Tuesday, December 29, 2015

On Old Navy and Being an Artist

 I am disgusted. As if the arts aren't the birth of invention, innovation, and creative thought.  Not to mention, the basis of, you know, fashion design.

One great irony is that this corporation, thanks to style savvy, recently revived itself. But let's not encourage kids to become artists, because where would that get you? Good gracious. As if I am not already spending days combating people who don't understand the value of the arts in education, now I find myself justifying why it is a valid career option.

Let me be clear. As an elementary art teacher, I do not want to knock Presidential hopefuls, nor our world's astronauts (who tend, actually, to be particularly creatively resourceful people). But let's consider six reasons the world really needs artists, and that we'd better have people who aspire to become them.

1. Artists are the reason that we have beauty in the world. The clothes you wear, the art on your walls, the furniture and jewelry and home you so enjoy? Thank an artist. Ditto for your smartphone, television and movies you enjoy, and the music to which you listen.

2. Artists are creative problem solvers, and are not afraid to make mistakes. They are the original scientists, experimenting with materials and observing our world and its phenomena in a deep, meaningful way.

3. Artists are philanthropic. They fill your world with color.  Graffiti and murals, they are all there for you to enjoy, to brighten your day a little with thought and beauty.

4. Artists can create their own careers, either being their own bosses or joining into communities and corporations that need them. Artists show us that they can be themselves and marry work with the creative visions they believe in, since economic success alone does not translate to happiness.

5. Artists can use images to change another person's thinking without words or arguments. Art can open hard conversations and facilitate truth-telling. More laws and rules do not transform the hearts of human beings.

6. Artists create outlets for big feelings- their own, and yours, too. Hoping to raise a child who doesn't bottle up his or her feelings? Try buying him or her a poetry journal, or a sketchbook and crayons. Think of the last song, film, or painting that made you cry.  Artists understand emotions, can express beautifully, and can generate them in us when we least expect it.

So, you want to buy one of those shirts, and hope to raise a child who wants to be President?  Hope you have some artists on that staff to drive the difference between a ho-hum campaign and a dynamic, visually and creatively alive one that grabs voters.

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." -Pablo Picasso

Want to suggest that Old Navy reconsider their approach to supporting the artists who make them a successful brand?  Drop them a line at custserv@oldnavy.com

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Pre-vacation Stations! EES

You really can't do anything too serious the day before vacation.  Kids just want to have a little fun, and frankly, so do I! This means that we wrap up our projects and have a class where students make choices to go to stations.

They have been busy making cards, jewelry, trying computer art programs, free painting, and more!

In the picture above, students are using play dough and tools. Fourth graders in particular loved this station, opening a little bakery where customers could place orders for fancy desserts. I loved to see them loosen up and play creatively together!

The EES art room has two new Buddha Boards students have been enjoying. Using only water and a brush to paint, they are a mess-free addition to the art room.  Think about getting one for home- they are a terrific and fun way for kids to practice spelling words, let go of anxieties, and build fine motor skills.

Classes have been enjoying the blocks, building elaborate cities, and testing out physics laws.

Making a bookmark for a gift
Coloring to relax
These stations let the ideas flow!
This student asked if I had any thick paperboard, and came back to show me this!

Have a fabulous, creative, and restful vacation!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Under the Sea! EES

Welcome under the sea with us!

Fourth grade artists are combining making art with studying the conventions of non-fiction texts. 

Their knowledge is evidenced in their finished artwork.  If they have understood how to use the non-fiction books in the art room to find information, they have included at least two each of things that are plant, animal, and mineral in the ocean.

These fourth graders had excellent discussions about fiction versus non-fiction, and ways to seek content in an information text.  I hate to draw the line so harshly, but these little guys, unfortunately, were out by the rules of the game.
We were unable to find Snork in between shark  and sponge. Spongebob, it was noted, was also missing.
I know.  It's unfair. Who doesn't love the Snorks?  But back to getting real.

Students offered their help to one another using features of books such as the table of contents, index, and glossary to find out about and locate the things they sought.  

