Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Notan and the Element of Shape

Pre-schoolers learn basic shape names: circle, square, triangle, but the truth is, most shapes don't have names. Some are geometric, some organic, some rectilinear, some curvilinear. Sometimes I can recognize a friend or family member as a distant silhouette by their shape. Shape is one of the most important elements of art because it can be used in so many ways.

Notans are fun to make when exploring positive and negative shapes. Notan is a Japanese art form that deals with flat areas of light and dark. The high contrast is especially helpful for my students with low vision, and for those with no vision, a piece of thick card stock or craft foam, makes this project tactile.

To make an expanded square notan image, start with a square or rectangle. You'll want to draw shapes that start on one side and end on the same size. Think about whether you want the lines to be jagged and straight edged or consisting of soft curves. You may want to try to do half shapes such as half of a heart, face or a tree. If drawing in foam, you should be able to feel the lines to know where to cut, or you may want to skip the drawing and just jump right in, cutting simple shapes from each side. 

Once the pieces are cut, place the center, original square/rectangle shape in the center of the paper. You may need to turn it at an angel so the finished piece is fits better. Then put all the cut pieces back in place like a puzzle. You'll flip each piece out from the center, like you are opening a door on a hinge. The corners should touch the spot where the piece was removed so that the straight edge continues the whole way around either by black or white shapes. The white shapes are the negative space, if your large piece of paper is white, and this will mirror the black positive shapes.

Now's a good time to glue the center piece of paper if you didn't do that before, and then put your "puzzle" back together.

Before gluing the smaller pieces down, you might want to consider creating even smaller, negative and positive shapes out of those. You can take the straight inward edge of one of the flipped pieces and cut another shape from that edge to flip back into the negative shape. This works well for things like pupils in eye shapes. And if your ambitions, you can cut and flip that smallest shape again.

For a simplified version of a notan, just cut one simple shape from one side of a small piece of paper or foam and flip it out. You can make it more interesting by repeating the process in series of small squares or rectangles in a checkerboard pattern.

I included a very simple, tactile example in each package I mailed to students who are learning virtually. It is a piece of foam on a piece of plastic cover from discarded Braille Books. The shape of the hole from the missing piece is the mirror image of the piece that was removed. The foam parts are the positive shapes, and the holes or background make up the negative space. Enjoy the process and product!

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Element of Art: Paper Lines


This week, strips of paper helped my students, who are blind, understand how lively and tactile the element of line can be. Fine motor skills are a major bonus with this project. Learning techniques like folding, cutting, or rolling paper on a pencil to curl it, turned my classroom into a temporary occupational therapy room. 

Curled paper strips could be glued curl side, up, down, or on it's side. There could be curls at either end going opposite directions (like an "s" shape) or the same direction (like a "c" shape).  The ends could be pulled a part and glued down like a ringlet or twisted line. And all of those options are just from the curling technique!

A zig-zag line is made by learning how to turn the paper over and under repeatedly, like making a paper fan. A short piece can be glued down to pop out from the base, or a long piece make crooked bridge. Arches could be made by gluing ends of paper to the base with or without folds for the glued down tabs. Another dab of glue could attach the center for a roller coaster like set of arches. 

I found a zipper technique online in which a long strip of paper is folded lengthwise and little notches are cut on one edge up to the fold. Each tab is pulled alternating from one side to the other, and glued to a base so that the uncut side of the strip stands up and can curve around a composition. I had wanted to make a chart of ideas, but I found that kids were inventing new techniques faster than I could keep up, tying knots, flattened twists, the possibilities are practically limitless.

Stick to one contrasting color or use a variety of widths and colors, to add whimsy and bring the piece to life. Ultimately, this assignment opened up possibilities of how we can use the element of line in tactile art.

Line as Element: String Art

Can you make a curved line using only straight lines? This project builds on the Op Art project we just completed and continue our quest to understand line as an element of art. 

Each of my virtual students should have a piece of colored mat board and a couple different colors of yarn.  You'll need to make notches along the edges, about 1/4" deep. If you cut 12 notches on one side, then you'll need to cut twelve notches on the side that touches it at a right angle. In fact, let's keep it simple and make the same number of notches on all four sides. If you have a rectangular board, the space between each cut should be longer than those on the short side. Do the math.

