Thursday, December 6, 2018

paper ornaments

My first Christmas as a new bride, my husband and I had planned on spending the holiday with family in another state, but car troubles that left us stranded and in search of a tree.  We found one for $15 which left us with just a couple of dollars for decorating. I filled the tree with snowflakes of hardened royal icing. This year, A couple decades later, I find myself still wanting to fill a tree with creativity and time rather than expensive ornaments.
I cut copy paper in half inch (by 8 1/2 inch) strips. These were folded to find the center and students made "a plus sign" and "a multipliction sign" to glue together in a star shape. One strip of paper was used to make a loop, and then dots of glue on the ends of the remaining strips were used to attach at the top of the loop.  These paper ball ornaments can just be used by themselves, or a couple of white balls can be glued together to make a snow man ornament.

For students who wanted to try something else with the paper strips, I had them stack 8 pieces and staple the center of the stack. (Again, folding to find the center takes almost no time). Then the end of each strip was given a drop of glue to attach to itself, to form a flower petal.

For very low functioning students, I taped a couple of fuzzy craft stems (aka pipe cleaners) to the table by the end, place the other ends in each child's hands and then say, "cross over, switch hands, pull (apart)" over and over again until it was twisted. What takes a few seconds for someone without disabilities can take a long time for a child who needs help crossing their midline.

Students managed to practice some skills and contribute to the school festivities while having fun.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

DYI Snowflake T-shirts

I was asked to design some snowflake t-shirts for the Christmas concert at school. I thought it would be easy to use paper snowflakes as stencils on white t-shirts with blue paint, but we already had a dozen blue shirts, so I had to work backwards. I cut simple snowflake shapes (with no little holes) out of card stock an then tossed the snowflakes and kept the remaining paper. These were taped together and used as a giant stencil. By turning and shifting the stencil, each t-shirt ends up one-of-a-kind. I used the white and silver spray paint I had until the white ran out, at which point, I just used a brush and sponge to apply some white acrylic around the edges of some of the stencil shapes. The results are less than perfect, but for a one hour concert, I think it will work.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Face Pottery

Face pottery is one of the earliest forms of post-colonial art in the United States. It originated in the mid 1800's with slaves, in South Carolina, who carried their beliefs from Africa. They used face jugs the same way they had used special wooden figures, which contained special items to ward off evil spirits. These "ugly jugs" were used as grave markers to scare away the devil so the spirits of their loved ones could go to heaven. The pottery was also buried outside of doors to protect the home. Some of the jugs traveled north with escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad . I have also heard that, during the prohibition era, some used the jugs to store moonshine. (In this case the ugly faces were used to scare children away). Any archeologist and art historian will tell you that it's not just writings that tell the human story.  Much of history is told through the objects we make.
This lesson plan was fun to teach because it lent itself to so many interesting discussion questions: Why would anyone make something ugly on purpose? How do beliefs and traditions impact art? Why would anyone risk their life to escape slavery? What is the Underground Railroad and how did it work? 

In this lesson, students learned about parts of a jug (body, neck, mouth, lip, arms). They handled a wooden mask from west Africa and talked about the expression and aesthetic of the large eyes and open mouth. They learned the history of the underground railroad which began just as railroads started to be built in the U.S. and lasted the 30 years leading up to the Civil War (1830-1860). Students studied tactile freedom quilt squares and guessed the symbolism used to communicate to runaway slaves (North Star, log cabin, crossroads, bow tie, geese). They saw and felt a diagram of the Big Dipper and North Star, and learned how constellations helped lead people even without maps.
For the production part of the lesson, students were required to draw at least three sketches of ugly, crazy, or goofy faces. I showed them how to use the pottery wheel and helped them throw their first cup. They used the slip and score technique to attache a handle and face to their leather hard cup.

Then we did a bisque fire.

And glazed the mugs.

Opening the kiln to see all the crazy colors and expressions was so exciting! I've only done this assignment once before, years ago, but to me it is a great way to teach contextual understanding of an art as well as ceramic skills and techniques. It is also the perfect assignment to let students feel less afraid about making mistakes, because when your goal is to make something ugly, the bigger mistake the better. And there's beauty in that.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Caulk and Cardboard

Our month long unit on low-relief sculpture included exposing the corrugation on spray painted cardboard, carving clay slabs, tooling foil, and casting plaster. I handed caulk guns to students who finished projects a day or two early, and they made images on cardboard. The caulk needs a couple of hours to dry before painting. They may not look amazing, but for students with no sight, it is how it feels that matters the most.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Casting Plaster

Plaster casting is not as hard as I thought it would be and it was a perfect tactile project for my students with low to no vision. I took them on a walk around campus to pick out leaves and berries that they might want to cast. Some chose to use tools and stamps to create texture into their slab of clay however. Once we pressed and rolled shapes and lines into the clay, we placed it in a pie tin, as though it were a crust. 

 The powder Plaster of Paris is added to water in a one to two ratio.  It gets thicker with time, so we worked pretty quickly and made sure it was about the consistency of a runny pancake batter.  I thought if it was really thick it would be stronger, but it made it crumbly and hard to manage.

Once it was poured into the "pie crust" I took a wire and bent it to make a hanging loop. This will make it easier to hang from the wall, so it is important that the loop is at the top.

After an hour or two it was set. We flipped it up side down and pealed the clay away from the plaster. Of course red Georgia clay is not the first choice for this project since it is hard to get the dirty look from the pristine clay, but we worked with what we had, and once it is painted it won't show. This project can be used for a child's hand print, rubber stamp lettered words or ways of preserving nature. It was also a perfect way for us to create relief sculpture using a new medium and technique.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Embossing Foil

A flying pig embossed in foil

Repousse is a metal working technique in which thin metal or heavy foil is hammered or embossed on the back to make it stand out in the front. My students totally understand the idea of embossing as they use braillers to emboss paper all the time. They used plastic pencil-shaped tools to "tool" the foil and create a wide array of images as part of a low-relief sculpture unit.  Some students painted their images with black acrylic and then wiped it away to give it an aged, batik feel, some colored their image with markers and then gently wiped it away for a stained look, some did both. There's nothing quite like hearing kids who have never had vision, feel their artwork and say, "This looks great!"

Carving Clay Slabs

Introducing students to relief sculpture is easy when you have a bunch of clay, a slab roller, and some carving tools.  It was just a matter of having them come up with ideas, and decided how much to take away. Carving is a subtractive process and future ceramic projects will be an additive process, so there is yin and yang in my curriculum throughout the school year.  Each student did some sketches. Rolled a slab, cut out the shape, and by the next day it was leather hard and ready to carve.

Once the pieces were fired and glazed, ribbons were tied through pre-made holes so that they could be hung on the wall. We had some trouble with our first glaze since the kiln didn't get hot enough.