Learning Tools, not just digitally

Someone gave me some Celtic-style stencils a while back, and I wanted to make some cool patterns on a leather biker jacket I’ve had for a long while. So I tried painting some Celtic patterns onto the jacket with white acrylic paint.

I can’t exactly call the experiment a success. The stencil moved during the process, and the brush slipped a few times. The result is a slightly messy stencil that doesn’t really look the way that I wanted it to.

What did I gain from this failure? Well, 1) I gained some experience in how acrylic behaves on leather. The answer is, it’s pretty stable, and works fairly well. 2) I learned that if I want the stencil not to move, and to be able to use both hands to keep the brush steady, I should tape the stencil in place. Another bit of useful experience. 3) Some designs on leather are best handled with a little bit of pre-planning. This stencil is on a section of jacket that isn’t going to show to random passers-by while I’m wearing it, but if I want to do something more elaborate… I’m going to have to go about it differently than with a pre-made stencil. The large back panel, for example, is going to require a slightly different plan than just a piece of cardboard with a cut design.

The whole point, though, is that this involved me taking a couple of real, if small, risks. I could have destroyed the jacket, or spilled the paint, or done something that was utterly horrible-looking. Instead, I took a small risk, and learned how some new tools worked, and gained some insight into how to work with new materials and surfaces.

I wonder sometimes if we do our students a disservice. After all, they start off with a box of 64 crayons, some pencils, pens, and other drawing tools in kindergarten. Gradually we introduce them to other tools like rulers and pens. And yet, by the time they get to high schools, we’ve pared them down to some college-ruled notebooks, some binders for their handouts, and some pens and pencils.

What does the new toolkit look like for analog student pencil cases? And what should be in their digital tool kit to complement that?

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