Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Japanese Relief Prints and Haiku Lesson



Printmaking and Japan are both very dear to my heart, which is why I was surprised when I realized that I hadn't taught this lesson on Hiroshige wood cuts for five years. I read my favorite Japanese counting book, "One Leaf Rides the Wind" as a way to introduce my students to haikus and Japanese culture. I lead a slide discussion and offered students artifacts from Japan to handle before letting them dress up in a kimono and posing in front of a backdrop of a rock garden, Mount Fuji, and cherry blossoms. Then we looked at the 180 year old ukiyo-e (floating world pictures) .  Edo (now Tokyo) was becoming a growing city as merchants were moving up in class and had money to spend on night life. Hiroshige documented women in kimonos, koi fish wind socks, and fireworks in his well composed wood cuts.

I used hot glue to make the reproductions tactile.  One student thought a geisha was wearing roller skates instead of okobo shoes.

I passed around large block of carved wood, brayer, and ink before doing a demonstration of a relief print.  We drew into foam for our prints, but the idea is the same: ink sticks to the top part and the printed image is a mirror of the original. After students wrote (and Brailled) haikus, created and printed several of their own images, these were mounted and shared.  One student, who is about to graduate, is missing a friend who would have been in this graduating class had she survived cancer as a middle school student. She reflected on that friend for her project.  This poem and print will be framed and placed on an empty chair at graduation in a couple weeks to remember LaStacia. Her mother will then take it home and hopefully understand that we remember their family at this time. This is the power of fine arts: they make it possible to teach so many subjects (ie. social studies and language arts) while also allowing for personal expression and a means to touch the hearts of others. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Smile and Nod!

I usually enjoy public speaking but a couple weeks ago I had the terrifying experience of giving a speech in front of a small group of thirty-odd strangers, half of whom were either judging me (literally with judging sheets and a stopwatch) or competing with me for Georgia Teacher of the Year. The thing that frightened me more than anything was the three-minute time limit. It is nearly impossible for me to fit a biography, teaching philosophy, moving story, and a bunch of statistics into less than five minutes, without feeling rushed and anxious.  As soon as I started talking, however, I saw a small woman sitting behind a name tag that said, "Ann."  She looked at me, smiled broadly, and nodded constantly, as I spoke, as if to say, "Yes! Yes, children learn best with hands on projects! I agree; creativity belongs in school!" Nothing is more calming than a friendly reassuring presence in the audience. And it wasn't just for me; she smiled and nodded for every speaker, including the Georgia Power executive who welcomed everyone to the luncheon.

The moment I sat down, I decided to be like Ann for the speakers that followed me, so I made a conscious effort to use my body language to cheer each competitor and help them feel at ease. When the speeches were finished I tapped Ann on the shoulder to thank her, but before I could say a word, she turned to give me, a stranger, a big hug and tell me what a great job I'd done.

In a world where hyper-criticism is hyper-present, we need more Anns:  accepting, reassuring, radiating beams of positive energy in human forms. We can be that light for those in our lives, even those in our lives for a brief moment on a stressful afternoon.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Visions of Inspiration exhibition at Macon Little Theatre!



Who inspires you? That's the question I asked each of my students to prepare for our Visions of Inspiration exhibit. They wrote a paragraph about someone who makes them want to be a better person then drew something that represented that hero.  One student chose Jim Henson and drew a bunch of puppets, another choose Little Cesar and drew pizza slices.

Matthew Forrest of Georgia College, used grant money for most of the frames and created silk screens from these drawings, which were printed onto paper silhouettes of the students.  Then the students used watercolors, crayon or colored pencil to enhance the prints. We mounted and framed the prints and viola! A show was born.

My rendition of Anne Sullivan and the magic word
The most moving pieces included a middle schooler whose "Papa" died a month earlier. He drew all the tools that the two of them used to work on cars together.  Another student talked about the time he flatlined as an ten year old.  He wrote about being taken to a blue room by Jesus and looking out the window back to earth, where he could see surgeons working on him, and his parents crying in the waiting room.

One student chose Helen Keller as her inspiration, and I chose Annie Sullivan, her teacher.  This worked out perfectly because we were asked to have an art show at Macon Little Theatre during their production of "Miracle Worker" which tells the story of Annie and Helen.



Student work with special symbols to represent their inspiration. Helen Keller is represented by roses. Hugs and kisses for mom, brushes and bats for a cousin who is missing an arm, coins for a grandma who taught the artist how to count change, and monsters for Jim Henson.
Matt had the student's stories printed  on a banner and my media specialist friend, Kim Smith embossed sticky plastic with Braille, which  my students helped me attach.

I made the title cards for each piece on print (glued to foam board) and Braille.
But attaching it to the carpeted wall was going to be a trick until someone gave me a tip to use velcro.  The prickly side of velcro worked perfectly!


"Annie Sullivan" and I at the dress rehearsal
 The director was kind enough to invite the school to see a dress rehearsal of the Miracle Worker! It was completely wonderful! All the students were engaged and the time flew! If you get a chance, go see it. It runs from May 3rd-12, 2019 at Macon Little Theatre.



