Last Updated on April 2, 2023
The Student Art Guide was created to help high school Art students excel. It moves us immensely when we receive emails like the one below from Thabiso Mokokwane, who achieved 95% in IGCSE Art and Design (CIE 0400), while studying at Livingstone Kolobeng College, Gaborone, Botswana.
I faced many a challenge throughout my course, and a key factor in my final turnouts was the ‘shock and awe’ I got in my chance discovery of the ‘Student Art Guide’, which rocketed me into a frenzy of exploration and experimentation. A bulk of my Coursework was fashioned within a span of mere weeks nearing the deadline! I had to adapt the pieces I had already done into a new, though related, theme, ‘Dreamlike’, which not only defined my painting subjects and figures, but also the experience of a shift in my pursuits in art, seeing a lack in my artwork where once I had seen relative fullness, because of the exposure the Student Art Guide had given me. I of course had to sacrifice massive amounts of sleep, and so the world of painting sort of became my dream world, and all those beautiful things around which I no longer had much time to indulge in, became the substance of my dreaming, and thus led to the growth, refinement and completion of my Coursework project.
It is only fitting that images of Thabiso’s artwork now provide inspiration and guidance to those who follow him. This article features his superb, stylised illustrations: the result of a personal journey of experimental mark-making, imaginative exploration, attention to surface and learning from artist models.
The Student Art Guide was lucky enough to interview Thabiso about his IGCSE Art and Design project. His responses are below:
Your project explores an exciting collection of subject matter: mushrooms, natural waterways, the human form, cityscapes, wildlife and so on. Tell us about your reasons for selecting these items and how these help to support / express ideas related to your theme.
The body of work had a dimension of volatility to its development. I wanted a truly experiential and very much personal set of ideas to be laid forth and, to achieve this, I somewhat strangely allowed my theme to be developed by my artworks, as well as of course allowed my works to be moulded by my theme. The pieces have a personal significance for me, each echoing from some aspect of my life, whether it be literal as in the still life and portrait, ideological as in the winged painting, or emotional as in the abstractions. Visually, I was attracted by the diverse and colourful array of mushrooms, the telling forms of the human face, the varied textures in nature and the intricacy of shapes in abstraction. These components each embody a type of silence and mystery, which I have come to love and, curiously, almost marvel at, fused into the theme, ‘Dreamlike’. Such silence and mystery as the leopard, a creature of the shadows; the human face, which is a shroud of mystery; an empty street eerily silent and the night sky full of wonder. My teacher allowed me the necessary freedom to pick my subject matter, and this facilitated my liberal exploration of ideas.
Which artists did you study as part of your project and how did these influence your work?
There were three main artists, the first being Ito Shinsui. He mainly influenced my work in the compositional aspect. From his work, I gathered skills on landscaping, and in defining subtle emotion through facial expressions. His work attracted me particularly because of the cultural context, which added richness to the whole project itself. The second was Vincent Van Gogh, who influenced me experimentally. His work helped me to gain a better understanding of colour relationships and schemes. His paintings also echoed a lot about the contexts in which they were made, and this was evident in his expressionistic style of painting, allowing emotion to come through in his works. From this, I was able to add more life to my paintings, in terms of creating particular atmospheres. The third was Andy Warhol, whose work encouraged me to be more masterful in my use of colour and to experiment with opaque media, as well as to layer paintings.
Another artist, though not a painter, was poet John Keats, whose poem “A thing of beauty” was highly influential to my works. From this I gained immense inspiration and guidance in my work.
You have an exception ability to apply both wet and dry mediums, with meticulous fine detail, beautiful textures, patterns and surface qualities evident in your work. What advice do you have for others who wish to apply mediums with a greater level of control?
The single best piece of advice I have for gaining control over any medium is to have patience with your works. Before my exam year I had never engaged in using quite a number of different mediums, including oil paints, gouache and charcoal, as well as having little experience painting on varied surfaces. Regardless of this, I made it a mission to learn each and every medium, to be a sort of jack-of-all-trades, as well as a master of them. I gave each one of my pieces the fullest measure of care, attention to detail, and time and, because of this, with each successive piece my level of skill and control could only go up. This is a recipe that, in my experience, cannot fail! Exploration, dedication and application!
It is also of major importance to experiment widely – perhaps sometimes wildly – with media. Mixed media painting was a wondrous tool for me, as it allowed me to ease myself into new mediums while still having the comfort of old ones, all in one painting. Trying all sorts of different techniques made for a good learning experience and, in the process, you discover key strengths that you have in specific areas. Understanding the dynamics of a medium is key to the masterful use of it. I went so far as applying watercolours on base layers of oil paint in one of my paintings, in order to achieve special effects! Often time, we may perceive certain mistakes on our paintings as disastrous, when in fact they can, with a little imagination, be turned into welcome improvements.
What other advice do you have for other high school art students who are hoping to achieve excellent grades?
Art is an incredibly exciting subject, allowing you to explore and express things both visible and invisible, actual and dreamed. Students should realise that the best ideas are really those ones that speak to them most, in their heart-of-hearts. There is no status quo to be complied to in art, and so any topic and any theme, can in each and every case be expressed in a uniquely different way, serving only as a reference beacon to the imagination. This is a principle which my teacher, Mr Collymore, had laid down to us, and it is a rather freeing statement. Also, it is good to dedicate ample amounts of time to developing and finishing your art pieces, getting into a rhythm and creating a space for yourself which allows the maximum comfort when working. Communication with your teachers and fellow students is very important, as it is a wonderful platform for developing ideas, getting guidance, sharing discoveries and breeding confidence. My most important tool in doing my art is a genuine interest in what I am doing, coupled with the pure inspiration to do it. The love of it all is what will surely keep you going, and driving you to greater heights and achievements.
This article is one of many Featured Art Projects brought to you by the Student Art Guide. Please view our collection to see many more!
Amiria has been an Art & Design teacher and a Curriculum Co-ordinator for seven years, responsible for the course design and assessment of student work in two high-achieving Auckland schools. She has a Bachelor of Architectural Studies, Bachelor of Architecture (First Class Honours) and a Graduate Diploma of Teaching. Amiria is a CIE Accredited Art & Design Coursework Assessor.