Wednesday, June 7, 2017

"Wait... That's All?" Why That End-Of-Year Art Portfolio Isn't Thicker

One of my greatest fears as an art teacher quickens my heartbeat each June. Children make their portfolios and I begin handing out a year's worth of artwork to go home, and... wait... where is it all?!  That cannot possibly be all that we made this year, right?! What did we do with all that time?




Turns out I am not the only one wondering- so are students and their parents! That's why it's so worth talking about.

Why don't art class portfolios have more in them?

In most places in the U.S., if kids have art class (note: not all places do), they have it once per week at school during their elementary years. Some students are super lucky and have it twice weekly, but that is pretty uncommon.

This year, my Monday classes had art thirty times, while my Tuesday classes had it thirty-five times. Mondays run into national holidays and long weekends, and lose several class periods. Now, factor in field trips, snow days, and random school assemblies, and it is lucky to see a class even twenty-eight times in a year.



My own schedule is unusual, to be sure- I see Kindergarten and first grade weekly, and grades 2-5 three times every two-week rotation.

It might be easy to assume, therefore, that there should be perhaps fourteen or more finished and beautiful projects. Or at least ten? It seems like there just never is that much work in a portfolio. Where did the time go? Where are the projects? The feedback I most dread is the "it couldn't have taken them long to make that, right?" comment.

To help explain, here is an example project breakdown, day by day:

This is a first grade landscape. It took a month to make. Four classes. How on earth could it take a whole month?! Let's explore what went into this rather average-length project.



Class 1: We look at examples of skies in photos and paintings, and have a class discussion about how a person can tell the time of the day by looking at the sky. What celestial objects are in it? What colors are visible?

Students make a choice about the time of day and the light source that they would like to use. Artists paint just the sky, leaving little white lines behind to add trees later. Some students don't finish painting it, because everyone has a different work pace.

Sunset
Class 2: We experiment with light and shadow. We use the projector to look at how light hits objects, and figure out what we need to show- objects, light source, a surface, shadows, lights and darks on the object itself... whew.

Now, students who didn't finish the sky last time begin with that, and kids who did finish begin trees, implying the light source on the trees using lights and darks in their paint shades. Often, students finish only the tree trunks that day.


Class 3: Today we quickly review how to imply light direction, noting that darks and shadows always fall opposite the light source. Most students are working on their leaves or pine needles, stippling the brush to show lots of texture. (Or... some are still working on their sky, because they were absent, are particular, or find it challenging. Missing a class is significant, and catching up is hard.)


Class 4: On this day, the students use oil pastels to add a surface, shadows, and details, and often add a light source as well.



Most students finish this day, and it might look something like these when done. Being science-integrated, this lesson has also just done the double-duty task of demonstrating what they know from pieces of their classroom Light Unit.

 


I would be happy to break down any project this way.

There is also lots of work which doesn't fit into a portfolio, and goes home earlier in the year, or doesn't go home at all, like a group mural or outdoor chalk drawings.

The cardboard beast of the winter which took most groups ten classes? You won't see that in the portfolio, these already went to recipients selected by the pair of artists who made each work.


The insect prints which took most children seven sessions? The card sets went home for Valentine's Day. Single prints will be in portfolios.



All of the clay work? Many students took these home on Art Night, or in the weeks afterward.



First grade magic wands? Casting spells on your homes since October!


We also painted rocks for the Fleming Museum Project! Gracing homes around the community and helping increase museum access.


Yes, art is (partly) about making really beautiful work to hang in your home. But my classroom is not a craft factory, we are working on creative problem solving, art history, and more, with equal weight.

But it is also- perhaps foremost- about the process: learning, connecting, mistake-making, and sketching ideas.  Not the product alone.

So, if your child's portfolio is looking a little thin, dig deeper with him or her. You might ask: What tools and materials did you use to make it? What was the hardest part? What was the process like? Circle back to the projects which might already be at home. Slow down, notice the details, and celebrate the work of what your artist has come to show you!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Drawing What We See- Still-Life in Kindergarten

Doll leaning on pitcher

All through the school year, Kindergarten artists have been practicing the skill of seeing. Seeing shapes (that apple is pretty much a circle), seeing lines (stairs are like a zigzag line), and seeing letters (the branches of the tree are like the letter Y over and over again).

