These are a selection of works and commentaries from Ratthamnoon Prakitpong, a graduate from Thai Chinese International School in Bangkok, Thailand. Ratthamnoon was one of sixteen students worldwide to receive a score of 100% for his AP Studio Art Drawing Portfolio in 2015, earning every point possible on each portion of his portfolio. His portfolio scored a perfect six.
AP Studio Art: Breadth
The Breadth section of the AP Studio Art portfolio is a great chance to brush up on skills and experiment. The Breadth section of the portfolio consists of 12 works of art that demonstrate a mastery of skills whilst showing the artistic range of a student. Here are some examples of what I did to make my work better and more personal:
The importance of a good composition
For this class project, we had to work on transparent textures. Having strong painting skills is important; having a strong composition to work from equally so. The first batch of preliminary images I did were indoors with two wine glasses. I felt like the contrast and depth were sufficient, but my teacher, Elizabeth Jendek, asked me to try other kinds of glass to make the composition more interesting. I took loads of photos to find compositions that worked. On the second and third preliminary compositions I presented to my teacher, the light was indoors and the glass didn’t have reflective areas. The third composition was better because of the outdoor light, but it still wasn’t great.
Then my teacher suggested I photograph outside in sunset. Being outside made the still life look more natural and lively; these effects were emphasized by the striped cloth, which increased movement. In addition, the sunset’s orange light really heightened the glasses’ shine and contrast. With the table’s directional line, I got the depth back from the first composition that was lost during the second and third tries. My composition was strong because my focal point was to the side, which follows the rule of thirds: there were size relationships showing depth and perspective. There also was variation by color and shape, making the composition more stimulating. A strong composition illuminated my skill of painting. Although this is a drawing portfolio, a good composition is as important as your great skill of painting in and of itself. To get the best compositions, I questioned myself; I didn’t expect things to work out the very first time, listened to my peers and teacher’s advice, and kept working on it until I got the best composition.
Revisiting work makes a big difference
As my skills improved, I found that some of my work looked a little uneven. I had a portrait that I did earlier, which no longer matched the skill level of my other work. Since the face was working fine, the teacher and I discussed the idea of cutting and pasting the head onto a new image. I took a few photos and did a new composition in Photoshop and came up with a new image. Once I was confident with my new idea, I sketched out my new composition on fresh paper, cut out the face and glued it to the new composition. My new version was much better and it evened up my skill level throughout the portfolio in my final submission.
I took calculated risks with time and composition. I scheduled my time well and used all the good guidance and technology available to finish this drawing. It turned out to be one of my favorites.
Sometimes abandoning a work of art is better than to keep fighting it
While I was doing my portfolio, I had a few compositions that needed reworking – one in particular really just wasn’t working out. I tried adding more to the composition; I did loads of preliminary sketches, and finally decided I was getting nowhere. After discussing and problem-solving with my teacher, we decided it would be better to start a fresh new artwork based off an alternative lesson. It’s true that it was hard to let go of so much work already done, and the new project was equally challenging, but it worked much better than if I would’ve continued beating a dead horse.
To compensate for lost efforts, I tried to add my own personal touches to this art piece. Even though the green plate can be seen just as a nice contrast to the orange shrimp, it’s also the same plate my family uses when we go out picnicking. We usually lay old newspapers underneath our seafood so that mess won’t spill anywhere. I took direct inspiration from that, and glued newspaper onto my work for texture; to finish, I copied Thai letters onto the composition. By adding my own personal touch, this simple project became more unique, and much richer. They were my shrimp, and this is how I eat them.
Look for inspiration around you, in unlikely places
Friends and I went on a hiking trip to Phu Kradueng. In this area of Thailand, automated services aren’t available, so local couriers offer their services by carrying huge loads to the top of the mountain area. Watching these men lift such enormous amounts was inspirational, and I took this great photo capturing their strength and beauty – it reminded me of Greek Gods. Although this wasn’t a class project, I painted it on my own anyway for two reasons: the tourist sight was so unique, and it was also an important memory for my friends and I. To further the personal nature of this image, I glued my train ticket to the composition to further add to that feeling of a snap in time, fully enclosing the character of the place and to add additional texture.
