Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Insect Prints

Art and science merge naturally in an art room, as you have seen my students do here, here, and in many other lessons as well. In this lesson, fourth and fifth grade students observed, drew, and printed insects.

When a teacher tell a class that they are doing a lesson on insects, the reaction is predictably split between abject horror and total exuberance. Knowing that some students will be thrilled to look at samples of insects (I am now the proud owner of glass-encased creatures in the classroom including a Blue Morpho butterfly, a scorpion, and a tarantula), while others may find looking at specimens is uncomfortable to do, so I make it optional.

The library has plenty of options for students who need a little distance from their insects, and many students chose to work with photographs or field guides to make their prints.

Now, technically, insects have have six legs, so our helpful friends the arachnids are not included. The array that fits under the "insect" category is pretty dizzying and beautiful, and beetles especially captured a lot of student attention. Stag beetles, scarab beetles, and dung beetles are shiny and metallic-looking, like little jewels, and were popular among these young artists.

Learning to really look is a skill scientists use all of the time to make correct observations, whether in a lab or the natural world. Differentiating between similar creatures is exactly what we expect artists in field guides to do, to help us identify what we are looking at. The tiniest details matter, especially when multiple species share significant similarities. Where a leg is jointed, how the wings are shaped, and where limbs attach to the body all provide useful identifying information. Scientific drawing is a skill that can be taught very early, like in this fun game I began a couple years back.

Students made a series of five prints (one on flat colored paper, and four on folded cards), and tried out different printing inks and effects, such as offsetting multiple colors or creating gradients.

The process involved transferring a drawing to styrofoam printing plates, and compressing either the insect itself or the background, then using brayers to ink the plates.

A piece of paper is pressed and rubbed onto the print plate (how I dream of students having a small printing press!), and the print is pulled.  Many of the compositions were dynamic, and some were outright funny, like this one saying, Goodbye!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Learning Perspective (Not The Art Kind) From My Students.

If you have ever been on Pinterest, it is abuzz with beautiful ideas for young children to explore colors, textures, and play. Knowing several other teachers who regularly and successfully use the ideas they find, I decided to try out a sensory bin idea for Kindergarten carpet choice time in art class.

As the blue rice and sea creatures came together into these beautiful bins of oceanic exploration, with their endless pretend play potential, I have to say that I was feeling pretty pleased. The kids will be thrilled! They will love their new station, and will clamor to use it!  

So, as the ocean-blue rice was drying near the doorway, waiting for my kinders to play with it, my fifth graders arrived for their first-period class.

The very first fifth grade student in the door paused next to the rice, looked at it a moment, and calming stated, shaking his head, "Wow. What a waste of food." He walked to my carpet and sat down, maturely ready to start class with me, a teacher who just. didn't. get. it.

Here's the scoop: He was right. I was all at once grateful for his perspective (and thanked him) and embarrassed at my own pride and ignorance about the project.
That bag of rice could feed a family for most of a week. Food security is an ongoing issue for many students, and yet this sensory bin suggests that food is abundant and not of any great value, which of course any thinking person would know is untrue. Yet, I had failed to think about it.

Many blogs treat rice as though it doesn't matter, shrugging at using the food staple for play, stating things such as "it's very inexpensive," or "I spent less on rice than on a box of markers, and it lasts longer." But those things are beside the point- the point is that in using food for play, I failed to consider other perspectives, which are real for the people who experience them, and need to be respected.

I am still learning. Learning everyday from my amazing, insightful students.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Warhol-inspired Self-portraits

Andy Warhol has inspired a lot of artists and art lessons, and it's easy to see why. Bold, expressive, and totally subversive, his work turned the self-serious art world upside-down. With his combination of ordinary objects, celebrities, and politicians, he turned the public's and the art world's obsessive cultural lens on itself, asking us to ask ourselves what we take seriously. Pretty heavy, and with lots of parallels to work earlier in the century, like Marcel DuChamp.

