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Graphic self-portraits.

Computers are being used more and more in public school education. As visual thinkers, art teachers can appreciate the appeal of the brightly colored, animated graphic images used in computer programs. Although some art teachers are intimidated by the computer's potential to become a tool for drawing and picture making, the computer can be used in art programs to create abstract designs as well as to construct preliminary designs for use with traditional media, such as painting or silk-screen projects. These traditional media are not at risk of replacement by the computer; the artist will continue to be free to choose the media most appropriate to his or her concept. It is possible to use an image created on the computer as a motivator or inspiration for creating other forms of art.

I recently worked at a computer camp which focused on the development of new programs. Computer art instruction was offered as an enhancement to the program - an opportunity to activate the right side of the brain. I became fascinated by the format of the visual images created on the computer screen. At the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, I saw a self-portrait by American artist Chuck Close. This portrait is a realistic image created by compiling hundreds of tiny squares of color in varying values of black to white. At a distance, the picture solidifies; viewed more closely, small squares of different values are evident.

In the computer camp, Mr. Close's concept was translated into self-portraits by may students. We worked with one-inch squares of construction paper in varying tones of blue - six different values plus black and white. (This is a great project for using old and faded sheets of construction paper.) The designs were easily manipulated using squares. The pieces were not secured until the artist was completely satisfied with the placement. The completed portraits could be translated into the computer by a programmers seeking challenging practice.

The students began with sketches of their faces, concentrating on achieving correct proportions and the unique qualities of their faces. Each student drew a small sketch before working on the large-scale portrait. Individual adornments such as hair styles, eyeglasses and favorite jewelry were added to further identify the subject. The next step involved marking off a grid on one-inch squares on an 18" x 24" (46 cm x 61 cm) piece of paper. The large format was necessary to allow enough space to create discernable features. Our portraits were much smaller than Mr. Close's in keeping with the level of investment and patience of the young artists (ranging from nine to twelve years of age).

The portrait sketch is transferred to the larger grid, using the measured lines to divide the face and maintain proper proportion. The artist may then begin to place the colored squares onto the grid, beginning with the areas of darkest value outlining the face. A large mirror and a strong light source will help to demonstrate these areas clearly. The additional squares of color are added in progressively lighter shades, overlapping when smaller areas of color are most effective. The lightest tones (including white) are used to highlight the face and hair, and to add a glimmer of light to the eyeballs, rims of eyeglasses and jewelry. Pieces also may be cut in half and used to help define these details.

The students enjoyed the abstract quality of their work - there was less fear of failure to create a realistic likeness. Students also enjoyed watching their portraits emerge on the grid as they added detail. Some of the students took these portraits into the computer lab for programming, others worked with the computer on portraits of their favorite heroes. All of the students had the opportunity to explore the visual framework inspired by the computer's limitations and to perceive the world (and themselves) in a slightly different way.

Sandra Herbert Alger is the Art Teacher at St. John's Lane Elementary School, Howard County, Maryland.
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Title Annotation:computerized images
Author:Alger, Sandra Herbert
Publication:School Arts
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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