Red bottle and vases of flowers 

Each time we draw something in art class, we consider those observations as questions: If I want to draw an alligator, what are its shapes? What are the lines I need?  Are there any letters I see that will make it easier to draw?
Two toy monster trucks, apples, and a pear
At this point in the year, they are really good at this. So as a challenge that I have never done before with Kindergarteners, I set up four still-life displays throughout the room, full of fruits, toys, dolls, blocks,  flowers, shells, and vases. Each artist practiced using their hands as a view finder, and zooming in on a favorite part. The job was to use their prior knowledge about shapes, lines, and letters to draw what they saw as realistically as they could- in Sharpie.
Toy plane on a book, animal bones, and a doll 
That last part, the Sharpie, might seem unfair- what if we make a mistake? they wondered. How will we fix it?
Toy truck carrying a dinosaur and a stack of blocks
Mistake-making was the very idea. Make errors, work with them, draw over and around and make it into something you love. Find flexible solutions. Show all the work it took you to make this picture. Sharpies do that beautifully. 
Blocks, fruits, vase of flowers, and truck carrying dinosaur, on checkered cloth
Artists used crayons to add color to the objects, and liquid watercolors to make a background. 

Truck, blocks, and vase of flowers on a table
The marvelous part was their excitement that they really could, in fact, draw from life, Kindergarten artists are game for everything I throw at them, and this was no different- their reactions to all of this were beautiful and priceless, including many squeals of delight at how much they love to draw. 

Vase of flowers on star-print cloth
I have been told before that Kindergarten artists are too young to do this kind of observational drawing, that it would only frustrate them, but their work evidences otherwise- they are such excellent and truly curious observers, that they notice and include the tiniest details. They have a strong stamina for art now, and worked on these for two classes. 

Ferns and flowers in a vase on plaid cloth
Especially when they have the freedom to select the area and content of what they want to observe, the rest falls easily into place for them. Look at the details of that fern!

Red bottle and two books on plaid cloth
This is why I save their artwork all year, so that families can see this growth in their finished Kindergarten art books. The skill in their work is amazing!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Abstract Paintings in Kindergarten


Kindergarten artists have been exploring abstract painting and printmaking in art class. 
They are so fantastic.


By which I mean both the paintings and the students. Feeling really lucky about this bunch of artists, they are so excited for everything they are learning!


This lesson began with printmaking- we used sponges, bottle caps, bubble wrap, special shape brushes, and cardboard to print paint onto the background papers. For the bubble wrap, artists painted it with a brush, bubble side up, and pressed it lightly onto the paper. In between students, I gave it a quick rinse and pat on a towel so that the next artist could choose new colors. You can see the bubble effect, the pattern of small purple circles, in the painting above, and in the painting below the bubble wrap was painted with purple and pink stripes.


We definitely needed smocks! The rest of the items, bottle caps and such, could just be dipped directly into the paint, which I put out on plates at tables for the students to use.


 In the work above you can see all of the bottle cap circles at the bottom of the painting.


We talked about layering, about how the first day of printmaking was going to be our under-painting. The next art class, we used only paint brushes. Students looked carefully at their dried prints to find areas that they loved best. Around those, they used their brush to paint circles in different sizes.  These were their Circles of Love, indicating the parts of their work they liked best.


Inside the circles, they let the under-painted first layer show through, and  did not add any paint. Outside of the circles, they could "paint away" any part they didn't love, adding patterns, and experimenting with color mixing.


In this lesson, I specifically steered clear of showing them the abstract paintings of professional artists. For this age, getting their hands into such fun materials and tools is so much joy-of-discovery, and I wanted them to experience that feeling first. 


Abstract art doesn't come with the heavy rules of realism which can burden and frustrate artists, and it doesn't distract the viewer with intentional "real" images. Instead, students are free to explore shape, color, line, and texture, and doesn't have right or wrong answers.


If you are looking at these at home with your child, don't assume that they are not "about" anything! Feel free to ask your young artist to tell you about their work, and feel free to tell them about what it reminds you of, what you see in it, and how it makes you feel!



Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Lost in Space

3,2,1, Blast Off!


