Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Introducing Glass Artist in Residence Alexandra Turner

Artwork in glass by artist Alexandra Turner

 EES is thrilled to announce to families that today Vermont Arts Council approved a $2500 Artist In Schools grant for students in grades 3-5 to work with the local artist Alexandra Turner ( She will be working with students during art class on Tuesdays-Fridays for five weeks. Students will be exploring the structures of native plants, minerals, and how fossils form over time. They will be immersed in geology, scientific drawing, outdoor plant collection, and will culminate with working with glass to create their own artwork on native plants fused into glass.

If you would like to help support this residency, flat, clear glass (old windowpanes, for example) is needed and appreciated. If possible, please be certain that the glass in not in a wood casing that could contain leaded paint. All glass panels can dropped off to the art room at any time over the next two weeks. Thank you!


Saturday, September 1, 2018

What Teachers Might Want To Know About Gluten In Your Classroom

While this blog post is largely intended for art teachers, it is also pertinent for K-12 teachers, preschool leaders, and parents who work with or play with gluten-intolerant children.


This blog post is also a lot more personal than I ever really get- because I can't have have gluten in my own classroom for my own health. Enough art teachers have asked about this that it is time to try to help.

From wheat papier-mâché to macaroni necklaces, there are all kinds of things in the classroom teachers use to make art that can, unknowingly, make children sick. 

There is no blame here. I make mistakes at this, too! It's a lot to digest at first, but I promise it gets easier. If this seems burdensome, think about elevators and tall buildings. An elevator or ramp makes your whole building accessible to the well-being and access of everyone; so does having a gluten-free creative space make your space safe for all students. 

One challenge is that most art supplies do not list ingredients. I have learned by trial, error, phone calls, and illness what to avoid.  Here are some common places gluten is found in an art room, and some substitutes.  Where rice flour is an easy substitute, consider going to a Asian food market to buy it. You'll want the finely ground stuff made from plain white rice, not from sticky rice. I buy it at a Thai grocer not too far away, and it is significantly less expensive than at a larger grocery store. Here is the one I buy:

Conventional:  Wheat flour+water is time tested and makes great art. Unfortunately, it also makes some people very sick. Some people will become sick even from the topical-to-mouth contact, even if they wash hands after, especially small children who might not be proficient handwashers. 
Alternatives: Elmer's papier-mâché paste is excellent and gluten-free. I mix mine in a blender and let is rest until the bubbles are out. It dries well and clear. It is highly paintable and lasts forever. I keep extra in a jar.  It is water soluble and doesn't clog your sink. Also, mixing Elmer's glue and water 50/50 works well, but needs frequent stirring as the glue sinks.

Sensory Bins:
Conventional: Bins of pasta, flours, etc., that kids stick their hands in to explore texture and physical properties.
Alternatives: Beans, cornmeal, cornstarch, rice, sand, and water.

Macaroni Art and Jewelry:
Conventional: Wheat pasta. Often used for making jewelry, or adding texture to a picture frame around an artwork, and many more uses.
Alternatives: Gluten-free pasta abounds! The rice type is often the least expensive. There are also endless more ways to add texture to picture frames (buttons, bits of wood) or to make jewelry (beads, stones) that everyone can use.

Conventional: Many commercial fingerpaints and homemade recipes rely upon wheat flour. Since this is most often used with young children, the risk of ingestion is high.
Alternatives: You could probably buy it, but making it is likely much cheaper. Here is a simple recipe:
Mix 1/2 c rice flour, 1t. salt, and 1+c. water in a pot.
Heat until it thickens on a stove over medium-low heat, whisking constantly. 
Let it cool. Add more water if needed to get the consistency right.
Divide it into little batches. 
Add a few drops of food coloring to each cup to make a variety of colors. 
Store in tightly covered containers. Refrigerate or use right away, as the salt amount is not high enough to preserve it for months at room temp. 

Play doughs:
Conventional: Most commercial and homemade doughs, including the popular PlayDoh brand, contain wheat.
Alternatives: This commercially made one has excellent reviews. I make my own. Here is a simple recipe:
In a pot, mix 1c. rice flour, 1/2c. salt, 1T cream of tartar, 1T oil, 1c. water, and a few drops of whatever food coloring you choose.
Heat until it thickens and pulls away from the sides of pot on a stove over medium-low heat, mixing constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula.
Let cool.
Knead well and store in an airproof container. Room temp storage is fine.

Art pastes:
Conventional: Most preprepared and homemade thick art pastes contain wheat.
Alternatives: Glue sticks or glue sponges are great. I use 1.41oz UHU glue sticks, and also keep glue sponges made with Elmer's in airtight containers. See a how-to here.

This is a big one, and often overlooked. If you have ever used your sponges to ever clean up art materials that contained gluten, like any of the above materials, then to have a gluten-free classroom the sponges must be discarded and replaced with new ones. Once, in my absence, my classroom was used for a wheat-paste papier-mâché project. It took me a few days to figure out why I was sick. A thorough cleaning of my sink and replacement of all sponges is all it took.

If you have scissors, play dough tools, cookie cutters, brushes, wire tools, or anything else non-porous which have been previously used for gluten-containing materials, just wash them very well and they will be okay to use. No need to toss good tools!