Narwhals were one of the most popular creatures, because while they are real (I mean, we think so... but have you ever actually seen one?) they have the aura of magic and mystery usually reserved for unicorns and dragons.  Unsurprisingly, sea dragons (you know, those nifty relatives of seahorses) were a hit too.

Students began with creating watercolor backgrounds to which many people added salt, creating that lovely bubbly effect you see above.  Additional creatures were drawn on separate paper, cut out, and glued on. Many students added real sand for texture as well.  And there you have it, your virtual scuba diving adventure of the day!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Zentangle Repoussé- EES

In their latest art project, Fifth Graders at EES have combined the ancient art of repoussé metal work with the relatively new approach to doodling called Zentangle. 

Students began by looking at examples of ancient Roman armor made by the technique of forming the metal outwards with a hammer, raising images out of the flat material.  This technique is called repoussé. This metalworking tradition has origins all across the world, including not only Roman armor but also ancient Mexican and Aztec cultures, among others.

Students used a thick-gauge aluminum and wooden tools. The metal is pushed into a soft surface, then worked from the reverse to push negative spaces back down. This flipping between the sides continues until the image is raised.

The images that students created began with a series of thumbnail sketches in their sketchbook. Thumbnail sketches are small, simplified versions of a bigger visual idea.  Each student created 4-6 ideas from which they chose a favorite.

After the students finished working the metal, they added color to the whole piece, pushing it into the recesses, and wiping away the high points to enhance the design.

The finished, dry metal pieces were mounted onto backgrounds. These young artists used a variety of Sharpies and paint pens to extend the designs outward from the metal.

Artists really enjoyed creating the Zentangle designs, which they found relaxing, meditative, and which gave them plenty of creative space.

Many artists chose to add highlights of color to their pieces in selected areas, to enhance, but not overwhelm, the patterns they chose.

They did a great job of considering elements and principles of design, such as balancing their lights and darks, and varying line width. Look for them on display soon!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Cities at Night- EES

First grade artists explored architecture and skylines in their most recent project. They began by looking at examples of skylines at night, and discussing what they saw.

As artists moved into using cut paper to create their own cities, they asked themselves questions such as: What types of buildings are these?  How are they used? Do people live in them, work in them, store things in them?

Students identified many similarities in the buildings we studied. Most have windows, all have some type of door or entrance, all have a roof of some kind. Students noticed that you could count the windows going upward and guess at how many floors a building has.

They noted differences as well- some were tall and decorative, some small and plain, some with roof lines or architectural shapes that suggested that the building might be in a different country.

The roofs of these!
 Details such as streets, sidewalks, and landscaping gave further clues about location.

 Students discussed how to tell if there was someone inside ("The lights would be on.") and how to tell if you would be welcome in also ("The door could be open.").

We discussed how architects make our building safe, adding details such as lightning rods or fire escape ladders.

When the buildings were complete students experimented with using a large nail (instead of a paintbrush) to add objects to their night skies.  The sharp point allowed artists to create tiny pinpricks of light, or to drag a little paint puddle in several directions to create stars, meteors, and more.

Window sills, large arches over doorways, and chimneys adorn the building students made, all while further sharpening their fine motor skills through careful cutting and gluing.

Which leads me to one more thought: whenever you have time at home with your children- maybe over this upcoming vacation- take a few minutes to do an activity that helps them build strength and dexterity in their hands and fingers.  As you can read in this excellent and to-the-point article, many children are not spending enough time refining their grips (on pencils, on scissors) which can leave them profoundly behind peers when it comes time to learn to write.  They need practice, practice, practice to learn to hold an art or writing implement the right way. Consider taking a few minutes over vacation to write and color a letter to a loved one, to cut pictures out of magazines to make a simple collage, or to let them roll out the pie dough on their own.

Have a happy, messy, and creative vacation!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Friendship Collages- EES

Apologies that it has been a while since my last post!  Grading has swallowed me whole.  It sort of looks and feels like this.

Pinocchio and Geppetto trapped inside Monstro
Now, the lighting in my house was a little better, and my quill pens sit idle since we grade online, but I am pretty sure it felt the same overall, and it was lovely to eventually see daylight again.

