Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Ink and Watercolor Figures Inspired by Keith Haring

EES students have loved a new tool, the bingo dauber bottle. Thanks to the wide array of art teachers nationally who have shared their ideas on how to use them, I recently bought a couple of dozen to let students try them out..

Our bottles are filled with india ink, so the lines are very permanent and can be painted over. The wide mark of the sponge tip of the bottles begs for large paper, so students worked on 18"x24" drawing paper. Our drying racks are not big enough to accommodate such large work, so these paintings could be seen lining the tops of the lockers down our hallway.

Mr. Gillard's students looked at the artist Keith Haring, whose famous figural work was the inspiration for our classroom project.

Their learning goals in ink were to create some interpretation of a figure, to segment the background into 3-5 or more spaces, and to fill at least three of those spaces with a repeating pattern or design.

Students used color to create and enhance the themes of their work. The colors in the work above reinforce the excitement and energy of the figure.

This artist literally split the figure vertically into warm and cool color families. enhancing how the patterns changes across the work.

Look for these at our winter Fine Arts Night in February!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Ink and Watercolor Flowers

Artists in 2nd grade used ink bottles and watercolor to draw and paint vases of flowers on very large paper, 18" x24".

Students experimented with shape and composition. Some students chose to keep all of their flowers visible within the composition, while others chose to let the flowers crop off the edges of the paper, suggesting a bigger scene than the viewer can see.

 Students looked at example vase shapes, and imagined the different lines they might use to make them. Some were rounded, others squared, and some had fancy curlicues.

  Artists could choose to explore pattern in their artwork; the vase, the background, and the surface provided space for that experimentation with visual repetition.

 The work was painted in liquid watercolors. Students were reviewing their knowledge of warm and cool color families, and made the backgrounds cool to help the foreground flowers pop forward visually.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Glass and Fossils: An Artist Residency in Review

What does it look like to have the gift of an artist in the classroom for five weeks? Pretty awesome.

Student glass fossil
Thanks to the generous support of Vermont Arts Council, Alexandra Turner came to morning classes for grades 3-5 for five sessions. Over the five sessions, students examined intersections of science and art, rotated between stations that allowed experimentation and investigation of science and art tools and materials, and had time to reflect on the outcomes of their work.

Students began with hand lenses investigating the fossils and glass pieces Alexandra brought. They made guesses about how each was formed, considering how the different materials might act.

Students learned to use hand lenses to see details enlarged.
On the first day, students collected and pressed a selection of plants collected right at EES. Mosses, leaves, seed heads, and flowers were among the wide variety that artists collected.  These plants sat for one week inside a plant press, but could also be pressed inside the pages of a book. Our experimentation yielded that some plants were more likely to mold inside waxed paper, and more likely to dry well with plain old uncoated paper between them.

In the second, third, and fourth classes, students rotated between stations in glass cutting, botanical illustration, making plant impressions into a granular clay, and printmaking with plants.

Careful looking and observation
At botanical illustration, artists practiced looking at plants as a scientist would. The goal of careful observation is to notice details in color and form, and record those details in the form of drawn models.

Students could examine the long tradition of botanical illustration through many field guides and photos of the Blaschka glass flower collection.

Above are many of the artworks students created. They were invited to work with pencil, sharpie, colored pencil, and watercolor to complete their observations of plant forms and textures.  Here is one in greater detail, where the artist worked in graphite and colored pencil to blend the colors of the leaves and branch:

At the glass cutting station, Alexandra supervised students carefully cutting and measuring their glass to fit their plant's scale. It has been a dream of mine for a while to have students work in glass, and last year we studies both stained and blown glass artwork, so it was quite a thrill to have an artist who could bring this experience to our students.

Safety was paramount! Gloves and glasses kept children safe.
  The feedback from students about the glasswork was just what I had hoped- a mixture of surprise, delight, and trepidation that led to curiosity, confidence, and joy in the process.

Alexandra explaining to artists the use of the glass scoring tool.
After students layered their pressed leaves and flowers (or feathers, , or twigs, or mosses- students were fearlessly experimental!) between two pieces of glass, Alexandra brought them home to her kiln to fire until the glass just began to melt and fuse.

Inside the kiln before the first firing.
 At the printmaking table, artists explored a lesson drawn from and similar to the process of teacher Cassie Stephens, using brayers to roll out ink onto a sheet of contact paper, which they overlaid with selected fresh plants. Students could create any composition, and many created creatures, people, or letter forms out of leaves.

Students pulled two prints, a negative space print and then a positive, after removing the leaves from the contact paper, revealing the ink still hiding underneath.

Lots of pressure was needed to press down on the leaves, so students learned how to leverage their own body weight to impact the resulting image.

Here are a sampling of the finished positive/negative botanical prints. They have such a high level of detail that many plants are easily identifiable.

In the last station, students used collected plants to press impressions into a granular, sedimentary-like clay, which air-dried. After it dried, students painted the whole surface, then used a sponge to relieve the paint from the raised areas, leaving an excellent fossil-like form.

Here is a closeup of a hosta leaf pressed into the clay:

On their final day with of this residency experience, students used a diamond-tipped etching tool to add their name to the glass pieces they created, leaving a more permanent signature than the marker used initially for identification. Artists also reflected on the wide variety of outcomes, and on how and why some plants left behind only traces of ash, while others left the plant somewhat intact and not incinerated. Other selections left bubbles in the glass, and students surmised this might be from water in the plant boiling away after the glass has melted, and, with nowhere for those gases to go, expanded the glass into bubbles.

 Thank you so much to Alexandra for spending time with our students! It was a joy to try new materials and unfamiliar processes, and the experience has truly deepened students' connection to the land, plants, and geology around them each day here in Burlington.

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.