Attending classes in person was not an option for seniors Rebecca Webster and Kayla Gullickson. Webster, a studio art major from Milaca, Minn., and Gullickson, an entertainment design major from Menomonie, are roommates and best friends. They made an at-home studio in the entryway of their apartment.
“I think that Professor Tamara has done an excellent job of adapting our class into an online learning environment,” Webster said. “This is my favorite class this semester for a reason. An online format is ideal for myself, as I am a strong, independent learner. And I have much more free time than I would if I was attending in-person classes, which has allowed me to have a better work/life/school balance than other semesters.”
With so many students creating remotely, and with the seemingly day-to-day changes of COVID-19, Brantmeier modified her assignments and requirements to better suit students’ immediate studio needs.
She used to require students to work on canvases as large as 24- by 30-inches. But this semester, students are using smaller canvases to work in smaller spaces, with the largest being 14- by 18-inches. She changed the supply list to have fewer paint colors to free up dollars so students could buy good lighting. And she extended deadlines to be flexible with students’ time as they’re adjusting to changes.
School of Art and Design Director Dave Beck said Brantmeier puts her students first in everything she does. “Her vision for this new normal is inspiring, and helps to remind us about the creative and unique culture we have in the School of Art and Design and at UW-Stout,” he said.
Connecting with her ‘painting babies’
Brantmeier begins every class with a poetry reading to inspire her students. And makes a point to tell them, “Your success is my priority.”
Brantmeier continues this mantra in her remote teaching. She wants her students to know she cares about them and their artwork, whether praising her “painting babies,” as she affectionately calls her first-year students, or strengthening community with advanced students.
At first, she feared the main strength of her teaching skills – her eye contact, her personality, her hand gestures – might be missing while teaching remotely. But she is determined to maintain a level of interpersonal communication to keep their connections strong.
“I’m good at drawing people in,” Brantmeier said. “I need to keep students drawn in in the online classes. So, the classes are always synchronous. My students see me. They see my creative process, my palette, my painting and what I’m painting. They’re able to see all of the elements of how to paint. And this is all a big part of how I connect with my students.”
Brantmeier records her live painting demos and uploads them onto Canvas, so students can rewatch the demos as needed and even pause the video while they’re painting.
“I also learned that students don’t need a perfect setting or background music,” she said. “They don’t care about perfection. They want realness. I can make a mistake and they know I’m the same person at home as I am in the classroom.”
"Tamara is a fearless teacher. We are lucky to have her thoughtful determination at Stout,” said Charles Lume, chair of the department.
Roving still lifes
Students in Brantmeier’s classes create still lifes and landscapes. She needed to devise a way for them to take their artwork and still life subjects with them wherever they decide to work. So, she created the “shoebox still life.”
“Students build a little environment with three objects, and they light it with an LED,” Brantmeier said. “It’s a controlled setup they can move around – a roving still life. They can have consistency with what they’re painting and flexibility to take it all with them. And it’s small, so it fits wherever they’re working, on campus or at home.”
Students will use their shoebox still lifes for two paintings; a classic observation and an abstraction and luminosity project. Soon, Brantmeier will critique the still lifes in the campus studio while students watch and listen from home. “I’ll feel like a live reporter,” she said.
Brantmeier plans to continue to make videos in the future, even when classes resume to being fully in-person.
“The videos will make the students’ learning experience stronger,” she said. “I’m really grateful for this experience. It’s forced me to learn new skills. And, as someone who overexplains things, I’ve had to be more concise and on point with my instruction.”
Looking ahead at new projects, she said, “I’m so in it right now. It’s really one day at a time, making videos on the fly. But I am glad to teach online. It feels consistent.”
The School of Art and Design offers seven fine arts programs, including a master’s in design.