How to add color to the Art merit badge

ART WAS THE BSA’S 24th most popular merit badge last year, narrowly beating out Lifesaving. While most Scouts who earn the badge probably do so at summer camp, the badge is a great offseason option. In fact, art museums across the country offer workshops to Scouts, often in conjunction with other classes they teach.

Last spring, the Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington, N.C., offered its first Art merit badge class to a dozen Scouts. Afterward, Scouting caught up with instructors Luc Travers and Todd Carignan to learn about their approach.

Divide and Conquer

Travers is a museum tour guide who leads tours all over the country. Carignan is a painter who regularly teaches in CAM’s Museum School. Given their backgrounds, it made sense for them to teach the badge together.

The Scouts began in the gallery, where Travers ran a series of art-appreciation activities related to requirements 1, 2, 3 and 6. They then headed into a studio to work on requirements 4 (“Render a subject of your choice” in four of nine different media) and 5 (“Design something useful”). By the end of the three-hour workshop, Scouts had learned that both studying and creating art could be fun. They also learned, as art teachers like to say, that “an artist is not a particular kind of person, but every person is a particular kind of artist.”

Touching the Art

In the gallery, Travers focused on a few artworks from two exhibitions: one of landscapes, the other of studio glass. He didn’t lecture the Scouts about styles and schools, however. Instead, he helped them connect with the art on an emotional level. (You can learn more about his technique and his book, Touching the Art, at luctravers.com)

For example, each Scout made up his own title for a painting, after which the group tried to guess which painting he was talking about. A monochromatic landscape became both “Snow in the Woods” and “Despair.” A landscape of nothing but trees became “Outhouse in the Woods.” Why? Well, as the Scout told Travers, “when we’re on the trail for a hike, the bathroom is everything that’s not on the trail.”

Paint and Possibilities

In the Museum School’s Studio 1, Carignan set up four stations where Scouts used charcoal, pastels, watercolors, and pen and ink to create traditional still-life images. He demonstrated each technique, then gave Scouts about 15 minutes to try each one before they rotated to the next station. His goal: to encourage exploration. “It’s not about having something you can frame at the end of the class; it’s more about saying, ‘Oh, I really enjoyed pastel; I’d never done it before.’ ”

The workshop ended with the Scouts designing an object. (Perhaps because the lunch hour was approaching, one Scout designed a device for roasting hot dogs over a fire.) “For all the intimidation they had from drawing a pitcher, an apple and an orange, this was something purely out of their imagination,” Carignan says.

“That turned out to be fun,” he says. “It definitely ended on a high note.”

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