Michael Kerr, an art teacher at Seaford High School for 13 years, was recently published in SchoolArts Magazine, a national publication which features the work of educators in visual arts. His article “Face Your Fears” was selected to be put in the magazine in 2016.
“It was pretty awesome,” said Kerr. “I checked the website and I saw the digital edition was posted. I checked monthly in case they forgot to tell me it was running. Sure as heck, it was in there. I had to reload the website like ‘no, this can’t be right,’ but I was excited.”
The article was based around a lesson in Kerr’s Comic And Cartoon Illustration class that he started five years ago. Among the lesson plans he had in mind for the class was to do an exaggerated self-portrait project, which brought caricatures to mind. But in planning his project, Kerr discovered some hesitation from his students.
“I had an encounter with a student in the second year of running the class where I was introducing the project and I overheard her saying how insecure she was,” said Kerr. “She was blatantly saying ‘I’m so ugly. I don’t want to do this. This is ridiculous.’ It struck a nerve with me and a light bulb went off in my head. I started thinking this was a much bigger concept than I even imagined.”
Kerr decided to make the project about students exaggerating what they see as their flaws while drawing these caricatures. The goal was not only to introduce students to this method of drawing, but to help some of them go from feeling ashamed about their insecurities to embracing them. The easiest way to do introduce this concept was to have them use his face as an example.
“I would project a photo of my face [on the board] and let the students totally rip me apart,” said Kerr. “I felt like I had no other choice. I’d ask what did they notice about my face and they began picking on my big ears and telling me my eyebrows are really big and full. So I was like ‘ok, guys, take it easy.’ But it was cool because it allowed the curtain to drop and put students at ease with doing the project.”
While there has been a hesitation from time to time, Kerr’s students end up going along with the project as the students pair up and, respectfully, examine their partner’s facial features.
“Once we talk about the importance of the self portrait and what that means, I think they begin to get the point of why an artist would want to look inward about their own characteristics,” said Kerr. “At the teenage level, to be able to acknowledge that some people have insecurities and to be supportive of them. It’s important not to take yourself too seriously and be ok with who you are.”
The project starts out with everyone in the class taking a selfie, which used to be done on Photobooth on a Mac, but, due to technological changes at the school, the students would take a selfie on their own time and send it to Kerr. They would then use Photoshop to alter the way they look in order to have a reference for their charcoal and pastel drawings.
“By the time the article was actually published, the students featured in the article have since graduated,” said Kerr. “One is right now working in animation and the other is actually studying to become an art teacher which is pretty cool.”
It was after a few years of doing this project that Kerr decided to write the article for SchoolArts. The magazine has been a part of Kerr’s education in the past, as many art professors of his handed out issues in class.
“I always saw it and thought that it was so cool that art teachers and other artists are sharing ideas in this magazine,” said Kerr. “It became a bucket list-type thing where I was hoping to get into the magazine one day and I would feel like my career would be legitimate. I would wear it like a badge of honor.”
Kerr submitted the article to the monthly magazine almost three years ago. In 2016, they approved it for publication. However, months went by and he began getting nervous that his piece was not going to be published. He was “persistent” in communicating with the editor in order to make sure they kept their promise. Finally, in the October 2018 issue, the article was published in the magazine, which was ironically called “Persistence.”
“I never thought it would happen after all those years,” said Kerr. “To see it in a tangible copy, it’s crazy. I’ve never published anything in terms of writing before. It was really neat to see it.”
To read Kerr’s article, visit www.schoolartsdigital.com.