Many art rooms don't allow kids to eat in them anyway, but if yours is used for snack/lunch, etc., keep a separate set of sponges and wipes to thoroughly clean tables after children eat at them. Also, consider here how gluten-containing foods are often used for play- candies and cereals (like cereal necklaces) are important to be aware of. If children do have to eat in your room, consider designating a gluten-free table, just an many schools do for nuts/fish/eggs, etc.

Some adhesives:
Envelopes people lick often contain wheat-derived ingredients in the adhesive. Consider glue sticks instead if students are mailing letters or using envelopes. Or, you could use the type of envelope where you peel off a backing to reveal sticky adhesive.

Soaps and dish detergents:
Many brands contain forms of wheat. I once was sick for weeks until I realized it was the dish detergent I was using to clean my art tables contained wheat germ oil. Check labels, call the company, ask your janitorial department to check the soap pumps in bathrooms and by classroom sinks to find out about ingredients.

Wash your hands!
No one expects you to change your own or your students' diets. After lunch or snack, have students do a quick handwashing before they scamper off to hold community supplies and toys.

Hopefully this helps. Practice makes better! When in doubt, read labels and call companies. If you can think of other places and materials to consider, add them in the comments!

Note: Not a doctor, just an art teacher! My goal is not to educate on how gluten enters the body, but rather how to keep it out of an art room setting so that children can stay healthy in our learning spaces.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Stefan Bucher Ink Monsters!

Grade 5 ink monster!

If you haven't yet seen the fantastical ink blot monsters and videos of artist and illustrator Stefan Bucher, you are in store for a wonderful treat! While the approach isn't new- turning a random mark into a thoughtful outcome- the work of Mr. Bucher is fresh and relatable for students.

A crew of artist Stefan Bucher's ink blot monsters.  © Stefan Bucher.
Stefan Bucher is the wacky, creative mastermind of The Daily Monster, and is a designer, writer, and artist living in California. His process is a pleasure to watch, and made for an inspirational starting point to our own creative work. 
 © Stefan Bucher
This year, I have made several instructional videos for days that when there is a guest teacher in the art room. (Fellow art teachers, feel free to use this one I made for our inkblot project! And leave your tables covered in butcher paper so avoid having to scrub the ink or liquid watercolor off afterwards.) The students loved this lesson and were totally engaged the whole time.

Bird monster in progress
We began with watching two of Stefan's monster videos. Here is the first one:

What strikes me the most is the thoughtful line of questioning he poses to his viewer. This line of questioning (e.g. "What noise does it make?") helps students go beyond the simple ink blot to create a creature's details and even an environment. 

Here is the second video students watched:

It felt important to show two ink blots so that students could see the varied places from which artists draw inspiration. In the first video, Stefan Bucher was inspired by the observations of his viewers, and in the second, he was inspired by an exhibit he visited. Inspiration can come from anywhere! Aspects of his approach and process varies as well.

Second grade ink blot monster!
This project has been a great way to end the year, and can also be formatted as a station for choice-based art.
Fourth grade monster

Several students loved this art-making approach so much that they requested doing it a second day. That was perfect for a mellow, student-driven option to add to the last art class!

Later, I discovered that Stefan Bucher has generously shared his own process here, and there's a lot to love about that! The can of compressed air is a game changer. I look forward to sharing it with students next school year. 

A closing quote from Mr. Bucher: "The process of drawing for me has always been a process of failing, where I have an image in my head, and then, as I put it on paper, the shortcomings of my hands become apparent. The monsters are a way of reversing that process, because I don't know what it's going to look like. I don't go into it like 'it's gonna be this character, it's gonna be this thing'... the whole thing is a process of discovery."

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Cupcakes and Oil Pastel Tie-Dye

After many years of experimentation, I have discovered that the best way to leave a class with a guest teacher is to create video substitute plans. Students are happier, the guest teacher is happier, and the work created is stronger. One lesson students loved this year was oil pastel "tie-dye," a lesson in which erasers are pushed and pulled through concentric shapes drawn in oil pastel. The results looks quite similar to a tie-dye fabric effect.

Oil pastel "tie-dye"
I share the substitute lessons that I make with other teachers in an online forum. Sharing good ideas is a practice I love, as everyone stands to gain from it. One teacher who recently used my oil pastel tie-dye lesson wrote to me and included a photo of this awesome twist; a student of hers had drawn anthropomorphic cupcakes and collaged it to her oil pastel. EES students loved that idea, and so we borrowed right back!

 Our desserts use light direction to add strong shadows on and under the cupcakes, and include tons of delicious detail work. Students were encouraged to use bold colors, patterns, shading, and varying line types with thin and thick markers and colored pencils.

The wonderful thing about this online collaboration is now the tie-dyes all look like stages! A wonderful and perfect setting for future pop art, self-portraits, and more.

Marbled Paper Self-Portraits

Students completed this project a while ago, but the work is too amazing not to share it here!

