Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Sewing Table! RES

In the past on this blog, I have discussed options that students have when they finish their work.  Last Thursday, I was visiting Burlington Forest Preschool and saw their brand-new, amazing sewing table. I decided pretty much instantly that I had to make one. (Or two.  And give them as gifts.  So I think the future holds several more.)

This simple little table allows students to essentially embroider into the screen.  The screen can be taken off and replaced to allow it to be displayed as a mural.  It measures about 2'7" x 15".

The construction could not be more basic, and is just what you see here. I went to ReSource's Building Center in Burlington and spent about $4 on enough reclaimed 2x4's to make it. The fiberglass screen is pretty cheap too, and I had it kicking around my basement.  Four equal length posts were screwed to the rectangular top.  This is the most forgiving, imprecise woodworking project ever (which is exactly my kind of woodworking).

After building, I primed the wood with white and then doused it in this juicy-orange-sunshine-colored paint.  When it was dry, I cut a piece of screen that was about three inches bigger than the table on all sides, then used a staple gun to attach it to the table.

I set it up on the carpet with a basket of needles and embroidery floss, and showed Kindergarteners how to thread their needles and sew through the screen.  It is big enough for about four students to work comfortably on it at a time. In honor of Spring, we are sewing plants right now. The plan is to let the stitching build up, and rotate the theme each month on a new piece of screen.

It's only day one, but students are loving it, and I am delighted to have found a way to make sewing a self-guided activity for students.  All classes K-4 will learn to use it!

Sumi-e Painting- RES

Ink wash painting is traditional in many East Asian countries, and goes by a different name in each. In Japan, it is called sumi-e. Second grade students at RES have been exploring this style of  painting, which uses black ink and bamboo brushes.

We began with looking at the traditional method of grinding an ink stick with water over a stone to produce ink. It takes quite a bit of time and strength to produce a very dark shade this way, but some students loved it and chose to use it for their paintings.  Most students used a concentrated, liquid type that can be mixed with water to achieve many shades.

Artworks began by preparing a surface onto which paintings would be made. To do this, artists created a sky with either a moon or sun and a color palette to match the sky at the time of day they chose to show.

While those dried, we looked at more examples of ink wash paintings, and discussed the philosophy behind sumi-e. The goal of artists painting in this style is not to accurately reproduce the object they are painting, but rather to paint how it feels, how it sounds and moves- its essential spirit.

Now, I tell you because that was the favorite part of second graders.  Their overall reaction was "You mean, it's okay if it doesn't look exactly right like real plants and bamboo?!"  They were astonished, relaxed, and feeling free to experiment.

Bamboo brushes have the amazing quality of being able to create both wide lines and lines as thin as a hair, all in the same brush. Sometimes even in the same brushstroke.

Second graders felt both freed and challenged by the idea that instead of essentially "drawing" with a paintbrush- trying show every leaf vein- a single leaf was instead created with a single brush stroke.

After practicing on scrap paper, students painted on their prepared backgrounds.

In lieu of writing a signature, sumi-e artists create a seal, or printed stamp, which acts as their name on artworks and documents.  These seals can be made of carved stone or carved wood traditionally.  RES artists made seals that were either an artistic arrangement of name letters or initials, or created a picture/symbol to represent their name.

In honor of National Poetry Month, these grade two students are working this week to write haiku poems about their artwork.  Here is a finished example:

morning light shining
bamboo swaying in the day
shining light on it

Hope you have a wonderful National Poetry Month!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Shadow Self-Portraits- RES

Visual art and light concepts are totally inseparable. Which is why, beginning in Kindergarten and through fourth grade, I work with students to understand how light affects all the aspects of how we see.

In this science and art connection, first grade RES artists investigated how and why shadows are made.

Students noticed how shadows are produced when light is blocked by an object. Any object can produce a shadow, but here the object blocking light from getting to a surface is the student him or herself.

 First grade artists drew their bodies doing physically active things such as running, jumping, and dancing. Self-portraits and a piece of black paper were cut out simultaneously to produce the shadow.