 The two adult collaborators, Matthew Forrest and myself lead the way with student work to follow

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Earth Works Art Project

Student project: spectrum of colored stones

My husband and I visiting Spiral Jetty, 2015
There's something about Earthworks (aka Land Art) that make my heart sing!  After spending so much time teaching Pop Art, which is so much about consumerism and mass production, it was nice to take a week and ask the question: Is it a good idea? Does endless consumption make us happier?  It is not a coincidence that the year Robert Smithson created Spiral Jetty on Salt Lake (1970) is also the first year that Earth Day was celebrated. The Cuyahoga River caught on fire in 1969. No joke! This prompted a lot of activism that led to the Clean Air Act of 1970 and Clean Water Act of 1972. A couple weeks ago marked 40 years of the partial meltdown of Nuclear Plant Three Mile Island, which was close to my childhood home. So there's a lot to be said about people, including artists, being connected to the natural world.

I showed my class the "Rivers and Tides" a documentary on the work of Andy Goldsworthy. It's a beautiful film (that required a lot of audio description on my part for my students who are blind), but it is also packed with life lessons about noticing things, working intuitively, embracing impermanence, and not losing your cool when everything falls apart.  As a class, we strolled the campus looking for dandelions, purple leaves, and subtle rock colors before arranging them in places that might surprise someone passing by.

Student project: meandering purple leaf river

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Knuffle bunny Art Lesson

Student drawings in marker of robots collaged onto a a magazine picture of a safe.
Illustrator Mo Williems has a very simple style of illustration, and flat but expressive. In his Caldecott award winning book Knuffle Bunny, these characters are imposed onto black and white photographs, giving us a detailed feel for the New York setting.

My students loved the book and enjoyed the group exercise of developing characters based on their gender, age, family placement, time, place, what they wanted, and what was keeping them from getting what they wanted.  After a couple of group characters, each student created their own list of characteristics and a drawing of their character. These were then placed onto a background (magazine image) via collage. The students were fascinated by the illustration process and ticked to get to introduce their creation to their classmates.

Student drawing in colored pencil of a green figure with red eyes on a whimsical magazine illustration

Friday, April 5, 2019

Prom: Big Night in the Big Apple


I started thinking about this prom a week after last year's prom, and now that this year's prom is over, I can start thinking about next year's prom. Our high school seniors voted on a New York City Prom and so I tried to make a huge impact with what totaled $120 in new decorations (mostly paint, and one large piece of birch and a couple hinges). I wanted enough skylines to fill the space.

I started by projecting a skyline that included the empire state building onto four 8' panels, and outlined it in black for students to paint the large silhouettes of buildings. And I taped out windows for them to paint yellow. (I had also screen printed some windows, but wanted students to take part. It took a couple layers of yellow to cover the black). An arched gateway for Central Park framed a park bench with ferns for a photo spot.



I used black paper to cut skylines and glued them to glass vases and painted no.10 cans. I filled these with glass pebbles to hold mini street signs. The signs were printed and the posts were painted wooden dowel or cardboard tubes.  The day of prom I made corsages and the leftover flowers were placed in the glass vases. Building shaped cardboard was painted black and slits were used so that two shapes could create a 3D set of sky scrapers with yellow foam rectangles for windows. One sheet of sticky craft foam made about 12 table toppers.



Longer pieces of cardboard (from frame boxes) were used to make skylines that zig zagged along serving tables. 



Very large refrigerator boxes were painted black for skylines that sat on the floor for a divider between the dance floor and the refreshment tables. Yellow masking tape was used for the windows.  Blue tulle was hung with a dozen strings of blue lights to create a sky background to the divider. We cut star shoes from paper and spray painted them gold. Small gold squares sandwiched hot glue and string for star garlands. These were hung on the divider (mostly because at this point I was too tired to get a ladder and hang them from the ceiling lights.


I cut black bulletin board paper into long strip, and halved the width of yellow masking tape to make divided streets as table runners. You can tell which parts are done by my students who are completely blind because they're a little more wobbly, but that adds to the charm.

I also cut large skylines from black bulletin paper to run the length of the windows on either side of the room.  Yellow chalk windows were drawn on those skylines and ice-cycle lights hung above.


A large piece of plywood (leftover from a play), was used to make a taxi cab. An 8'X4' piece of birch was cut in half and hinged to make a statue of liberty and Chrysler building back drop.


I painted a large piece of cardboard to make two sides and a wheel for a hotdog cart. Then I attached the cardboard and my beach umbrella to a library cart using Duck tape. Our paper mâché art projects of New York foods (hot dog, soft pretzel, pizza) became photo props.
A colleague donated her parking meter and fire hydrant to the city scape. (She just had them lying around!) We used microphone stands as sign posts for larger street signs than the table toppers. 

My husband and two of my kids came to enjoy prom last night, and had a great time watching my students enjoy the magic of youth!

Now that all of the decorations are out of my classroom it feels a little empty, much the way the house feels bigger, cleaner, and less festive after all the Christmas decorations are put away for the year. Speaking of next year....I can hardly wait for the class of 2020 to pick their prom theme so I can get busy!

















Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Yarn Contour Drawings


After giving a slide lecture on the element of design:  LINE, I had my elementary students create contour drawings from yarn.  Some students just did clumps or strands of yarn, while others attempted to represent horses or figures with long  hair.  The piece above started out as a still life of fruit, but once this 4th grader stepped back and looked at the banana, he decided to make it into a smile, making a banana mouthed man with yarn frayed hair.  I told him I loved it so much that I would share it with all of you!