Explorers in first grade are making art this is pretty (ahem) out-of-this-world! 


In connection with the science unit they are doing in their homeroom on cycles and phases of the moon, these students are using visual art to express additional knowledge that they have learned about space. 


Visual art provides learners a chance to show understanding in a different format than, say, a science notebook or moon-observation journal. In this lesson, students began by using white paint and a toothbrush to create a galaxy of tiny stars on dark paper. That same day, students began to create planets, using white paper and chalk pastels. Many students drew from what they remembered about the light units in art and science classes and attempted to make their planets look very spherical with different shades of pastel.


The great thing about beginning the planets on separate paper is that if there is a perceived mistake, smudging outside of their circle, or a planet that the artist doesn't like, it can simply not be cut out and added to the background. Planets which the students were pleased with were cut out and glued on once the backgrounds were dry.

Because this lesson is intended to give students another place to express their learning about space, we talked about what phenomena and objects are objectively observable and true about space. While you might wonder if they were disappointed not to put a face on their sun or an alien on the moon, they were not, as they were excited to be asked to "show what you know" about our galaxy.


Artists included additional objects of their choosing in their images, including things such as the moon (in different phases), constellations, satellites, meteors, rockets, the sun, and more.


Some artists went above and beyond integrating what they remembered from the light unit, making sure that the bright sides of their objects, such as planets, faced the sun, to create a more realistic model of how light would act on those objects.


Many students used strategic cropping of their objects to suggest that the vastness of space is endless, and let their shapes run off the edge, like the moon in the work below.


This lesson offers so many opportunities to practice skills first graders are building, especially cutting curves, making complex shapes (like stars), tracing an object (circular things like yogurt containers were traced for planets), and blending/mixing colors.


"The sky is the ultimate art gallery just above us."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Go, Science! My New Lesson in the Latest Scholastic Teacher

In their newest issue, Scholastic Teacher Magazine has just published my light up origami lesson, which I blogged about here last year. My issues arrived on the day of the March for Science!

Yippee!  Enough copies to share in my classroom!
The part of this news which really excites me is the idea that more children in other places may get the same opportunity to merge art and technology in school.


This is the second art+tech lesson of mine they have published this year.  Here is the blog link to the first lesson, Light Up Magic Wands. Go science!



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Pinch Pot Creatures

   Children love clay. 
SO much.



For many years, EES students have spent a week per year heading to BCA's clay studio, but, alas, BCA is in the middle of a move to a new home on Pine Street, and we will not go this year. This is approximately what the children looked like when I told them this news.

Pixar shows it well.
In flew the PTO to rescue our students, by purchasing a couple hundred pounds of air-dry clay!  Thank you families, you saved the day! While I don't have a kiln, we were able to build lots of non-utilitarian sculptures and vessels, which while they are not safe for food, look totally awesome.


BCA has primarily had students throw clay on the wheel, so for many of these young artists, hand-building with clay is all new. The techniques I wanted 3rd and 4th graders to have include slipping and scoring to attach parts, and the know-how to make a basic vessel like a pinch pot.


The class looked at many examples of how artists use pinch pots as a basic form for a bigger sculpture, and were inspired to make a variety of aliens, creatures, animals, and monsters.


The artist of the work above wanted hers to be useful, so she poked several holes in the back to put lollipop sticks into, to display candy.

The back, with five holes for lollipops.
Students discovered that like with all clay, fired or air-dry, pieces which are not well attached are prone to falling off. Fortunately, students could hot-glue on anything which detached.


Lots of artists' work evolved into multi-media sculptures, adding details like feathers, pompoms, or wire.
Vampire bunny
Long wire eyelashes
Some artists made "minis" to either attach to their main pinch pot, or even to sit inside of it.

Mama and baby frog with wire "fly"
Stacked pinch pot alien
The "Baby" creature sits inside of, and can be removed from, the larger one.
One artist even decided to make hers conjoined, creating distinct faces and designs for each part.


We used SchoolSmart grey clay, and while its working properties are very similar to that of real clay, it was more crumbly when dry than expected and far more fragile than the real deal. If you have had success with a different brand, please share about it!

For students, it was just so exciting to finally have their hands into clay again, that they didn't mind the texture one bit. They look forward to using it again!