Sunday, November 23, 2014

An Art Teacher on the Weekend

Of course I cannot speak for anyone in professions other than my own, but I do wonder if accountants spend their weekends thinking about and doing math the way that art teachers spend their spare moments thinking about and making art.
Driftwood piece, about 4" high.
Fortunately for me, my home in Vermont is surrounded by lots of lovely sights and opportunities for seeing and making artwork. Walking through the park across the street lands me directly at a small and delightful beach on Lake Champlain.  The sands are often gifted an assortment of driftwood, which people use to build structures large and small.
At the beach
I love to collect interesting objects that wash up and repurpose them for art materials. Thanksgiving is coming, and so begins my annual struggle with holiday centerpieces. Does this happen to you? They are always so big that there is never enough room for them at the table. 

So, in an inspired solution, I collected driftwood (and one birch log) with my kids this morning, and cut them into 3-6" sections.

Ends cut flat and drilled.
After I drilled small holes, I quickly sanded the ends. No splinters, thank you.

Back across the street and into the woods to collect a handful of moss and greens. 
(This is Vermont. Beach+park+moss+evergreen forest in about 1/4sq.mi.)

Poke the ends of clipped greens into branches.
Tiny trees!
At my house they will be clustered together on the table for now, because the holiday isn't here yet. I added a paper flower my son made.

~Art Forest~
And when the tables is inevitably crammed with plates and cups next Thursday (seriously, how do you make room for a centerpiece?), I can scatter them around, one here and there between all of the other stuff. Most versatile centerpiece ever!

What are you feeling thankful for today?  Personally, I am feeling especially thankful for where I live, and that there is such beauty around me.  And for Sundays- I am always grateful for Sundays.

Rather wintery.  Maybe I'll paint the ends shades of orange and red?

Have a Happy and Thankful holiday this week! 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Artist Residency- Family Literacy Center

Last Spring I was accepted to become part of Vermont Art Council's Teaching Artist Roster.  This allows me to go to area schools as an artist-in-residence through grant funding to which the school applies.  I am honored to have begun ten weeks as a teaching artist in Barre, Vermont, at the Family Literacy Center.

This amazing program serves pregnant and parenting young adults, women and men, who want to graduate high school.  There are currently ten students, which, because of the highly individualized attention, is the program maximum.

The students have clear goals for my time with them, which they would like to culminate in an art show. The content they have selected (a huge mural, 8'x8', planned and painted collaboratively and realistically) is both challenging and ambitious, and so we spent the first two weeks together getting to know each other and directing our focus to a single, powerful word of their choosing. The goal of this exercise was to select a word that would sustain them throughout the ten weeks, and hopefully beyond.
The list they brainstormed
Why one word? Because frankly, it is unreasonable to expect people to be nice, patient, loving, and kind at all times.  We all have undesirable traits, and most of us have too many to tackle all of them at the same time, so we give up trying to change. Instead, thinking of a person we admire, and picking their single characteristic that we wish that we could too embody, allows for more clarity and focus.  How do we wish to be seen by others? What one word can we attempt to embody in everything that we do?

Too lofty? In between their studies and painting, these students are already making herbal teas and shushing babies. I have no doubts.

Painting plywood
Our project itself was an exercise in being patient with oneself. We made string art.

They chose colors and textures that their word represented to them.
If you have never made string art, you are probably a little saner for that choice. It requires lots and lots of hammering nails. Little nails. Some bent, some too far through, some that cruelly seem to disappear  and allow the hammer to hit your thumb.

Tap tap tap
At this point, one might consider whether the choice to spell "Commitment" in nails might get you, well, committed.  But living your word, of course, is the goal. The young lady above chose the word "Patience." Physical challenges she endures made this word all more important, to remind her to be gentle on herself, to allow herself to be patient not only with her children and those around her, but most importantly, with herself.
Hammering in the first nails
Students could choose to either design their own lettering or follow the shapes of a font that they liked. The artists above printed out their words. In the background is the most astonishingly calm four-week old I have ever had the privilege to meet- he slept nearly the whole time, despite ten pounding hammers. The students are encouraged to bring their children to class.
Beginning the string
 With all of the hammering, artists are inserting nails that will form a framework for the string.  The strings are thin embroidery floss in an array of colors. If the artist used paper to guide the nails, they tore it out to begin adding string.
Patiently, patiently....
One of the amazing parts of making art is that it can reduce your anxiety, or at least distract you from the stressors of life for a few minutes. And this group admits to having plenty of stress. That, in fact, is sort of the basis for their mural concept we begin next week- that having a baby is stressful, and the support doesn't always come from where they might hope. So they look to others to help form those supports. 
Couple attending the program together
Like any person entering parenthood, some students find a supportive partner, and some do not.  So it not surprising that the themes of the words that they chose are so consistent, and so universally needed by all of us.




The names of their children

More LOVE. There can never, ever, be too much.
of course,

Monday, November 10, 2014

Skyline Prints- RES

Fourth grade artists have been looking at city skylines, comparing the similarities and differences between buildings. 
Some of their observations:
Most buildings have windows, but the windows can be tall, rectangular, tiny, round, etc.
Buildings have doors, but the doors can be single width and wood, double glass doors, arched, etc.
All buildings have a roof, but some are flat, some are pointed, or have radio antennae or lightning rods, some have chimneys, and so on
Most of the buildings are basically rectangles, but the height and width varies.