AP Studio Art: Concentration
Concentration is a section where I focused on a specific topic and many art skills. It’s very intense and pressuring. Here I commented on a few skills that I focused on to make my Concentration more successful:
Picking the right Concentration topic is incredibly important
Since the Concentration section needed twelve pieces based on a single topic, my teacher advised the class to look long and hard for a topic that had room for development and exploration, yet remained accessible. It took me a few months, but I settled on a Concentration topic about different perspective-based portraits in the kitchen.
Thematically, I picked this topic because I was already a hobbyist cook, and wanted to combine and explore the two things that I liked – art and cooking. I feel, in my country, there’s a cultural stigma about men in the kitchen that I wanted to both question and eradicate by demonstrating that men can cook as well as anyone else.
I decided to pursue portraits and create variation using different perspectives and color schemes. For my take on perspective, I used a selfie stick to find new perspective and angles. Where my hands were holding the camera, I superimposed kitchen tools – spoons, forks, spatulas – to hide the selfie stick in the drawing. As for the kitchen itself, I found inspiration from my personal exploration in using new kitchen tools, like cooking noodles for my lunch box or eggs in the morning. These were additional considerations I made when selecting this topic:
- My exploration was not only visual, but personal too. It showed my development as an artist and a thinker. I only had around 5 ideas at the beginning because I wasn’t familiar with the kitchen, but as I personally explored the kitchen more, inspiration came naturally.
- I cared about my topic. I was exploring my hobby and my culture. If I wasn’t passionate about my topic, by the 8th or 9th image I would’ve hated my work. Artwork without passion is apparent.
- It was visually appealing. Even though my personal story and passion were there, my Concentration wouldn’t be as strong if I did not play with perspectives and color schemes. I was really experimental about it too, and when the compositions didn’t work, they still served as a springboard for the next idea.
- My topic was versatile enough to have twelve different ideas united under it. The kitchen has interesting tools, objects and angles I could use to experiment. That kept my idea fresh, yet united.
- My topic was flexible. Choosing my kitchen as a basis for my topic might seem simple, but it provided enough room for experimenting with techniques that weren’t necessarily kitchen-related, like superimposition or collage.
- My topic was accessible. I could go back easily to the kitchen and photograph some more, or look for other inspirations. This made a huge difference when some compositions needed more reworking than others.
(If you are struggling to come up with your own AP Studio Art Concentration ideas, please read: Art Project Ideas: a guide to subject matter selection).
Here are some examples of how I problem-solved composition concerns, increased depth, and manipulated my imagery.
I experimented with depth
I increased depth with my selfie stick; it gave me more options with regards to angles. The first composition in which I used the stick didn’t quite capture what I wanted, so I added an additional shelf at the top of my composition to increase depth. I used a fisheye lens to make the composition more interesting, and changed the hands that held the selfie stick altogether. I also manipulated color from the originally bland white into a triad color scheme to make it more visually dynamic.
Combining multiple skills enriches your art
I had already used bird’s eye and worm’s eye of view, so I had to come up with something unique for this one. When I looked at the oven, I remembered when my mother baked and thought of her delighted face when she pulled out her baking. So I decided to render some freshly baked food and the serenity on someone’s face when they first see the food. This gave my image more personal meaning. I also added pieces of a hand written recipe for texture and to increase movement. Additionally, I superimposed a meat fork where my selfie stick had been.
In hindsight, I made many gutsy moves, and I failed – a lot. However, I succeeded a lot too. It really came down to commitment, to practice, to having many chances to fail and, in turn, to succeed. I made more than 24 art pieces, but I got to choose the ones I was actually proud of for a trimmed version of my portfolio. Most importantly, I’m just another person, and what I did may not apply to you. Listen to the people who know you, who are close to you – your teacher, your peers, and yourself. There’s no point in making anything unless you will be proud of it. That means sometimes an unyielding stance, or sometimes blind faith in advice.
This AP Studio Art Drawing course was taught by Elizabeth Jendek. Work from her students is used by Alison Youkilis, an AP Art teacher trainer, to teach other educators around the world. You can see additional outstanding artworks by Elizabeth Jendek’s students in the article: 50+ Still life drawing ideas for art students.
High School art teacher, Jeanne Bjork, was recently my guest on Art Ed Radio for an episode focused on AP Studio Art.
