Teaching Philosophy

Jacob Romeo Lecuyer: Teaching philosophy

In my early 20’s while living in San Francisco I began training with a master painter named Vranas. In a thick Greek accent, Vranas used to tell me emphatically “Art is not technical Jacob, IT IS PHYSICAL!” His statement was hyperbole of course because making art is both a physical and technical exercise. The meaning of his statement, however, that art while being partly technical is primarily physical, has been foundational in my teaching philosophy. I’ve come to the obvious, but important realization that the person who is most likely to develop into a professional within the field of illustration and the entertainment arts is the individual who doesn't just observe, read about, and engage in conversation about art, but is the one who is inspired to relentlessly produce it.

Though I spend a great deal of time in the classroom lecturing about art theory and technique, I believe my most impacting role is that of a coach. All the art theory I can cram into a students head doesn’t mean much if they are not physically producing a tremendous amount of art. I am a coach, and since I care for the players on my team I must motivate them to train hard and effectively. Practically that means motivating them towards daily drawing and painting. I believe that any student whom I don’t coach into developing this practice will be very unlikely to “play in the majors”. But there still remains the question of how to train. My secondary role as a teacher addresses this question.

I am a Coach but I am also an academic conveying technical and theoretical information to my pupils. Because I get to see an individual student for relatively little of their total academic life, my teaching career has been a quest to boil down the most relevant information into the purest concentrated forms. I want every hour that a student and I spend together in the classroom to be as effective as I can make it. To this end, I teach four elemental principles to students training to enter the entertainment industry: structure and gesture, contrast and dominance/hierarchy.  A student training under me comes to understand structure: draftsmanship, anatomy, and surface rendering. To balance the inherent coldness and formality of this structure I place great emphasis on gesture and rhythm. These two fundamental elements sit like weights at the opposite end of a pendulum. In conjunction with structure and gesture, my students are trained to understand the design principles of contrast and hierarchy. My pupils are instructed to observe and take design inspiration primarily from the natural world. “What,” I ask “do we observe there over and over again!? Contrast and hierarchy: contrasts in shape, color, line, value and the way in which these elements are composed together. In the branches of a tree, the stripes on a tiger, segmented forms of an insect there is always Hierarchy: Big, medium, small; high-key, mid-key, low-key; warm, cool, neutral, etcetera, etcetera." I train students to take their structurally stable, and rhythmically sound visual development work and integrate it into the pattern of design matrices we observe in the universe, which surrounds us. This results in timelessly good design. Good design happens when a student learns to incorporate contrasts in value, composition, color, shape, and line and has set those contrasts constrained within a clear design hierarchy. I demonstrate the principles of contrast, dominance and the hierarchy of good design through methodical demos, by teaching them how to observe these patterns in nature and through the artifacts left to us by great narrative painters, animators and visual development artists like Sargent, Rembrandt, Wyeth, Eyvind Earle, and Milt Kahl.
Students training to enter the world of the entertainment industry must achieve technical mastery of color, line, value, shape and composition, but that mastery cannot be solely intellectual. It must be learned through muscle memory, through thousands of hours of drawing and painting. I am an academic instructor who must convey technical information to my students. I am also a coach offering strong, but kind words of encouragement to keep going when their physical discipline of daily drawing and painting fails. A professional in the entertainment arts is a master of technique but is first and foremost a master of the physical disciplines of daily drawing and painting.