Third grade student self-portrait
There are lots of reasons that students love Andy Warhol, and although he was early to bring silkscreening to the forefront of fine art, that's got nothing to do with what kids love. They love his realistic portraits and extreme color. Who can blame them? His work suggests all kinds of emotions, multiple personalities, and satirical takes on famous people who popular culture thought they knew well. It's a terrific jumping off point for students to think about what aspects of themselves they would want expressed visually, who they are by reputation, and who they are internally.

Fourth grade student work
The project began with photographs, where students in my third/fourth mixed-grade classes considered gaze direction, facial expression, and body language to create a visual expression of personality. The result could be a conflict of parts of their personalities, what they want to be, or who they feel they are.
Fourth grade student work
Using their photographs, students transferred sketches to watercolor paper by using graphite transfer paper. It's a great tool, and students were smitten by the possibilities it opened for them. They were able to get over the eternal self-portrait dread of it "not looking like me" and move onto what they hoped the work would express.

 When students completed their drawings with transfer paper, they used watercolor paint to tint the image.

The lesson objectives asked students to deeply consider composition as part of their work. So often, students fall into the trap of thinking that a successful self-portrait looks right at the viewer, and is centered, like a photo-studio portrait. I gave them extra-large paper, so that they could trim it down afterward if they changed their minds and wanted to try different angles or shapes for the composition.

Fourth grade student work
The works above and below have pretty awesome compositional choices. In the work above, she seems to be looking at something we cannot see, and her gaze directs us toward the light side of the image, suggesting a light source that appears again on her hair. She looks on calmly and strongly, and the diagonal angle adds to our suspense about what she sees.

Third grade student work.
In the painting above, his sense of loneliness or sadness is not only enhanced by the color and gaze, but how the artist chose to compose the work with himself down in the corner, enhancing the visual isolation. Students also looked at the use of shades of a single color used in Warhol's work. The painting above effectively used a monochromatic scheme to shows the lights and darks, which can be seen in areas such as how his neck is a darker shade than his face, and his lips are only ever so slightly warm in color.

Fourth grade student work

When students finished their paintings, they presented their work with construction paper matting. They used a variety of colors, shapes, and compositions there as well.

Fourth grade student work
It would be hard to overstate how happy students are with these artworks.

Fourth grade student work
Here are two more, just in case, like me, you cannot get enough of the powerful, creative voices these young artists possess. I am honored to work with them. In case you forgot while reading, these artists are nine and ten years old.

Third grade student work

Third grade student work

Monday, February 13, 2017

Heart Prints!

It is the perfect time of year to get thinking about someone you love! Second graders explored printmaking by creating these fabulous hearts.

The process is not intimidating at all, even for novice printers, because the technique eliminates worries about "just right" ink amounts- being too dry or too wet.

To begin, second graders had a flat piece of styrofoam, onto which they rolled ink and then pressed it on a colorful piece of construction paper.

The image above is a great example to understand the process:
1. Roll the yellow ink onto a big styrofoam rectangle, and print on lavender paper.
2. Wash the ink off the styrofoam, cut it into a heart, and ink with a new color- here, the artist used black ink next, pressing it onto the yellow.
3. Wash the ink off the styrofoam heart, cut it smaller, and ink with a new color- here, the artist used blue ink, printing it onto the black.

The artist of the work above stopped there, but artists could keep going, cutting smaller hearts out each time from the same piece of styrofoam until it's too small. The artist below cut out and printed seven hearts!

If there is too little ink, the artist can just try again before washing and trimming. If there is too much ink, it doesn't matter because there are no fine drawn lines getting flooded by the ink.

If you wanted to try this at home, you don't need fancy printmaking supplies like ink and a brayer, you could just use tempera paint and a brush. The styrofoam could be something you repurpose from the grocery store, as it's often used to pack meat or vegetables. Just give it a wash and use the smooth side to print.

These took two 45-minute classes with twenty-two students sharing five trays of ink, but if you try it at home it would be realistic to do in about an hour or so. It is a snow day here in Burlington, so if you have a little time today, go get artsy, and make someone a Valentine!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Wishes for the World

First graders have been busily printing and sewing during these last couple of weeks, preparing for our upcoming Art Night.