Artists brought all of these observations to this printmaking project
City skylines reflected into water!
I was inspired by this lesson, but couldn't help noticing that all of the reflections were backward, and figured that would be easy to fix.

Sunset and water
First, artists created their sky and water. They could really choose any time of day or night for this, and had the option to add salt.  Salting the watercolors creates a sparkly effect in the water or calls to mind stars when sprinkled in a dark black sky.

City developing
Next, artists used print styrofoam to create the skyline. Using a dull pencil, students compressed the fibers firmly to leave raised areas they would hold the ink, and white areas that would show the background paper when printed.  When they finished drawing, they cut out any negative space leaving only the buildings.

Negative space cut away from foam print plate
Next, we rolled out printing ink on plastic acetate. I find this allows a more consistent surface than using a styrofoam tray to roll out on.
Rolling out the ink with the brayer
The ink is ready to put on the print plate when it is similar to the texture of citrus peel.  Rolling across ready ink sounds sort of like shoes stuck in mud.

Rolling brayer onto printing plate
When the printing plate is fully inked, artists placed it face down on the sky, flipped it, and rubbed the back of the paper to transfer the ink.
Ready to peel off print foam
After the print plate is removed, instead of flipping the plate and printing again on the water, which would produce a rotated print rather than a reflected one, we closed the paper in half and squashed it.  To imagine what I mean here, think about folded Kindergarten paint butterflies- paint on half the paper and press it closed.
Ta-da! Spooky nighttime castle city
These came out fantastically well.  
A few more for your viewing pleasure.

The little flecks of light areas in the blue are the salt in the watercolor

Stormy water, clearing sky.  Awesome.

Feels like a skyline of buildings by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi

Day ending over the city
Can't help but feel like I am sitting in a boat looking out at this lovely city at sunset.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Spin It!- RES

 When I was little I had a Fisher-Price record player onto which I perched plastic Breyer Horses and pretended it was a carousel, and I would change the speed and watch them fly off. So it made a lot of sense that one of my favorite childhood gifts was this outstanding piece of 1980's engineering:
Did you have one of these?
Fast forward to being an art teacher and (sort of) an adult. 
Behold, my salad spinner.

Usually when I use a salad spinner, I am making a salad. But that's so boring. My own kids love our salad spinner, and put all kinds of things into it- stuffies, balls, toys- to watch them go around and around. No vegetables, hours of fun, and happy kids.

But what if you throw some paint and paper in there? Could this little spinner create the centrifugal force of my childhood toy? I had read about the idea, and had to find out.

Pieces of paper cut to fit inside
An RES third grader was more than willing to help me with this little experiment. Here, she has placed the paper inside and dripped in some paint.
Tempera or other thick paints work well for this
A light spin later, it looked like this:
Not quite like we'd hoped.  
More paint.

Now we were getting somewhere. But the closed top bummed us out, because we couldn't add the paint while it was in motion.  I am still brainstorming that one, because the concentric circles possible with the open-topped toy version were really cool.

The paper just sat on the bottom, no tape needed to hold it in place.
 Not to be deterred, we continued!  They came out pretty wonderful, and we are thinking about making more so that the student has enough to create her own mobile of these beauties spinning around from the ceiling.

Peeking in

 Opening the top is fun every time. It feels giddy, like opening a little surprise gift.

The paper doesn't have to be circular- triangles or squares would work as well.
 Now I need to acquire more salad spinners, so a whole grade level can get in on this magic.
 If you have one collecting dust, please consider donating it to the art room!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tweet tweet!- RES

Cardinal in early Spring
Tweet tweet!
Apologies.  I could not resist. 
 I just joined Twitter @MrsElliottArt, and third graders are finishing birds.

Blue Jay in Winter
Grade 3 artists have been looking at native, year-round Vermont bird species, and have been illustrating them by collaging painted papers. We began the first day by looking at photographs of birds and considering their textures and colors, and how to best recreate those in painted papers.  

Goldfinch in Autumn
In the first class students also drew trees on white paper, and then dragged painted cardboard over them to create the birches you see in their work. 

Red winged blackbird in Autumn
The following week, they began the collage by cutting out and rearranging their trees into single birches or clusters.  Artists had the choice to either draw their own bird or begin with a template of the body, to which they designed and added wings, beaks, feet, tufts, tails, and eyes.

Downy woodpecker in Winter
Noticing and recreating all of the details out of paper was the primary challenge- keep it realistic, no pencil showing.

Goldfinch in Spring
Students chose a season to show, and considered how the tree or the sky could help show the season.  Few, tiny, bright green leaves for Spring, larger and darker green leaves for Summer, and so forth.

Cardinal in Summer
According to the Birds of Vermont Museum, there are many species that live here with us even in Winter, which makes them tougher than many people, because it is cold up here already.

Brown-headed cowbird in Autumn
This artist used Sharpie to add veins to the leaves- she asked if it was okay (because of trying to use just cut paper), and I said I thought it was a great idea.  Other materials do well to enhance this project at the end, and this artist knows how to not let that marker dominate her picture.

Sparrow in Spring
These artists are very proud of how these collages came out, and I couldn't agree more. 

Tweet, tweet!
 Here are a couple more beauties.

I love the birch paper for the wing

Leaf pile!
Speaking of leaf piles, you should go jump in one.  Fall's nearly over y'all.