Unfortunately, podcasts are limited by time, and there was a lot of information we weren’t able to discuss. But fear not! Jeanne and I are here to answer all of your questions about AP Studio Art and share just about every resource we have.
We hope this can be a great guide for someone just starting their program, and a great collection of resources for more established AP teachers.
Here are some of the most-asked questions about AP Studio Art and how we’d answer them.
What is the most important thing to focus on?
I’ve always thought building a classroom culture or a quality classroom environment is vitally important. Finishing 24 artworks is incredibly difficult, and students need the positive influence and support system of their peers. Jeanne agreed, saying developing camaraderie is one of her priorities. “I encourage my students to become a collegial cohort,” she said. “There has to be both humor and support, and the cohort is great for serious discussion or just joking around.”
Once a positive environment is established, it’s time to set the expectations. Kids need to know they will be doing a lot of work–usually multiple projects at once–and they need to know this is a college level course. Giving them a peek at my syllabus usually establishes this. Jeanne works on goal setting with her students as well. In fact, you should probably see her entire Goal Unit.
When should kids start developing their portfolios?
As much as we focus on the beginning of the year, most AP Studio Art teachers begin working with their AP students long before that. I have my juniors (and sometimes even my sophomores) save ALL of their work because you never know what might end up being useful when you put together your portfolio. It is a good idea to tell kids about the expectations of AP Studio Art before signing up for classes, then get them working on their portfolios soon after they are registered. I love to have kids create a couple works and take a ton of reference photos over the summer. Jeanne does something quite similar.
“I meet with the future class in May and give them their summer homework. This is divided into 4 areas: shooting reference photos, keeping a visual journal, blogging and visiting suggested online art sites, and producing 3-6 finished pieces that go with the portfolio students want to do. Part of what they’re asked to do is figure out which portfolio they will do and make a commitment to daily art-making and thinking.”
How do you divide your assignments throughout the year? What assignments do you give for the breadth section?
A majority of AP Studio Art teachers have students focus on the breadth section at the beginning of the year. Jeanne emphasizes her 3 C’s of quality art-making (concept, composition, and craftsmanship) that guide students’ work throughout the year, and then gives them an incredible first assignment. From there, kids should be focused on conceptual development, while working on a variety of styles, artworks, ideas, media, and ways to express themselves. This checklist is a great tool for keeping your kids’ work in the breadth section on track.
How do kids develop their concentration?
Well, I’m glad you asked because we have this handy list of 99 concentration topics kids can use to start thinking about their concentration. Download your copy below!
Once they have a possible focus, however, it’s important to properly develop those ideas. I have my students do a ton of sketching, note taking, research, and journaling, and I like to get them started as soon as possible. Ideally before the end of the first semester, but by the end of January at the very latest. Jeanne is on just about that exact time frame. “By early February we’ve done a written packet about concentration which includes research, visual journal explorations, and a proposal. I require detailed thumbnails and 3-5, four by six full-color sketches to plan out the concentration,” she said. “We then spend February through April finalizing those 12 works.”
What do you think makes for a good concentration? What have you found are the qualities that lead to a good score more often than not?
The concentration has to be specific and have a specifically focused point of view; students need to avoid generalities. Jeanne put it like this: “Saying ‘I want to do portraits’ isn’t much of a concentration, but saying ‘I want to do portraits of my sister who has an eating disorder and struggles daily with her self-image’–that is a concentration.”
Pushing beyond literal interpretations is also important. The work should look like it goes together, but not be all the same. Visual consistency and consistency with technique are important. I like to tell my students that it should look like all the work was created by the same artist. By this point in their art-making career, they should have developed a specific artistic style.
High-quality craftsmanship is important as well. The breadth section should be about experimentation with media and style and technique. But with the concentration, it should be media students are comfortable and confident creating with. I also think the concentration should show growth and evolve over time. If students can combine growth and exploration of a specific meaningful idea with a distinct artistic style, they will undoubtedly be successful.
Click here to see Jeanne’s Art Department Website,Calendar, and Assignments.
Some of Jeanne’s Pinterest Boards to Share with Students:
Sketchbooks & Journals 1
Sketchbooks & Journals 2
AP Studio Art
The Human Figure in Art
What are some of your favorite resources for teaching AP Studio Art? Feel free to share a link in the comments below!