Friday, September 6, 2019

Color Field Painting Lesson

Happiness happens when, during a monthly Skype with your sister, who is an Art History professor, you tell her that you "taught Helen Frankenthaler last week" and she says, "I did too!"  Frankenthaler was a second generation color field painter and abstract expressionist, who exhibited her art for the six decades before her death in 2011. She was inspired by Jackson Pollock's drip paintings in that she moved her canvases to the floor, but rather than dribble and throw paint from a brush, she poured diluted paint onto linen canvases, creating a stain soak technique.  She would manipulate the puddles of paint by lifting the corners of the canvas, or pushing it gently with sponges and squeegees attached to long sticks.  I think I remember hearing that Robert Motherwell (who was her husband for thirteen years) also created mop-like brushes for his large paintings. Morris Lewis followed Frankenthaler's lead in creating images from overlapping areas of soaked color.

My students took this inspiration and ran with it to make their own, large and small color field paintings.  We used watercolor rather than thinned oil or acrylic, but there's still a similarity in terms of aesthetics and a new appreciation for color just for the sake of color.

For a fascinating look at the science behind color, take a listen at one of the most popular Radio Lab episodes ever:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRD22dY5lck


Thursday, September 5, 2019

Planes in Portrait Paintings Lesson



It isn't always easy to understand how value (light and dark) works on a 3D surface, especially if that surface is a person. For our plane portrait project, I tried to help students learn how to use ratios to draw the basic features of a face before breaking it down into smaller, flat surfaces.  Basically, students were creating their own  paint by number type of drawing and value shifts would come with shape shifts.  It was met with various degrees of success, which isn't surprising considering the enormous range of visual and cognitive abilities of my students.
student divides pencil drawings into planes
student paints individual shapes on face






Some of my students needed to work in Wiki Stix, which I then hot glued their lines for them, while removing the waxy wicks. That way they could paint in the tactile borders. I would mix values of paint if they didn't have any vision.  One student had enough vision to draw and mix independently. He didn't get the planes as sharp or "robotic" as I'd hoped, but it was the best thing he'd ever painted, and it's of Stan Lee, so that's a good thing.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Wings from Jean!

Jean Gerdes was my Jr. High Home Ec. teacher and the reason I wanted to spend the rest of my life making things. My first assignment in her class was to sew a bean bag chair!  What could be more empowering for a 12 year old than to make their own furniture?! Under her tutelage, I cooked quiche, designed a gingerbread village and nurtured my hard boil egg baby, learning practical skills that I carried with me my entire life, while making goals for future things to learn. It was in her class that I decided I would one day design and sew my own wedding dress (check), make my own wedding announcements (check), and decorate my own wedding cake (can I count my sisters' cake? I was too busy the day of my own reception). Looking back, it seems a little strange for a tween to be planning for a wedding, but it is what it is.

Fast forward fourteen years and guess who was there to cater my wedding reception....Miss Gerdes! Turns out that even though I moved out of Pennsylvania after high school, my mom ended up teaching Family & Consumer Science with Jean for years to follow so we were able to keep in touch.  When I told my mom I wanted to quilt, Jean shipped me the quilting safety pins, and plastic rolled quilt holder thingies, and detailed instructions. A short time after her long distance tutelage, I completed a quilt for every bed in the house.

I love the idea of not only being a life-long learner, but a life-long teacher! When my mom talks about so-and-so being one of her kids, we, as her biological children don't take offense. My own children understand that my students have a special spot in my heart, and will be "my kids" for life, in the same way that Jean remains my teacher and cheerleader today.  A few months ago when I found out that I was a top ten finalist for Georgia Teacher of the Year, Jean wanted to celebrate with me. She took a piece of artwork that my students made of an Eric Carle inspired butterfly, and created a stained glass version of the piece. Thanks to to a kind maintenance friend at the school, it is hanging in my classroom window. It serves as a reminder that I can be a second-mile-life-long teacher and advocate for my students, as Jean Gerdes is for me.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Drawing Lines and Stamping Potatoes: Beginning Art Skills for Little Ones


A kindergartner with no vision practices drawing directional lines before learning to create zig zags with a potato stamp.

My kindergartner students with visual impairments and my older students with multiple disabilities are often on about the same level developmentally.  I try to create lessons that meet them at their level and that can be applied in a variety of situations. That's why we started this school year learning about types of lines, including directional lines.  Vertical lines were practiced by standing and reaching for the ceiling and then pulling their hands down to the floor while repeatedly saying, "Vertical lines are up and down." We'd shift the exercise to pull their arms to be parallel to the floor and waving them from left to right. "Horizontal lines are side to side, left to right." We drew vertical and horizontal lines with chalk on a brick wall, with crayon and marker on paper, with Wiki Sticks, and with little tiles lined up.  The next class we repeated it all but add diagonal lines, zig zag lines and loopy lines.  It may sound like I am remediating too much, but many of the students will take months to understand. Besides, I spent two weeks on horizontal lines alone during my college Chinese Calligraphy class.

