AMBER TUTWILER
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I believe that art is, first and foremost, a language and a social dialogue. As an educator, my job is to cultivate well-rounded and informed makers that are fluent in their media while preparing them for post-undergraduate life in art-related fields. To do this, I use phenomenological and heuristic approaches to cultivate the connections between formal skills and conceptual development. I ask that students become attuned to the nuances of their perceptions; by connecting specific actions, such as writing, discussing, collecting materials, walking, and movements, to visual research, students learn that their work is inextricable from their situated perspective and daily routines. The goal is to provide students with the experiences they need to create work that aligns their identity with personal expression and technical abilities. With these skills, their work will be able to enter the local and global community through exhibitions, commissions, performances, and collaborative projects.

My students are consistently reminded that experimentation is a significant part of the process. As each student is in flux, I encourage an openness to change and eagerness to search. To aid in this process, my assignments are broken down into multistep exercises that build formal and conceptual strength. In the Two-Dimensional Design curriculum, students demonstrate their understanding of how each element interacts with the principles by completing quick exercises in various media, ranging from Photoshop, Illustrator, painting, drawing, photography, and printmaking. Each exercise provides a series of skills that are then applied, holistically, to the final project for that element.

As the course advances, the assignments build on their prior knowledge while encouraging a personal relationship with the work. For example, students were required to create symbols in Illustrator based on a word or original phrase of their choice. Students generated their symbols by internalizing the feeling and sound of their word or phrase using non-representational forms.  They then had to apply these symbols to two posters designs – one in grayscale and the other monochromatic or complementary (their choice). A legend was provided by the student to help the class decode the poster. The goal of the assignment was for students to demonstrate effective visual communication by pairing the meaning of the word or phrase with related imagery. Through these steps, students were able to use visual language to communicate personal meaning while applying a formal understanding of the elements and principles of design, compositional balance, and color harmonies.

In painting and drawing courses, my lessons are broken down as such: painting/drawing as seeing, painting/drawing as material, and painting/drawing as personal research. Beginning with “seeing,” students learn foundational skills in representational painting and drawing, utilizing measurement, gesture, value relationships, and color studies. Specifically, alla prima and indirect painting techniques are extensively studied through still-life. As students advance, the biggest shift takes place when a work of art is no longer seen as just an interface; instead, it becomes three-dimensional through material inquiry. To exemplify this in painting, students were required to use cold-wax medium and oil paint to physically mimic the way a surface or texture feels. After all, we already live in a culture of seeing; by engaging touch, the surface becomes more intentional, a moment of empathy. Once a medium is understood as conveying experience, it becomes personal research. In these early phases, finding a voice that is both personal and social is the biggest challenge. This cannot happen without play and investigation.

Students gradually gain control of their media and concepts through demonstration videos, individual meetings, informal group discussions with peers, and formal critiques. To help students learn more effectively in an online environment, I have adapted my teaching strategies by breaking down my demonstration videos into shorter subtopics. This has significantly increased the amount of engagement as students can naturally pause to ask questions between each video. Especially as classes take hybrid form, students depend on interpersonal interaction to feel secure with their progress and supported by the community. To ensure that everyone gets the feedback they deserve, weekly timeslots for private remote meetings are part of the course outline. In these meetings, students can gain confidence in a private space where thoughts, emotions, and ideas are valued without judgment. They can then bring these ideas into informal discussions and formal critiques; these exchanges render a chance for students to connect philosophical ideas to concrete examples while helping peers see their own work through the eyes of others.

The classroom is more than a space for education: it is a place for exchanging diverse ideas and beliefs. Through my actions, words, and teaching strategies, I cultivate trust and security so that positive exchange between communities can be shared in an inclusive and safe space. I am particularly sensitive to those who are underrepresented; as a first generation undergraduate and graduate, my family was unable to assist with my education. Without the support of a few mentors, it often felt impossible to move forward. Despite these setbacks, I recognize that I still have privilege as a white woman; I have never lost an opportunity because of my skin color or beliefs. My experiences have, however, instilled a sense of empathy and responsibility to support those who have been traditionally undervalued. I believe that lasting change is only possible when there is equity among minority communities. By providing opportunities for underrepresented voices outside of the classroom, they can be meaningfully supported. I have personally aided students by curating them into exhibitions with more well-known artists and writing recommendation letters for grants and jobs. While this alone does not ensure success, I know that one “yes” can change a worldview. By understanding what individual students need and taking actionable steps to ensure they receive support, I aim to secure more “yeses” as they enter as career in the arts.