Pick a color of yarn and put it in the top side notch, with the end in the back. The picture above shows it starting on the left. You might want to tape it to secure it. Then stretch the yarn along and tuck it into the bottom, far left notch. Bring the yarn out the front of the mat at the notch right beside the one you just used, so it comes out of the second notch from the left, on the bottom.  You don't want to waste a lot of yarn by wrapping it the whole length of the board, just think of it as making a stitch: down one and up the next.
You'll stretch the yarn to the notch second from the top on the left side and then bring up the notch directly under it. Continue the pattern, by pulling it down to the 3rd notch from the left up the fourth, and then back to the next notch on the left side.

If you are right handed you may want to start your project on the upper right notch and go to the bottom, closest to the right, but the idea is the same: move over one and down one, until you've used every notch.

When you finish using all the notches on those two sides, you'll notice that all of your straight lines made net that makes a curve along the edge.  

Try doing the same thing with the same color yarn, with the opposite corner by rotating the board  180 degrees to bring the top to the bottom and the left to the right, keeping the colored side of the mat up.
This ends up with an diagonal football shape. You may want to choose a different color yarn and do the other two corners, to create a balanced finished piece. This can be a frame by tucking corners of a photo or drawing behind the string, or it works as a stand-alone work of art. Either way, you've managed to do some magic by making curves from straight lines.

Op Art and the Element of Line

Op Art was a movement in the sixties that played with people's minds: it made 2D lines feel 3 dimensional and still lines seem to vibrate or move in unexpected ways. 
Line is the first element we will cover in our Elements of Art lessons. One idea for a project is to use the edge of a bulletin board border. (To my virtual students, I sent you each a piece of this in your last packet of supplies). Hold it vertical and trace the bumpy edge near the left hand side of of a vertical piece of paper. Then move the boarder template to the left and down just a tad and trace another line. Repeat the process until the entire paper is full. If you are using a chisaled marker, consider using the wide edge on the in stroke and the thin edge on the out stroke over visa versa. When you turn the finished drawing on its side it gives the illusion of bumps or waves.

For students with little to no vision, there's an option to use Wiki Sticks to create a few simple shapes. You may use a circle in the middle of the page, or squares poking in from edges or a combination of those ideas.


Hold your paper horizontally and draw vertical, parallel lines in the background (around the shapes). You can use a ruler if you like. Move the ruler a little to the left each time and make sure it stays parallel to the sides of the paper. If you would rather it be tactile lines, use puffy paint, liquid glue, glued, strips of paper, or Wiki Stix to create your lines. 

Then rotate your paper 90 degrees or in an angle that aligns with the edge of one of your shapes, and create parallel lines going in that direction.
For a modification of this option, I have included paper with stripes of puffy paint. Cut the bottom 1/3 or 1/4 of the paper off. Cut it into simple shapes, like square or triangles. Glue it on the larger striped sheet being sure to change the direction of the stripes.
For my students with some vision, there's yet another option, Create a funnel shape, draw two lines coming in and down from either side of the paper. Start at the bottom of that funnel ad make a frown arch going up and off the top of the page. For the background make smiles lines going behind the funnel.

To create a funnel form a higher point of view, looking down into the top, make the lines curving up on the sides on top of the form. Verticle lines can come straight up and out of the top "smile" shaped line, and move out to the corners. (Lines on the right curve right and left lines curve left at the top of the page.

You may draw straight, parallel, horizontal lines in the background, for the illusion of flat space, or you can make frowny arched lines to make it look like the sides are curving towards you. I chose to make a flat space in the example below.

There are many ways to use lines to create optical illusions. Make spheres or cubes; fill the space. Play around and have some fun with it.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Elements of Art Book

"Elements of Art" or "Elements of Design" are the basic building blocks of images; they are: line, shape, color value, texture, form and space. Without them there can be no drawing, painting or sculpture. Form is basically the 3D version of a shape. The illusion of space requires one of the other elements to create it; linear perspective and cross contour uses lines, atmospheric perspective uses value. Shapes can overlap or be used to show relative size (small shapes look like they are further away). An orange shape on a blue background shows how color creates a sense of space because cool colors recede.  