During this month second grade artists have been creating collages.  They began by making backgrounds with a partner, Students worked together to place tissue paper strips onto a sheet of wet paper, then placed another on top, sandwiching the tissue papers. After they tiptoed over the paper sandwich, they peeled it apart and discarded the tissue, leaving two mirror-image backgrounds.

 From there, artists went in their own directions, depicting a friendship between two creatures. 

Butterfly friends playing with a ball
One of the creatures was a real animal, and the second was a real or imaginary friend of the first creature.

Elephant with his imaginary friend, who is carrying a pencil. "They love to do art together."

Some of these friendships reflected relationships students have in their own lives, and in their families.

"It's a mommy and baby horse eating apples together."
Students gave their creatures an environment- undersea, grassy pastures, etc., in addition to the backgrounds created with a partner.

Orca and eel
Many students chose to use reference books to help them draw their real animal accurately, and it shows in the level of detail that many achieved.

Deep water fish and his alien buddy.
A group of three friends: alligator, butterfly, and mouse.
This one reminded me of the book Amos and Boris, a tale of an unlikely and important friendship between a whale and a mouse, who each have a turn to save one another's lives.

Second graders are doing several projects that involve cooperative partnership work.  Before we began, we spent a lot of time brainstorming what successful partnerships look like, and what they have in common with friendships.  Although not every student will wind up being friends with every other child, we are building the capacity to recognize one another's strengths, and the things that make others want to be with you.

It is both challenging and community-building for students to work this way, especially in creative processes like the arts offer, because everyone wants the space for their own voice to be heard, and it can be hard to negotiate those compromises with another person. My hope is that over time the students will be able to see the strength of the sharing of ideas and visions with multiple minds. 

Love this land-and-sea relationship.  Amazing composition.

In the meantime, their fabulous artwork certainly reflects their understanding of friendships and shared experiences.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Mighty Cool! Grade 4 and 5 Optical Illusions- EES

If there is one subject near and dear to me other than art, it would have to be math.  Our world is filled with math, and getting a good grip on it makes your artwork even cooler. Just ask these artists, who popularized optical illusions in fine art.

26th July 1979: Bridget Riley, British Painter (Photo by Evening Standard)
Victor Vasserly, c.1978 (Getty Images)
Optical illusions are what happens when your eye perceives something that is different than reality. The effects that Riley and Vasserly achieved on flat surfaces are nothing short of mind-blowing. Students love optical illusions, perceived space, and implied shadow, and by fourth and fifth grade are itching to figure out how it is done.

Math, my dear, math.  And some great shading skills.

Going backwards in time a bit, you may know the artist M.C. Escher.
Ascending and Descending, Lithograph, 1960
Born in 1898, Escher was said to be a crummy student, and spent a lot of time home sick as well. His dad was an engineer, but M.C. Escher eventually went to school for decorative arts, and shortly later discovered that his artwork was made much, much better with math. So, he spent more time as an adult investigating mathematics journals, and incorporating the concepts and discoveries into his artwork, notably in his tessellations and architectural renderings.  His work is revered by scientists and mathematicians around the world, and is widely sought-after by collectors.

I love this story, because it so neatly describes how an unsure person can come to love math through art, and potentially vice-versa; if you love math, maybe this is your road to enjoy art-making.  Here is some of the student artwork from EES:

Wow, right?!  These kids...
My math goal for this year involves having students gain comfort in using rulers for measurement. These are grade five projects, which began with a grid, and students were able to choose their spacing. Students who felt less confident might have chosen whole inches, whereas students looking for a greater math challenge chose fractions of inches as their spacing measure.

There were no rules around having to color in a grid specifically, or having to stick to the same two colors the whole way through, so the results were varied and beautiful.

The cast shadows really helped students feel that their work was "popping out" as they intended.

To make the cast shadows, students were asked to imply a light source consistently throughout the image, and also to apply that light source to the sphere itself.

Their work is pretty wonderful.  One way to gauge that they love it is the time they are voluntarily filling their sketchbooks with more spheres, and that classroom teachers and parents are seeing these as well.

Fourth graders also used math tools, light, and shadow to create optical effects.  Here is a sampling of their amazing work:

Fourth grade.  

Don't you love this triangular composition?

Look for these in the halls around school.  A display of their work is coming soon!