Thursday, July 31, 2014

Teaching teens who are teaching me- BCA

One of the neat things about teaching one-week summer art camps is that a wide range of students attend.  Last week, I had campers from around the state as well as from New York City and Georgia. Sometimes there are even campers from overseas.  My campers range in age as well. During the school year I primarily work with students grades K-5, so it was fun and refreshing to have 12-14 year olds last week.

The camp was focused on drawing and painting, and taught lots of very technical skills and concepts.  This group was extremely talented, and initially (on Monday) asked for lots of "high art" teaching- art history and aesthetics mixed with making.
A lesson in shading with colored pencils

But they were grumpy. Well, not grumpy.  They actually said they were having fun, but they were so, so quiet and unsmiling that this was hard to buy.

So, we painted huge abstract canvases, looking at artwork by Joan Mitchell, Jackson Pollock, Cy Twombly, and many others. They finally got talking when they began to argue about what exactly art was, and whether all of these artists were really all-that-great. They flung paint, scraped it, sponged, dripped, and brushed it on.  Several told me they had never been allowed to splatter paint before.

Well, I asked, What else have you never been allowed to do?

And it is here, dear readers, our story improves dramatically. And so did my teaching.

I have never bubble painted.
I have never fingerpainted.
I have never been allowed to use glitter how ever I want. You know, throw it around. Put some in my hair.

What?! These are rites of childhood. How can I teach advanced concepts to people who are lacking in fun? What's the point of art, and frankly, education, if there is no joy? No freedom to explore the materials without particular purpose?
Exploring shaving cream with middle and incoming-high school students.

each day for the rest of the week we had balance. Landscape painting by the lake, bubble painting in the classroom. They put it on their papers. On their arms, legs, and heads. They stuck their tongues in it to taste the bitter soapiness.

We learned volumes and shadows, after which we finger painted.

These artists illuminated letters and numbers, then lit up their art with waterfalls of glitter on their painted paper collages- and on their heads.

They ate marshmallows and lollipops from the candy store while they drew. And then I emptied two cans of shaving cream onto the tables for them to play in. They didn't want to stop. They played for forty-five minutes, until it was time to go home.

An "@" symbol, for our illumination project
 One of the days we had two lovely sisters model for us after a bunch of brief gestural warm-ups where they modeled for one another.  Here are some of those, all rendered in willow and compressed charcoal.
This 14-year-old artist is headed to a fine-arts high school in September, where he will have art for two hours daily.

This thirteen year old artist did not draw the furniture or walls.  I love the sense of anxiety and play with gravity that creates.

This artist is twelve. Twelve. And this drawing was 90 seconds long.

Look at the volumes created by the line directions.

The style of this artist kept making me think of Francis Bacon.

The sisters.

At the end of the week, BCA gives campers an evaluation form.  They grade the program, the teacher, the resources, the overall experience, and provide suggestions for changes.  I love this, and look forward every week to seeing what the campers have to say.  This group offered the most touching and thoughtful feedback I have perhaps ever received.

Don't change a thing. Keep doing what you are doing, keep being you.
I loved everything.  Especially flinging the paint.
What would I change? We would bubble paint sooner- on the first day- so we all could have talked to each other sooner, and become friends sooner. 

Put bubbles on each others' heads sooner.  This is an important thing for me to remember going into the next school year. More overt joy, without pretense, to build community. Thanks for teaching me, kids.

Hello, Dollies! BCA

Oh, hello! Pleasure to have you here.  It's been a while.

Please excuse the blogging lapse. My work of late has been decidedly low-tech. So low-tech, in fact, that what is seeming like a majority of the population does not know how to do it.  This is summer number eight on my mission to teach sewing to the next generation.

If you said that these don't make you want to scoop them up for a hug, I would refuse to believe you.

This is my favorite part of working for Burlington City Arts in the summers. Back in 2007, I proposed this class, and it ran once that summer, completely full with a waiting list of equal size. Clearly, little people wanted to learn to sew. The following year it was offered twice in the summer, and still is.

Flannel monkey pajamas.  A doll has got to have options, right?

When I was around six, my Girl Scout troop sewed little rag dolls. Mine had a light blue shirt. What mattered most to me was that I made her myself, and I loved her. That feeling of tangible accomplishment was one that I want to make sure other people experience.  In the summers, the campers are here for fifteen hours (what a blessing!) in one week, which makes it not only possible to sew a doll entirely by hand, but to make lots of outfits for the doll as well.


Step one! Lay out your fabric, two layers thick, and trace your pattern onto it.

Yes, these are art tables. I find them beautiful.

Next, cut out the pattern pieces.

Snipping oh sew carefully. (Sorry, I couldn't resist. You knew it was coming.)

The arms and legs are sewn first, with a running stitch.  If the students ask, we can make them a line of tiny dots to sew on, especially useful for beginners.

 The campers are usually 6-8 years old, but sometimes are 5.

This is not easy work for little hands, but they are determined.  Fortunately, BCA usually offers me a volunteer Teaching Assistant to help with the tangles and knots that can cause anxiety for newbies.

Those are some tiny stitches. Wow.

After all of the arms and legs are sewn, it is time to make the body. Artists choose hair colors, and lay it inside the doll so that the whole thing is sewn inside out. In the end, the hair will then be held in tightly.

Some of the colors choices for hair.

Rainbow hair!

This is always the hardest part.  They sew the doll's hair three times to make sure it will stay in for all of the future braids and pigtails it is sure to receive.

Pinned in place, and sewing underway.

 After the doll is sewn, the body, arms, and legs are flipped right side out and filled with stuffing.