Students included a light source they chose- the sun, a lamp, the moon, etc.  Shadows and light sources are always on opposite sides of an object, so students tried to arrange their cut pieces to show where they think the shadow would fall in the scene they drew.

 Instruction included observing and drawing the shapes that make up our bodies to try to create more proportionally accurate self-portraits.

 The one above makes total sense developmentally- the shadow and light are on opposite sides of the person, but the shadow is suspended in the sky instead of laying on the ground- the surface on which, in reality, it would fall.  But remember, these artists are seven years old- some are still six, in fact! 

One of my favorite parts actually is that this is the perfect project in which to embrace the much-maligned "corner sun." Come check these out in the hallway outside the art room!

Earth Without Art- RES

This morning a few of my fourth graders had this amazing revelation, and called me over to see it.

Student 1: [Eyes wide, mouth gaping.] "Mrs. Elliott, you can't have Earth without art. Get it? Get it?"
Student 2: "Not only that, but Earth without art would be just 'eh'.  See?" [Proceeds to draw little paper below.] "See?  Just 'eh'. [Said while shrugging shoulders]. That's why you need art."

I had to Google this phrase. Surely someone had said it before.  Unsurprisingly, it plasters many a mug and poster in the internet ether. But what's awesome is that none of my students had actually heard it before, and had generated it on their own.

And that, dear reader, is why my students are awesome. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Water Bottle Chandelier- RES

Guess what's ready for its debut?
The gorgeous finished chandelier in the library at RES!

Isn't it wild?! Green and blue and hot pink all over!
 What is this crazy jellyfish? This project is inspired by the dramatic and technically mind-blowing glass work of the artist Dale Chihuly. I have been lucky to see his work a few times, and I love the element of team-work that goes into all glassblowing, but specifically into Chihuly's to accomplish the large work such as this 14' orb of delicate spiraling shapes.

Dale Chihuly, The Sun, 2003
 Back in January, RES let me begin a little collection of plastic water bottles. I wasn't sure how this was going to go, because this is such a green community, with our students showing up each day toting reusable bottles.  Would there be enough?  Were we really saving any from landfills or recycling facilities for our project?
It hangs over six feet long, and looks right at home over the terraced space by the windows.
     As it turns out, lots of people use water bottles, only they are hilariously awkward and uncomfortable about it.  So much unnecessary justifying of a purchase.  We all do it from time to time, no one is perfectly eco-friendly. I cannot tell you how many times in the last couple of months I had various versions of this same conversation:

Colleague/community member (with guilty expression and embarrassment on their face):
Mrs. Elliott, we have water bottles for you. [holds out bag of empty bottles]
Me: Thanks! So glad you could help with our project!
Colleague/community member (now looking at shoes): Well, we only have them because we/our parents/our neighbor uses them because our/their water is bad.
Me: No, really, we are glad to have them! We couldn't and wouldn't be doing this project if people didn't use them!

Oh, Vermonters. Don't be so hard on yourselves. Look what we did with them!

From underneath.
 After collecting many bottles, we began to tint them all and cut them into spirals.  I made an initial cut with a utility knife, and students cut the spirals to varying widths using scissors.

See the patterns of the bottles in plastic?
We used hot glue to attach all of the spirals to a hollow cardboard tube, which hangs from wires.  We began at the bottom and added rings around the tube, working our way up.  I don't know precisely how many bottles the grade four artists turned into colorful spirals, but I can estimate that it was well over two hundred.

View of the room as you enter
 At the end, we added a strand of donated Christmas lights to make it glow. Now that it has been installed, it will be up for a long time, so stop by to see it!

Colors against our bleak neutral landscape are a relief!

Art Show at the Richmond Free Library- RES

Before the month of March is out, please make sure that you stop by the Richmond Free Library to see the leaf prints by RES fourth grade artists. 
Over thirty works are on display!

Fourth grade artists explored positive and negative shapes in these monoprints. These are called monoprints because each is unique and can be produced only once, unlike processes such as woodcuts or photography.  Fourth graders placed leaves over an inked surface, and pulled a print in which the leaf shapes are left white, producing a negative of the image.  These artists then removed their leaves, and pulled a second print in which we see the leaves as the positive shapes of the image. Go see them soon!