Cam Do

Quiet on the set.

I’m halfway through my first online class and I’m relieved to report it’s going pretty well. Online teaching is obviously a new thing for me, as well as for the school, so I was obsessing not only about lesson plans, but video and slide show integration as well. Compounding that was that they changed the materials I was using (ink) at the last minute to something I’ve never used before. In response, to all these uncertainties, I simplified everything. It helped that in the transition to the new normal, registration was low- just two very attentive and clever teens. I think that’s pretty normal for the summer camps in our new normal of online learning. I know I was freaking out about the logistics a little too much to really promote. 

Leaving aside the simplified lessons and materials learning curve for now, I’ll put down my impressions on the tech side of things, in case other artists are interested in the process. I’d posted my reaction to doing a full length video previously, and that’s here if you want to read it.

The software used is Zoom, and it being my first time doing this, I can’t compare it to anything, but I will say that it’s simple enough to learn and to use. The school is ‘hosting’ the meetings, so I don’t have full control over the functions, which can be limiting, but there are certainly enough work arounds to keep a smooth flow. 

I’m able to switch back and forth between slide shows of art examples and bullet points that I prepared ahead of time using Keynote, meeting style face shots, and my ‘studio cam’ which is my iPhone mounted on a tripod, and connected with Lightning/USB. It’s not instantaneous switching as in a video control room, but certainly fluid enough. 

The students have their face shot/webcams, and so have to hold anything they want me to see up before the camera. This is not optimal, of course. Seeing how artists are working can give me as much info as what the results are. Also in art, not everything can be held up vertical while in progress. They can solve this with their own phones if they have a hook-up, but I don’t know if Zoom really supports that. 

Other equipment that’s essential: obviously, the tripod, a cheap one I got just for this type of project. A nicer one with an adjustable boom for straight down shooting might be my next suggestion. For one thing, it would enable both close-ups of work and full table medium shots. But at any rate, a hands free studio cam is essential in art instruction. Zoom’s interface does make it easy to hook up a second camera, and switch to it when the demo begins.

Lights: the first part of “Lights, Camera, Action!” And just as important as the other two. I used basic painter’s lights with flood bulbs, though possibly the diffused bulbs might create a less shadowy look. But having two mounted higher up at different angles did do a nice enough job. 

For the slide show, I kept my sentences and bullet lists short, and tried to include lots of pictures in between. For illustration, I used both my own work as well as pics from the web of monotypes by Degas, etc. I had pics of student work from previous classes to show them examples of peers’ creative solutions. One nice thing about the slide show is, You can pick a slide to leave up as a reminder, or just as a decoration while you fumble with switching to the studio cam, or even clean your tools for the next demo. It buys you time. 

The work area would necessarily be set up in advance with tools handy and short distances between your work area and your ‘anchor desk’ for good transitions. I also took masking tape and did preset blocking for my viewable work area and my camera position. You’ll probably want to see the Zoom screen as well as your work area when demoing, in case questions pop up in the chat. So I placed my laptop behind and slightly to the side of the work area, and was able to monitor the screen while demoing. When you switch to studio cam, Zoom shows that, so you can make sure they’re seeing what you want them to see, although it’s backward, one thing a camera boom might help with. 

All in all, it’s a pretty fun and doable project that I will tinker with after this class to set up for an adult online class I’m teaching in the Fall ( ASLD.org), as well as short videos that I can post to my You Tube channel to promote future classes. I spent a day setting things up and testing it in advance, that is certainly recommended. If using Zoom, you can just set up a 1 person meeting with yourself for a dry run. 

Please comment with any comments or suggestions. I think it’s natural to learn as you go, so I’m glad in a way that the lockdown forced my hand. I do miss live classes, and can’t wait to get back to properly distanced classes at the school, which are coming in September. I’ve updated my Workshops page ( above) with info on the Fall class schedule. I haven’t plugged in all the dates and links yet, but registration isn’t live yet, anyway. That’ll be soon, so check back.

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