My first assignment for the year, is having students create a chart illustrating each of the elements of art. I don't require students to include "space" on their "elements of art" chart, for the reason that it is a repeat of the other elements. The same can be said of "form" unless they want to actually glue 3D objects to their chart. The chart can be created by dividing a piece of paper or poster board into five or six sections, one for each element: line, shape, color, value, and texture are required. Again, form is optional. paper. 

Another option for this project is to make a book to illustrate elements. To make this, use a 12" X 18" piece of paper cut in half to make two strips of 6" X 18" pieces. Each piece is folded in half, and the end ends folded back on themselves to form a W, of four 6"X4" sections or pages. The two "W" sheets are then glued along the back of one of the ends and aligned with the edge of the other strip so that the 2 W's make a 24 long strip of folded paper. That way, each element can have it's own page.

Use a glue stick to glue the back of the last page (the whole page to the edges). It helps to have a piece of scrap paper under that on the back of the last page to keep glue off the rest of the book during application. Center the stacked book pages on the back of a piece of mat board or cardboard/chip board wrapped in colored paper, and rub until the glue side of the page is smooth. Repeat the same process to glue the other end of the strips of paper to the other board, making sure that the boards line up as well as possible. Viola! You've made an accordion book! You can add a title or image to glue to the front of your book. If you'd like a spine you can use colored tape or glue a strip of colored paper; this will require viewers to flip through the pages and prohibits them from stretching out out, but it may feel more like a book to you. 

For a stronger finished product try to think of how one page or part of the chart can seamlessly align with the next part. Make the color extra colorful. Make the lines extra linear, whether they be straight, zig zag, or loopy. You want good clean examples of each element. Shapes can be geometric or organic, curvilinear or rectilinear. Think in terms of composition, maybe breaking up the space into large, medium and small shapes. Feel free to use negative shapes within your positive shapes. Value can be built through stippling (dots) or cross hatching. Charcoal or graphite can also be used to show a range of lights and darks. Textures can be flat illusions of texture or actual pieces of lace, sand paper, etc glued to the page. Don't forget to label each element.

Another option is an envelop book. this might be a good option for my students who are totally blind.

To make this, glue the opened flap of one envelop onto the bottom back of another envelop. Create a chain, of at least five envelops so that each one can represent an Element of Art.

Each card can be Brailled at the top center so it can be read before pulling the card out of the envelop. Separate strips of braille can also be glued later so that each element has a label. 
Wiki Stix, glued yarn or ribbon, puffy paint, or Elmer's glue can create a variety of tactile lines. Foam or cardboard shapes can be glued. Glued Sand, crumpled foil, or feathers can be used for the texture. Value can be made by stippling little dots of puffy paint. Be creative and try to make the book original, while maintaining clarity in how you illustrate and understanding of the Elements of Art.


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Fine Arts Academy: Virtual Style

As the assistant director for Wesleyan College's Center for the Arts Academy, I help to oversee summer camp for high school aged women who are interested in music, theatre, and art. When COVID19 turned education on its head late March, all of the camps were canceled. Our program's director, Dr. Gan, was unwilling to accept "no" for an answer, so we used all of the creative problem solving skills we learned in with our fine arts backgrounds and figured out how to host a successful camp with an online platform. Enrollment was down this year, so rather than break into specialized groups, everyone participated in everything: drama games, virtual choir, and drawing for example. I structured my Art History class to include the history of music and theatre happening during the same time and places as art history movements. We talked about the blurring of lines between medium for performance art pieces.

Students each made a promotional website for themselves with a headshot, bio, vita, artist statement, and examples of their work. Our evenings were filled with workshops: Jewelry Making, Costume Design, Polynesian Dance, African Dance, and Chinese Culture. The culminating event was a dance party. I had sent candy and microwave popcorn in their camp packets with art supplies and sheet music. Some students dressed up (one wore a prom gown) and some dressed down (pajama party). Dr. Gan wore a cocktail dress and her brother-in-law, who is a D.J., put all of the student requested together. We laughed and dance until midnight!

