Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A New Intersection

A couple of weeks ago, I started a new blog, exploring what's next in my life post 50, post lay-off, post two decades of a career helping nonprofits be more effective.

This last weekend, that exploration brought me to the intersection of two long-held interests of mine-- visual arts (specifically drawing and painting) and online communications-- two paths in my life that I always believed would remain separate and distinct-- as far away from each other as conceivably possible.

My passion for drawing and painting has recently been re-ignited through a return to art classes while I'm figuring out what direction my career will now take.

One of those art classes took place online this last weekend. A total of 12 hours (more really) over two days, offered by David R. Darrow, professional artist and instructor. I've been watching him paint through his free online broadcast, Dave the Painting Guy-- itself an interesting intersection of online communications and art and instruction.

The guy loves to paint. And he loves to do so in the "company" of viewers with whom -- through an online chat side-by-side with streaming video of him painting in his studio-- he provides downright excellent suggestions for painting in oils, going between detailed explanations of what he's doing and why and then periods of silence while we watch him focus on the details of a hand, a mouth, an ear, a beard. He's also a ham, opinionated and sometimes picks up the guitar and plays music during the breaks.

This last weekend, using the same technology in a password protected space for paying customers, he offered his first online course. A group of 16 of us, logging in from as far away as Belgium, worked from the same photograph along with him. From his southern California art studio, he uses a free streaming-video service that enables him not only to provide a live streaming broadcast in acceptable quality (I wish the resolution was better for my large monitor), but to record these broadcasts for later viewing.

While David spoke to us through streaming audio and video, we could "speak" back to him (and to each other) through the chat window. This setup allowed each of us to work in the comfort of our own home (eliminating travel time and costs), undistracted by the person painting immediately to the left or right of us as would be the case in a physical classroom.

Periodically, each of us would take a digital photograph of our painting's progress, email it to him, and he would conduct an online critique so that we could see each other's work and learn from the suggestions he had for us. (This part was optional but only 2 of the 16 students deferred from sharing their work-in-progress.)

My primary reason for taking this course was to benefit from David's instruction and to dedicate twelve solid hours to painting. Except for the fact that I was missing some of the region's most BEAUTIFUL weather outside, I thoroughly enjoyed this method for participating in a course.

This surprised me. I've long believed (and still do to some extent) that online instruction is a very poor substitute for "the real thing." So I was just as curious about the process of providing instruction in this way as I was about what painting outcome I would achieve.

While the process was not without its glitches-- this was, after all, the first time he'd provided such a course-- these glitches are fixable and avoidable in the future. What I learned is that a high quality instructor, comfortable with the technology (or who has access to someone who is), and a group of motivated students CAN benefit from this method of delivering instruction.

Oh and my painting outcome? A not-quite-finished portrait of someone who bears a strong resemblance to Rasputin:

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