Students began this project by thinking about dynamic compositions.  One way students can easily relate to the concept of composition is by asking them to pose like they would for their annual school photo in the fall. Students immediately know that they should sit up straight, look at the viewer, smile. Asked how much of their body would be seen in such a photo, students knew right away that the camera would frame them from torso or shoulders up only.  
Most schools use this composition, or one quite similar!
Due to that tradition, when students are asked to draw self-portraits, they often immediately go to that composition. It feels safe. This project asked them to consider other compositional formats as well. Students began with at least three small sketches of ways they could compose a self-portrait. Here is an example from a student's sketchbook:

Next, we tied in mood as an element of composition in self-portraiture tradition. As the subject of the image, do you want to avoid the viewer's gaze and look somewhere else? What feeling does it give the viewer to see you looking at your shoes, or off into a corner?  When we only see half a somber face, what does that mean the subject might be doing or feeling? What if we see half of a grinning face? 

In addition to mood created by composition, we created a color mood with marbled paper. Using various combinations of warm and cool colors to evoke a feeling, students experimented with designing artful swirls and dots. The choices in color, and its location and intensity, all give form to creating a strong feeling in the work.

This marbled paper was the bottom layer, on top of which students made a drawing on transparency in black marker, allowing the marbled paper to show through. The marbling was lots of fun; we used the shaving cream + liquid watercolors approach, which produced vibrant results. The results of this project yielded a great variety!

It freed up lots of young artists to have alternatives. There is nothing wrong with tradition, however, and even after making many sketches some students decided that a traditional head-and-shoulders portrait was what looked best. Here are several more to enjoy.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Zentangle Vases of Sculptural Flowers

Sometimes a good thing becomes bigger, more complicated, and more awesome than anyone imagined!

Second grade artists really knocked this one out of the park. What began as a weaving lesson kept evolving into a lesson which combines meditative pattern drawing, sculpture, paper folding, and color mixing. Whew!

This project started with the paper weaving. Second graders are at a perfect developmental moment to create their own paper weaving warps, and to focus on the checkerboard pattern created by the weft. Over, under, over, under...repeat!

Then I was out for a day, and left the guest teacher with this circles and patterns lesson which introduces a few simple Zentangle designs.

The second graders loved it, and so at once we had to figure out how to merge these two works-in-progress, the weavings and the circles. And, voila!, the weavings became tablecloths for vases made of the circle designs.

In a departure from the purist approach to Zentangles, students could add lots of color to their designs. For the vases, students chose to either use a template or design their own, which were cut out and glued down to the weavings on a larger piece of paper.

Next, students added paper stems coming out of their vases, and used an air-dry clay called Model Magic to create the first flowers. Model magic can be mixed easily into endless colors by drawing on it with markers, as the student above is doing.
Here the student is twisting and kneading the Model Magic to mix in the color.
Model Magic is sort of sticky and fluffy, much like a marshmallow, and can be put directly on paper without glue. Students made daisies, roses, chrysanthemums, and lots of original fantasy flowers in a rainbow of colors. It can be shaped by hand or can be snipped into petals with scissors.

Students were so thrilled with how their work was going, that I offered more elements they could choose to add. Using a simple set of folds like one might use for paper snowflakes, we folded and cut layers of tissue paper to make additional sculptural flowers to make their bouquets even more elaborate.

The fold technique let students quickly create symmetrical and layered designs to glue on. 

 Pressing a fingertip into the middle of the tissue flower, with just a dot of glue, makes the flowers pop out at the edges. 

Oil pastels were available too, for students who wanted to add extra details: thorns, leaves, or anything else they imagined might be in the picture.

Adding a window
Swirling wind, made with white pastels, blows the leaves to the side
Thorns and leaves
This project could go on and on! A fancy border! Buzzing bees or butterflies! Shadows from the vase on the table! It's been a favorite, the type of lesson that will definitely happen again in future years. Here are a few more awesome examples from this fabulous project.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Multi-Media Seascapes

Second grade artists created mixed media collage seascapes.

These seascapes incorporated tempera painted paper, watercolor paper backgrounds, and origami.

First, classes created community painted papers to share. The objective was to use paint and texture combs to create the mood and appearance of water. Students chose whether the water looked calm, stormy, had waves, etc., and used both colors and textures to show it. Additional community papers in a variety of colors and textures were created to add land, features of the sky, sandy beaches, rocks, and more.

Next, artists envisioned a time of day, and painted a new piece of paper with a watercolor sky to match their vision.  After skies were created, students made at least two sailboats using this easy and effective set of origami instructions.  The sailboats needed to be different sizes. Students who loved this step created whole fleets of boats!

When all of the different pieces were prepared, students tore and cut the painted paper into long strips, and overlapped them from top to bottom to create waves and distance in their work. Paper that was torn created the look of white caps on the waves.

Boats were tucked in between the waves, the largest ones closest to the viewer, as objects appear to become smaller in the distance. The artist in the work above also added tiny trees on an island to give us a sense of distance. Other artists created items in the foreground, such as beach umbrellas, shells, starfish, coolers, grasses, and more. By comparison in scale to the other elements, these close-up items let us know that the boats and islands are far away.

Many students added additional elements to support the time of day in their picture, such as the moon, sun, or stars in the sky.