The amazing thing about doing things virtually, is that we could have teachers log on from far flung places such as Utah, Germany and Italy to teach. The money saved on the cost of food and dorm could be spent on personal attention: there was almost a one-to-one teacher-student ratio, which is unheard of at camps like these.

While I missed the photogenic nature of face-to-face experiences on site, I managed to get enough material from our virtual classes to make this video about our week. I hope you enjoy and share the name of the camp with any budding young artist in your life.


Saturday, July 11, 2020

Life Lessons from Quarentine in D minor

One of my sons came home from college more than a month early this spring. Covid19 precautions were being taken by schools across the country, making it a time for uncertainty, a distance learning curve, and a lot of family togetherness. One of the first things he asked for when he walked in the door was the sheet music for Cannon in D. All of our children had taken piano lessons starting age 8 but quit after about four years, not long enough to excel. And when you add another five years without practice, I was wondering if he'd remembered any of the notes. I printed the music (March 18th), and the moment I looked at the stanzas, felt the task was impossible. When he assured me he was up to the challenge, however, I felt instantly inspired to make his insanely lofty goal my own, and told him that I would learn it too, "even if it takes me a decade."

The first day, I had to recite mnemonic devices like "All Cars Eat Gas" and "Great Big Dogs Fight Animals" dozens and dozens of times just to get the notes in the first few measures, the easiest measures in the piece. Maybe 10 years wasn't going to be long enough to learn the five pages. I worked line by line every morning and at the two month mark, I was able to play the entire song!  There were some rough patches and I had no sense of dynamics or musicality about any of it. That took another couple of months.

I came to see learning this piece of music as some important life analogies:

1. Action is what matters most.

Talking about doing something doesn't count for much; you actually have to put your energy where your mouth is to get anything done. My son who requested the sheet music has not sat down to learn the first three notes, while I have competed it. Action is everything.

2. Baby steps and daily habits add up.

I never sat for three hour practice sessions. It was 15 minutes one day and 20 the next. Consistency was what helped me get through it with pleasure. No one can eat a whole whale (or whatever that weight is in beef or vegetables) in one seating.

3. What happens first in the day gets done.

Things come up throughout the day and bump some of the today's goals into tomorrow, but the thing you do first, always gets done, whether that's saying a prayer or taking a shower. I had to get my practice time in before my kids woke up and complained about my noise drowning out their noise. It always got done.

4. There are times when you have no idea what you are doing.

When I started out, I wasn't sure which notes to play or what my fingering should be, but I knew how the beginning of Pachelbel's Canon sounded, so knew when I got it right. By page four, I was in unfamiliar territory. I couldn't tell if I was getting it right or wrong. I muddled and muddled and muddled until one morning I heard something that sounded almost like a melody. When you're not sure if you are on the right track, keeping moving forward little by little until the fog lifts and your vision becomes clear again.

5. Negative thoughts will psych you out.

When I'd tell myself, "here comes the hard part," I'd slow down and stumble. But one day I made it through without a mistake and was like, "Oh, I forgot to tell myself to struggle...and it was easy." Any time your focus is on someone else watching you and what they're thinking, or what a mess things are in life, you are taking the focus off solving problems and doing what needs to be done.

6. When you think you're done, think again.

I heard my painting professor talk about the fact that he'd learned to paint 20 years earlier, so how was it that he was still learning to paint? We can always get better. A writer may "finish" her book, but if it's her first draft, she is probably looking at more time and effort in the revisions than she did "writing" the book to begin with. Learning the notes was just the first step. I still had my work cut out for me, trying to make it into music.

7. Personal commitment doesn't depend on anyone else.

Learning this song was going to be a mother-son, bonding thing. We were going to do it together. His lack of follow-through had nothing to do with my end of the bargain though. I said I was going to learn it, so I learned it and I am happier for the accomplishment.  Sometimes we wait for our friends to save up enough to take that cruise with us, or our husbands to get the backyard garden going, when we could have spent that waiting time moving forward, getting things done, and realizing our own dreams.

8. It's never too late to start.

I am encouraged when I see people start a new instrument in their fifties and sixties. I'm not too old to become much better at the piano, and it's not too late for my son to learn this song or any other.  Rather than focus on what we haven't learned yet, we need to focus on what we can learn and get busy doing it.