John Humphries, an artist and art instructor from Miami University spent an hour with 7th and 8th grade Indian Hill Latin students on Tuesday (October 4th). Cate Yellig, art director with the Phyllis Weston Gallery was instrumental in helping forge a connection between Indian Hill and Mr. Humphries, whose work is displayed at the gallery.
With a background in architecture and a love of the classics, especially mythology, Mr. Humphries combines the ideas of classical architecture and a reflective process of using pencil and watercolor to create unexpectedly polished perspectives.
With the students, Mr. Humphries began by passing around his own work, encouraging them to handle it, give comments, reflect and have conversations with him about how a piece began and evolved. Though a bit timid at first, the students soon were inspired by the creative motivation to just jump in and begin exploring the new art. Since he recently returned from a summer in Italy, many of his works evoke the landscape and color of the countryside, and he brought pieces of clay from Sienna and umber from Umbria for the students to use themselves.
With a demonstration of how pencil can act as a control for the sometimes unpredictable medium of watercolor, Mr. Humphries showed the students how the freedom of beginning a work with simple lines can evoke a picture in the mind and begin to emerge through trial and error on the paper. As he showed students the gentle gradations of color, he described the myth of Pelops, incorporating the idea of merging the technical with organic matter.
The students eagerly gathered the supplies and sat down to begin with just a few lines and a single color on their watercolor paper. Each line began or finalized an idea and the students fell into their work vigorously. Some students carefully waited for sections to dry so that they could darken them with more layers of pigment, others created beads of color and dragged them to get different effects. Soon, they began trading colors, one at a time, to adjacent students and the combinations added depth and dimension to their work. As he moved about the room offering suggestions, Mr. Humphries elicited questions about how a student was going to proceed, what had worked, how they had worked around lines and brushes that didn’t quite meet their expectation. Finally, the students used a long accordion-folded watercolor paper to create a collaborative work in which they each contributed, then added, extended and responded to the work of other students.
As they were cleaning up their areas, the students paused to give a round of applause and say thank you to John Humphries for showing them an artful approach to collaborative problem solving in the 21st century that has its roots in the creative mythology of the ancient Romans and Greeks.