Faculty Focus
Suzanne Mortimer

Suzanne Mortimer

Middle School Art teacher reflects on guiding boys through visual arts at McCallie since 2009.

Working with middle school boys is never dull. The students in middle school are enthusiastic and fun to be around. In middle school, students are open to more things.

The process of making art is a lot of trial and error. There are foundational skills to learn. You learn by watching, experimenting, and practicing. If you practice, you are going to get better. Because I teach boys, I am keen to tap into their interests. They love to use tools of all kinds, particularly those they have not used before.

I believe it is essential as a teacher of the visual arts to make my own art. The best teachers I had when I was in school were the teachers who were making their own art. You learn so much through the process of creating. As I learn and discover new things, I can pass insights on to my students. It is also important for me to model problem-solving and curiosity for my students.

As I make art and make connections to what I see in the world, I like to change up my curriculum with these new ideas. I have some anchoring projects that teach foundational skills and concepts like shading techniques, how to make things appear three dimensional, and color mixing. I try to anticipate what my students  are likely to come across when they take art in their later years and build on these elements. I also tie my projects to an artist and give the students some art history as we go.

The most important thing my students can take from art is creative thinking which is used everywhere – in problem-solving, science, math, in general life. We are confronted with situations and dilemmas where we have to come up with solutions. We can each think and solve the problem in a different way; we share and learn from each other’s approaches. I am not sure the middle school student sees this right away at his stage in life. But, by pushing himself to come up with creative solutions, if he can do it in art, he can do it anywhere. 

The problem-solving skills we use in art can be applied anywhere and are paramount.

(Photo Caption)
A GOOD FOUNDATION Suzanne Mortimer guides her 8th grade class through the process of landscape painting, which involves careful planning as well as developing an eye for color mixing.