Like a pillow, less stuffing makes the doll softer, more makes a it firmer.

The students work at all different paces. That is perhaps the best thing about the camp- sometimes someone has never sewn a stitch, while other girls might be back for their third summer in a row, have made one or two already, and just want to design the clothes all week. Rarely is differentiation for learners at all levels so effortless.

So focused.

Once the doll is stuffed, artists sew on the legs.

Some have added faces already at this point, while others wait until the doll is sewn.

The arms are sewn on with a simple whipstitch.

The stitching is in back of the doll.

If they have not done so yet, it is time to add a face. Or even two. On several occasions the maker has designed the doll two-sided instead of front and back, so that it has faces that are awake/asleep, happy/sad, etc.

There were a lot of belly buttons this year. And those freckles!

The makers can choose how to create the face in a variety of ways. They can sew features, draw them, add button eyes, or use puffy fabric paints.

Sometimes artists even draw or paint on jewelry, or sew on sequins for earrings.

When the dolls are done, artists begin the clothes. I bring lots of patterns which can be infinitely varied, or the artists can design their own.  All of the patterns I have made also fit American Girl dolls, which makes this whole camp even cooler. Lots of campers arrive with a doll, sew the new one, and make outfits for both.  One-shoulder dresses, swimsuits, shirts, shorts, skirts, aprons, ties, pjs, shoes, tiny purses- there is no end to the variety.

"This color will look amazing on her!"

So, the part of this that brings it to an almost unbearable level of sweetness is that the week culminates in a tea party with the artists, the dolls, and the families. The kids are bursting with pride about now.

The dolls are introduced.

Cookies, juices, and real tea (of course!) on pretty white tablecloths.

 There are lots of places to find easy sewing patterns.  Look online or at a fabric store and learn a new skill!  It's never too late to learn to sew. And once you do, it is empowering to be able to fix tiny seam rips or that button which abandoned your shirt.

Doreen Kraft, BCA's Executive Director, often visits for our tea parties.

 Do you have a skill you worry will disappear? Maybe someday you could show a little person how to do it. 

Dolls and artists all glammed up for the tea party.

I hope you are enjoying your summer!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Winter in July- RES

Summer is when lots of gears are turning in my head for the next year's projects. When a lesson is completed, teachers do lots of reflecting about how things could be different for the next time. Did students meet the learning objective? Did true growth and understanding occur? Was the lesson enjoyable?  This is a good time of the year to do that thinking and planning.

Sometimes I throw a lesson out the window, and try again from square one, and sometimes a lesson meets all of my "keeper" requirements.  I usually steer away from snowmen and other "holiday" and "seasonal" art themes, but this has so much science I could not resist.  And so here I am in July, considering winter, night, color, and moonlight, while I sip lemonade.

 Presenting, the Snowmen. (And Snowladies.  And a couple of Snowaliens.) An all-time favorite among students, as well.
The trinity of creating realism: Light source, surface, and shadow. 
RES second graders made these last winter, after I tweaked a very similar project from the year before.  The changes mostly happened in the way I taught it, but the artistic process for students was largely unchanged.
Looks like you could hug her!
We began this lesson with students spending a while discussing what color snow is. The general consensus, of course was white.  (Or yellow, which created endless ripples of giggles.)

Next was reading Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner, with illustrations by Mark Buehner.  It's a sweet, rhyming story about nighttime mischief, but what makes it truly outstanding are the illustrations.
Look at how Mark Buehner uses light and time of day to shift the colors you expect to see when you think "snow."
Oooh! came the impressed sounds of students.  Followed by shouts of Snow is blue! And purple! I see pink! My goal here was to look at how color is relative to the light source and the things around it.  If you want a snowman to look like it is out at night, it won't be totally white.

Think of picking out socks in the early morning- you thought they were black, but after you got to work it turned out they were navy or brown.  But in that morning light, they really were black, because there were fewer colors and less light overall.  The socks did not change, the light changed.  And snow will still be white in the morning.

These are painted with brushes and cotton swabs on dark blue, purple, or black paper with tempera, and detailed with cut fabrics.
 So then we looked at light, and using a projector in the art room experimented with the things you need to make a shadow, and students figured out the three things (light, surface, object) needed to create a shadow.
Light on the left, shadows on the right.
Students also noticed that the cast shadow and the dark side of an object are always opposite the light.
Armed with all of that knowledge, as well as lots of other preknowledge about color-mixing, we began the project.
A lamppost, shooting star, and moon among falling flakes.
We began by painting the three spheres, gradually adding more blues and purples to the side of the snowman opposite the light source.
Snowman is 3/4 pose.  Wow.
After stacking the three spheres, students added light sources, ground, and a cast shadow.  Most of them also have snow falling from the sky.
I love how this snowman is playing and jumping around, stars sparkling among the falling snow.
The next class, after the paint dried, we added details like the faces and buttons, and used scissors to cut fabric for hats, mittens, aprons, scarves, and more.
Tattooed snowman.
So, this is one I will keep forever.  One way to know it is a forever-lesson is that students can adeptly apply the knowledge to other artwork, making all kinds of work (fruits, pumpkins, balls) look three-dimensional with shadows and light sources. The students have also practiced this at home and in their classrooms, and have brought me all kinds of amazing work in crayon and colored pencils they have made on their own.
Watch out!  This one is holding a snowball.

Smiling moon.
This is a lesson with somewhat limited ways to "make it their own" for students, which makes me nervous, but after seeing the directions in which the new learning can be taken, I am sold. Here are a few more to enjoy. Happy summer!

See you next winter!