can be good practice to choose a range of artist models – ie. national / international, contemporary / historical etc…but this is not always necessary. The best outcomes occur when students choose artists whose work really moves them.

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