Next we added some shapes.  I taught them how to stamp with potatoes, first by having them feel the outside of a plastic bag and guess what was in it.  They next handled, smelled, (a few even licked) the potato to try to understand what the object was.  Once it was understood that I had brought potatoes we talked about how potatoes grow and all the ways we can cook them.  Finally I sliced it open, creating a smooth, wet, flat surface.

Every class chose a couple shapes for me to quickly carve (draw with a knife perpendicular to the surface before cutting in from the sides) and then have the student dip the potato in a shallow pool of tempera paint and then stamp it onto the surface. "Dip and stamp. Dip and stamp."  Sometimes students would find a cadence such as "Dip and stamp, stamp, stamp." Other students would count.

The second day we used potato stamps, I had them review the types of lines we learned by repetitively drawing them on their paper.  This activates the negative space helps us to review vocabulary, and frankly fills some time because the stamping itself only takes a couple of minutes. We branched out to foam stamps and sponges shaped like animals.  It's only been a couple of weeks and I'm not sure anyone has created anything worthy to hang in the hall, but the fact that my students can be heard outside of my class talking about potatoes, saying, "Let's draw vertical lines!" Or whispering, "Left to right," as they sweep their white canes from side to side as a win!




Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Patterned Portfolios and Teaching Art Room Procedures

The first project of every school year is creating a portfolio to hold future two dimensional projects.  I usually allow students to draw whatever they want on the cover as long as their name is easy to see, but this year I spent more time discussing classroom procedures than usual. Our school-wide expectations are broadcasted as a jingle every morning and afternoon. "Give it your best. Achieve your Goals. Be respectful. That's the GAB way!"  On the first day of school, I took the time to ask my students what they think "giving it their best" looks like in our classroom. I wrote their answers such as, "coming to class on time, " and "handing in quality work." Being respectful in Art, means cleaning up messes, not touching other people's work, and leaving cell phones in the phone basket.

These behavioral patterns are tied to visual patterns in art, in that repetition and predictability are key.  I modeled how careful repetition of a single mark such as rows of tiny lines or large and small spirals can create visual unity. Meeting classroom expectations can create unity within our classroom. Students filled a page of various patterns from their own imagination before picking their favorite to use on their portfolio.  The portfolios consist of two large sheets of paper, taped together to create a folder, which is then laminated. The student's name is front and center, but the space outside the name is to serve as a reminder that I expect consistent, positive behavior in my classroom.

A close up of the border of one student's portfolio. She created line drawings of flowers using a purple marker, and added value with colored pencil.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Abstract Express Yourself!

It has been said that Modern Art = "I could have made that" + "Yeah, but you didn't!" Sometimes innovations and new ideas are so incredibly simple that it may feel like it's invalid or cheating to those who didn't think of it.

Jackson Pollock grew up in the Southwestern U.S. but as a young adult, he moved to New York, where he studied art under famous muralist, Thomas Hart Benton.  Pollock found work as a Work Projects Administration (WPA) artist through Roosevelt's New Deal. He later broke barriers when he invented "drip painting," which consisted of throwing, dripping, and flicking paint across large canvases on his studio floor. Time Magazine launched him into celebrity when they wrote about him, and gave him the nickname, "Jack the Dripper."

His career peaked in the late 40's and early 50's-the start of the Cold War.  Soviet Era propaganda was full of solid looking figures and idealized landscapes. Meanwhile, The U.S. was producing Abstract Expressionists and the Congress for Cultural Freedom was parading the work of Pollock across Europe. His paintings were weapons of ideas used in the hands of the CIA to show the world the incredible freedom that American citizens had. In the U.S., artists were free to make art as crazy or ugly as they wanted and no one could stop them!

Every drip painting since Pollock has felt like an imitation, but that doesn't mean we can't try it out in the kitchen or classroom.  My students experimented with various colors of paper and paint, various viscosities, and a few different motions to come up with the combination of marks to make their Pollock-style expressionist painting.  And in a very tiny way, they were fighting Fascism.



Wednesday, July 31, 2019

New (School) Year's Resolutions

I'm a teacher, so each time I start another school year, I think through what I want my life to look like during the next 12 months. This is when I write and draw my goals. I do this with a mind map to ensure that my life is balanced. Each year's mind map look a lot like the previous year's because I find my categories have been working for me and I want to maintain the traction I've gained.  There's nothing wrong with wanting to continue regular exercise and scripture study. It takes some effort to keep up good habits and I write some of these things down to remind myself that they are important to me. Some goals I want to make sure I get worked into the year, for example, I do a mile swim every summer to be sure that I can still do it. If it weren't for it being written down, it would be too easy to get out of doing it.

Other things, I still haven't gotten around to accomplishing, but I have to keep believing that this is the year that I am really going to make a will, lose ten pounds, and make that trip to Italy. I thought that this is the summer we'd be making a big road trip to the west, until the location for our family reunion was moved to the east coast.  Rather than trying to paint white over that big part of my mind map, I just use it as a reminder to be flexible. Because I check off the things that I do accomplish,  I can see that not getting around to everything isn't the end of the world. It's like they say: if you reach for the moon and miss, you're still among the stars.  Okay, I know the stars are much, much further than the moon, but you get the idea. Dream BIG, do your best, and don't beat yourself up.
It feels great to look back and see how far you've come.