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The making of a billboard.

The making of a billboard

WHEN FIVE BILLBOARDS PROMOTING Pittsburgh's Carnegie Institute were installed around the city, twenty-one eighth-grade students from the Museum of Art's Saturday Creative Art Classes had reason to be proud: they designed them. Through an innovative nine-week class project led by instructor Norman Brown, the young artists were able to make a colorful and lively statement about how much they enjoy spending time at Carnegie Institute's two museums--the Museum of Art and Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

The Saturday Creative Art Classes were open to all interested fifth through ninth grade students. Classes concentrated on developing students' skills in drawing, painting, printmaking and sculpture. Students learned to look at art in the museum galleries, study techniques and materials in the studio, and then translated their ideas into their own artworks. Classes were taught by professional artists who encouraged students to find new ways of expressing their feelings, thoughts and creative energies.

The program staff was always looking for imaginative projects through which students can learn about the elements of art and principles of design. After reading a news release from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that described their course on "Supergraphics: Making a Billboard," it occurred to me that designing a billboard was an exciting and unusual way to satisfy our curriculum criteria.

I mentioned my idea to Carnegie Institute's Communications Coordinator, Janet Schwab, who thought that a local outdoor advertising firm might be interested in donating the printing cost and billboard space for the project. She was right. We approached them with a proposal to fund one completely executed, finished board. The firm reviewed our the library, counselors office, band room, faculty lounge, custodial room and other rooms quite forgotten.

Just where do the ideas come from? As varied and unique, simple and complex as the individuals involved in their creation and execution, each mural proceeds through a series of steps before the actual painting begins. Choosing an idea is the most difficult task. Some of the more talented artists in the class draw their own sketches while others rely on newspapers, magazines, art texts, pamphlets, yearbooks or any other resources available to them. The idea must then be presented in its simplest form by means of a black-and-white rendering. For the majority of students this is a lesson in and of itself.

Painting each mural usually takes several weeks, depending on size, location and detail of the subject matter. Water-based latex paint works well. For some, the painting can be quite frustrating and discouraging. But, for most, the project is a rewarding experience. Opinions and comments are freely expressed and vandalism in the school has become almost non-existent as students become protective of something they have created.

There has been a total commitment in cooperation from the administration, faculty and custodial staff, the students and the community. Now students at the elementary schools want to know if there will be any wall space left when they reach high school. I started to count up our murals the other day and decided that after 508 the attempt was futile...what an exciting project to watch grow, along with the class of '92. proposal and agreed to pay for five billboards that would be located around the city. Shortly thereafter, the eighth graders went to work.

Initially, the students worked in the museum's permanent collection galleries in front of the painting The Thousand and One Nights by Henri Matisse, which served as inspiration for the project. Using colored paper, scissors and glue sticks, the students gave new shapes to Matisse's work--in effect, drawing with scissors to create their own unique composition. The students incorporated objects from Carnegie Institute's collections into the design, including dinosaur bones, the Henry Moore sculpture Reclining Figure, an Ionic column, an African mask and more, to convey the billboard theme, "We spend Weekends at the Museum."

Originally, the design seemed like a hodgepodge of ideas scattered all over the floor. "When we began working on the project," explained student Kristine Wright, "I didn't know how all of us could fit our ideas into one composition because each of us had our own ideas of how the piece should look. But buy taking one idea from each person in the class and combining them, we had enough ideas for a billboard." Other students agreed that, at first, it was confusing to have everyone working together, but by cooperating, the class accomplished more. "I liked doing the billboard because everyone got a fair chance to pitch in, and we all learned how much hard work it is," added michael Jasper.

Once the activities in the galleries were complete, the class returned to the studio to begin painting their design full-scale (9' x 20'; 2.7 m x 6.1 m) --a unique problem that none of the students had previously faced as they were usually limited to working on 18" x 24" (46 cm x 61 cm) paper. It is easy to forget that artists must develop new sets of guidelines when working on a large scale. These young artists found out how difficult it can be and mastered the challenge beautifully.

When the students finished painting the huge "canvas," it was delivered to the advertising firm where their production staff took charge. Before the billboard could be printed, the design was reduced in proportionate scale to the final product, 1/2" to the foot. Then the work was optically enlarged to full size and printed by an offset printing press in eight individual sheets that made up the whole pattern. As a special treat, the advertising firm invited the students who designed the billboard and the museum staff to see the actual paste-up process at one of the five billboard sites. Everyone watched as the eight-sheet set was matched and lined up like wallpaper to make up the completed piece. What excitement we felt when the billboard was finally mounted!

The benefits of the project were numerous. First, it was an educational experience that enriched each student's understanding of outdoor advertising, a powerful and unusual medium. Second, class members learned cooperation, respect for one another's ideas and pride in their accomplishments. Third, students had the thrill of seeing their ideas taken seriously by adults; in fact, the museum staff liked the design so much that a 26" x 50" (66 cm x 127 cm) silk-screened poster was printed and made available for sale in the Museum of Art gift shop. Finally, the Saturday Creative Art Classes and Carnegie Institute gained publicity from the billboards; we hope that people in the community saw the billboards and were motivated to visit the museums.

PHOTO : The finished billboard design.

PHOTO : Eight grade students painting their billboard design with the help of instructor Norman Brown.
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Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:designed by Pittsburgh eighth graders
Author:Weissman, Hallie
Publication:School Arts
Date:Apr 1, 1989
Words:1130
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