Sunday, September 16, 2018

Autumn Paper Mural

Fall doesn't feel like fall with out golds and rusts to help us enjoy the transition. To introduce my lower functioning students to the concept of warm and cool colors I tied it into seasonal changes. Ginko trees turn yellow, maples turn red, and magnolia trees stay green. Students each made a couple of trees by coloring and stamping warm colored  paper, which was cut into simplified tree shapes.  Glue sticks turned paper into collages. Each student made one tree to take home and another to contribute to the giant banners that were laminated just in time to welcome the first day of Autumn.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Radial Balance

Our unit on Visual Balance in Art has continued as my students learned about radial balance by creating mandalas.

Radial balance is similar to symmetrical balance in that if you fold the composition in half, it will be the same on both sides. The difference is that you could fold it vertically, horizontally, or diagonally, and it will always be about the same. A daisy or a bicycle wheel are great examples of radial balance. So are mandalas (Sandskrit for circles), which represent a wholeness such as the universe.

I shared a video of Buddhist monks creating mandalas to my students. It is a tedious, time and labor intensive task to create a beautiful mandala from colored sand, only to have it brushed away.  Why did they make it?  Before even watching a video, I ask my students why anyone makes art. Student answers included that it is fun, or because artists want to make money or become famous. Some talked about self expression or leaving something behind for posterity. But none of these answers apply when it comes to Buddhist monks making sand mandalas. These monks believe that the act of making the mandala actually changes them. They are inviting various Buddhas to come and exist within the mandala during the days of its creation, and that by the meditative process of creating that those involved will gain greater compassion for example. They are learning precision and gaining stamina. After it is completed, the sand is brushed away, teaching the impermanence of things and the importance of appreciating life in the moment.

Certainly, art has changed me. Art requires patience and the courage to take risks. The qualities acquired through art making can spill into other areas of life.


To make their mandalas, my students took pieces of card stock, made a square, and folded it diagonally, in both directions to make an X, and then folded it horizontally and vertically, so that there were four folds intersecting at the center to make 8 divisions. They used a compass and scissors to make a circle, and then a piece of pie shaped paper to fit into an 8th of their circle. They drew a pattern which was then traced on a light table on window, flipping the image each time. In other words, every other pie shape had the image facing right, and the remaining spaces had the image facing left. For those who were blind, I traced the template they drew, for them, first in Sharpie and then in hot glue. They were responsible for coloring the tactile shapes with colored pencil or marker.

Finally, some of the shapes were filled in with glue and sprinkled with color sand, not only to reference the Buddhist sand mandalas, but to create a more interesting tactile effect. When I heard complaints about the physical discomfort from leaning over a light table, or the frustration of having to start over when huge mistakes were made, I would remind them of the days or weeks of back breaking work for the monks to make theirs. Everything worthwhile requires sacrifice of one sort or another. And once the projects were completed, all of the reasons for complaining had been forgotten, for the joy of having made something come into existence that wasn't there before.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Picasso faces

When you have students with multiple complex needs, sometimes, the learning target is as simple as helping a child realize that faces are symmetrical. I try to spice lessons up with stories from art history, such as relating last week's wire faces to Calder's wire portraits. This week's review of the lesson's learning target "understanding that faces are symmetrical" included background in Picasso's dis-proportioned faces inspired by African masks. I had a little "shop" where students could pick out pre-cut cardboard head shapes and face parts, but my higher functioning students were able to create their own shapes from cardboard.  Students chose colors and painted each shape before arranging them to glue together.

I found out at the last minute that the state education offices at the capitol were looking for student artwork, about the constitution, to display.  Of course we'd talked about the importance of the balance of government in our first lesson on balance, but there was no time to have students make artwork specifically about the constitution, so I took all of these cardboard faces, with their Picasso eyes and Muppet toned skins and made a collaborate piece entitled WE THE PEOPLE.  Any quirkiness, impairments and disabilities my students have certainly does not prevent them from being one of the people, for whom the constitution was written.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Calder Art Lesson Plan

When you walk into the National Gallery in Washington D.C., one of the first things you will see is a giant black and red mobile created by Alexander (Sandy) Calder. His father, like him, was a sculpture with the name of Alexander Calder. And his grandfather, the first of the three sculptors named Alexander, immigrated from Scotland and settled in Philly where his large William Penn statue stands on city hall's dome today.

Sandy Alexander went to Paris in the 1920's, where he became known as the King of Wire for his wire circus performers and faces. These were the inspiration for my students wire face creations (above).


He later created the mobile, hanging kinetic sculptures. The term mobile was given to Calder's work by avante guard artist and friend, Marcel DuChamp.  Another art legend, Piet Mondrian, in 1930 proved to be a huge influence on Calder's work, which began to incorporate, reduced, simplified forms, and a limited pallet.

In order to help my students make the step from symmetrical balance, to asymmetrical balance, they were each required to make a mobile. This exercise requires attention to actual weight and balance (not just visual weight and balance).

Some students used only circles, while others used a variety of shapes. Some used card stock, while others used tooled foil, cardboard, or mat board. These materials were colored with markers or spray paint and attached using wire, paperclips, or pipe cleaners.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Back on the Bus Y'all Art Project

My art class didn't waste any time getting back into the art making mode this school year. In fact, the first week, we made bus safety posters for a contest. 


Students were invited to use marker, colored pencil, watercolor or acrylic.




I am always amazed at the range of abilities my students have. About half have some sight and half have none. Their cognitive abilities are varied as well. I am thrilled when I find a student who can understand concepts such as two-point perspective.