The new year is a great time to reflect on change and ideals, so back in January first graders began our new art unit by reflecting on the things they need and appreciate in their own lives, and from among those, one that they would wish for every person in the world to access.

This is the list they brainstormed from that prompt.

The first step for each student was to draw a small picture on styrofoam of the wish they chose to illustrate. Some students chose to show their wish with only pictures, while others wanted to include text. Text with printmaking is tricky, because the word has to be written backward initially, and is reversed in the printing process.  You can see the mirror image alphabet above and below here, with the example of the word "food."

One thing that is fascinating to me about early literacy is the fact that children are quite excellent at deciphering text in different orientations, so this did not prove to hinder students. Some wrote it both ways, as below.

The printing process is one that first graders have done before in the art room, using materials such as bubble wrap, stamps, sponges, and cups to create prints. This is the first time these students have used brayers, ink, and styrofoam print plates. They rolled out the ink and printed their drawings onto fabric, which they then sewed to a larger background fabric using a sewing machine.

As an aside, children love sewing machines. They also usually enjoy hand sewing, but they find the machine totally thrilling. If you have a student who came home from this project really, really excited about sewing, consider looking around for an inexpensive or used one, or ask a neighbor if there is one collecting dust in their basement. Not yet into it yourself?  Learn it along with your child. It's totally empowering to make a first pillow case or totebag.

Their wishes are so beautiful that it made it hard not to get emotional. The things students wanted for humanity truly reflect what they love and need in their own worlds.
To make their wishes attention-grabbing and cheerful, they included all manner of ribbons, rickrack, and pompoms.
Before you fear that the project is devoid of action, it is actually tied to the year-long theme of community action in the first grade classrooms. Many, many students were interested in the concept of food security, having just come out of both a food drive they ran, concurrent with visits from educators at the Chittenden County Food Shelf.

The school has also just hosted a visit this week from Chittenden Solid Waste District, who came to educate students about keeping our world clean by optimizing and refining our use of school-wide classroom composting, recycling, reuse, and garbage plans.

Be on the lookout for these beautiful flags overhead in our first floor hallway. They will be on display all this month.
One last flag to share. The idea behind it was too beautiful to leave out. The artist explained that dreaming itself is a powerful and important wish, to keep a person's mind open to bigger, loftier aspirations in life. "I love dreaming," he said, "and everyone should get to do it."


Saturday, February 4, 2017

K-2 Art Night!

Clear your schedules, the arts event of this winter is coming this Thursday, February 9, 2017, from 6-7:30pm at Edmunds Elementary in Burlington!

Nail and String Art, grade two
There will be nearly 400 works on view made by  our youngest artists in Kindergarten, grade one, and grade two. The art show will begin at 6pm, and seating for the music concert will begin at 6:30pm.

These students have been working so hard all year to show off their skills. You will find that each grade level has completed a pottery project, thanks to the generosity of the EES PTO. These pottery projects can be brought home the night of the show, because families are the safest way for this artwork to travel. Kindergarten has made bowls, first grade has made coil pots, and second graders have made butterflies.
Lois Ehlert-inspired collage, Kindergarten.
Here are a few ways to enjoy the show with your student:
 Remind your student to stay with you, use walking feet, and enjoy looking with their eyes at the artwork.
 Ask your student about their artwork. How did they make it?  What tools or materials were used?
  If you are unclear about the image the student has made, a great opener is to ask "Can you tell me about your picture?"
First grade integrated light-unit landscape, showing what's needed to create a shadow
Other commitments that night? The art show will, with exception of the pottery, be on display all this coming week and next. Visit it anytime school is open on the first floor, beginning inside the Main Entrance, which is swimming with fantasy fish from our second grade artists.

Fantasy fish, grade 2
When you come, make sure to look up!  The first graders have created Wishes for the World, strings of colorful flags printed with their hopes and dreams for all of humanity, full of wishes such as freedom, health, clean water, and enough to eat.

We hope to see you there!