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‘Oh, I can do this!’

Art teacher works to inspire confidence, creativity in students

Lowell — In construction, the saying goes, “Measure twice, cut once.”

In art teacher Theresa Wooley’s classroom at Lowell Middle School, it’s “Draw light ‘til you get it right.” 

In both situations, the idea is to take it slow, concentrate, and be sure of your next steps before altering your creation in an irreversible way. For Wooley, it’s also about giving students confidence in their ability to create — confidence that they can get it right. 

“When they get a little more familiar with how to create (artistic) effects, they get more confidence, so that propels them into the next things,” she said of her students. “By the end of the trimester, even if you’re not quite sure how you got into art class, you’re pretty good, with all the little techniques you catch along the way.”

‘I’m kind of like a mediator here; I’m just here to facilitate the whole situation. I don’t ever say, ‘You should change that’ – I just kind of wait for them to discover and ask questions.’

–  art teacher Theresa Wooley

Wooley begins each trimester by introducing her new art students to color — how to use it, how to blend it, how colors work together. They start with an abstract design assignment to get familiar with how to use colored pencils for blending, highlights and other effects. Next is two-point perspective, and then three-dimensional drawing, before they move on to sketching actual objects in the classroom.

For a recent assignment, Wooley had her seventh-graders create an “optical illusion” color wheel, drawing a 12-section color wheel using 3-D techniques to make the wheel appear to disappear down into the page. 

“You push harder (with the colored pencil) on the edges and the middle (of the circle) to give it that dimension,” she instructed, showing examples at the front of class as students began to select their colors and sketch on practice paper. “At the end, you want it to kind of look like fabric — that’s the optical illusion part. This could be your best piece of art yet.”

As he sketched some color wheel concepts on practice paper, Cody Bromley said the hardest part of coming up with a good design was “making sure your lines don’t look like spider webs.” But he was pleased with the creation he eventually came up with. 

“Mine’s going to be like a hole in the ground because I just wanted to do something different,” Cody said. “I figured it would look better to some people, at least. I like that (color wheels have) a changing pattern and you can put your unique take on it.”

Table-mate Amalia Burton started with the colors red and black, taking a more abstract approach to her color wheel creation. 

“I kinda just did a line to see where it went from there, and I’m happy with how it’s turning out,” Amalia said. “I’m figuring out that it doesn’t necessarily have to be, like, perfect. (The color blending) doesn’t have to be super-clean, but not, like, crazy, either.”

Evelyn Uzarski sketches a color wheel on practice paper before starting her final draft

Looking for the Spark 

Wooley keeps all of her art lessons on Pinterest, which her students can access through Google Classroom. She provides links to videos, articles about related artists, examples of former students’ work and links to the colored pencils and other equipment they use in class. It’s all to give students as many resources as possible to pique their interest and let them discover some creativity on their own. 

“I’m kind of like a mediator here; I’m just here to facilitate the whole situation,” Wooley said of her art teaching philosophy. “I don’t ever say, ‘You should change that’ – I just kind of wait for them to discover and ask questions. 

“I love to see that I’ve kind of sparked something in them. They doubt themselves, but when I show them step by step, you can do this, then they start to trust me, trust the process.”

Wooley turned to her students, all of them concentrating hard on their color wheels, and turned her “teacher voice” back on.

“Can I see the hands of the people who are happier with their results than they thought they’d be already?” she asked.

Nearly every hand popped up.

“That’s it right there,” Wooley told them. “That’s why I’m here! So you can say to yourself, ‘Oh, I can do this!’”

Teacher Theresa Wooley holds up an example of a color wheel drawing, created by a former student
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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is a reporter (covering Cedar Springs, Grandville, Lowell and Rockford), editor, copy editor and social media manager. She is an award-winning journalist who got her start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate, she later returned to Calvin to help manage its national writing festival. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press, Fox 17 and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio

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