But my heart skips a beat when someone uses their unique twist, by adding things such as the interior aisle on the outside of the bus, or representing a wheel chair lift as a blue circle. This student used Wiki-stix to provide tactile lines for the paint. I had challenged my students to consider a different point of view, but most of my students drew the side view of the bus facing right. I can't blame them though, that's exactly what they see when they get on and off the bus each day.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Symmetrical Balance Art Lesson for Kids



I love balance: balance in my art and balance in my life! I love my diet, my body, and my checkbook to be balanced. My college art department's favorite film was "Koyaanisqatsi" (1982), which is the Hopi word for "life out of balance." Its music and images taught me, as a young woman, that when things get out of balance, tragedy follows, therefore, balance is a worthy goal. Our first art class unit for the school year was one on types of visual balance, starting with symmetry.








For some, I started my balance discussion at a very basic level. We placed items into both sides of a balance scale and arranged matching magnets on either side of a tape line of symmetry on a magnetic board.  "This side has 2 squares and a circle. This side has only 2 squares. That's not fair. How can we make it the same on both sides?" I would ask.

I had non-verbal children point to their ears and their eyes, using two hands, to reinforce the idea that both sides of our body look the same. I walked them through the task of creating visual balance. 
Finally, I put a tape line of symmetry on the table and let students squirt matching shaving cream shapes on either side. Then I smooth out the cream and show them how to use their finger to draw matching marks on either side of the line to create symmetry.

My older students could discuss why a balanced government is important and what a balanced breakfast might look like, but most of them wanted to play with shaving cream too. Their culminating assignment was to replicate the mirror image of half their face to create a symmetrical whole. For those who couldn't see, I used hot glue on the photo image of half their face. They replicated it in Wiki Stix, and I helped them match their skin tones using their choice of crayon, marker, colored pencil, or pastels. It was a useful exercise to reinforce the art principle of balance.

I took the left over half faces to combine, for  funky, albeit disturbing, combo portraits. This was used, not only to get a laugh out of my class, but to illustrate the concept of proximate symmetry. Yes, there is an eyebrow and an eye and an ear on each side of the line of symmetry, but they're not exactly the same.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Creativity in the Classroom: Character Development in Writing

Anyone who knows me, knows I love my full time job of teaching art to 5-22 year olds (grades K-12), but summers at Wesleyan College remind me that my absolute favorite is teaching graduate students. I had a blast co-teaching a Masters of Education class about creativity this month and it was so much fun!  We painted, mind mapped, created illustrated type, danced, sang, and wrote.

One of my favorite lessons for elementary school students, which I shared,  focuses on character development in writing. I start the lesson with an exercise in having students make predictions about the characters in John Frank's hilarious book, THE TOUGHEST COWBOY.

"One of the characters is a miniature poodle.  What do you think a good name for a miniature poodle would be?  Another character is the camp cook. Can you think of the perfect name for a camp cook?"  I ask as I lay out a description label each character. Then when I read off the actual names of the characters in the book, students match the name to the description. It isn't hard to figure out that "Bald Mountain" is the name of the tall bald character, and "Grizz Brickbottom" is the toughest cowboy.  Once the students make their predictions, I read the story and we pause each time a new character is introduced to check our predictions.


We discussed the fact that a lot of great authors who use descriptive names for their characters. In BLEAK HOUSE, Charles Dickens named the flighty woman, who was obsessed with her pet birds, Mrs. Flight. His names Lady Deadlock and Tiny Tim make perfect sense for the characters they represent. Dr. Suess couldn't have been more accurate when naming his characters, "Cat in the Hat" or "Thing One and Thing Two." The comics offer us Superman, Spiderman, Cat Woman, and The Joker. TV gives us characters with names like Cookie Monster, Fat Albert, and Sponge Bob Square Pants

Then we developed a character as a class before giving him or her a descriptive name.  I stood at the board, asking for details about our character, jotting down the answers as quickly as they came. Sex?Boy! Age? 14. Place? Montana. Year? 1984. Family situation? 10 sisters in a mixed family. Then comes the most important question. What does he want?  Baseball. That's all he cares about. All he wants to do is play baseball. Toss in an obstacle and we've got ourselves a plot.  There is no baseball team in his small Montana town. By the end of the story we are bound to see a little team emerge with uniforms and possibly a win...all because of little....(here's where we had to give him a name) Henry Homer.  So within about 3 minutes of brainstorming, we've got a character, story, and even a title: HOME RUN FOR HENRY!

After doing this a couple times in a  group setting most students will be eager to create their own character, especially if their idea of an old lady who lives on a moon or their mermaide living in an aquarium in a museum in the 1800s didn't get used during the group activity.

Another collaborative idea to develop characters comes from the 1930's French Surrealist Artists and their Exquisite Corpse exercise. It feels like a game, and was in fact, a past time done in cafes, but there's nothing wrong with education feeling joyful! One person draws the head at the top of a piece of paper, before folding it down and passing it to their neighbor, who only has a couple neck marks to go on in order to draw a torso. After this is folded down, the last person adds the legs.  So you may have a robot head with bird arms and ballerina legs.  Try giving that character a descriptive name and some characteristics!

Students feel empowered when they have the green light to get in the driver's seat and, fueled by creative juices, move an idea forward. For children (or graduate students) who aren't used to creative problem solving, it will take a little practice, but once they realize their ideas aren't going to be shot down, they will take more risks and end up with some exciting characters and plots.