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."

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.

Friday, July 6, 2018

You're Framed

 When a couple of my students asked for help making frames, I offered the simplest solution I could think of. We used two pieces of cardboard (8" each) with a 4" square cut out of one of them. Upholstery samples were cut slightly larger than each piece of cardboard and glued to the pieces. The corners of the fabric were trimmed, at a 45 degree angle, leaving enough for the thickness of the cardboard to be covered.

Students cut a big "X" from the fabric's 2" square opening in the frames front, and then turned them back and glued them to the opposite side, trimming excess fabric.  Then they placed a picture between the front and back of the frame and glued the two together with hot glue.  These are permanent frames that could be used for memories with friends or favorite kid art to lean on a book shelf.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Sports Themed Camp for the Blind

I had such a blast at last week's summer course!  Blind and low vision teenagers from around state of Georgia came together to play beep kick ball on a wheel chair accessible ball field, go bowling and  attend a baseball game! They spent a morning to do virtual fishing and hunting. Students took a tour of the Sports Hall of Fame, went swimming, and learned yoga. They rode a mechanical bull, played goal ball (similar to indoor soccer but with three blindfolded teammates on a gym court) and attended a tennis clinic with soft, bouncy, jingly tennis balls.

Part of my responsibilities for this program included doing art projects.  One day they screen printed their own camp t-shirt, using a silk screen I had photo-mechanically processed with a design my husband did in Adobe Illustrator based on my drawing.

The next day, students created their original designs, which were cut out of paper for stencils to screen print on their tote bags.

And finally they chose colors and designs to represent their own team before making into felt penants (not pictured).  

I also made a sports themed photo booth to help capture the moment and save happy memories.
By the end of the week they were all worn out but hopefully feeling more fit, more confident, and more independent than they were a week  earlier. Yay for camp! 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Wax Resist Ink Drawings

People with low vision need high contrast images more than those of us who can see subtle value shifts.  Ideally, this "wax resist" assignment would be done starting with only white crayon, or white oil pastel, but we also have liquid wax that is used for ceramics to block glaze from the bottoms of cups and bowls. There is dye in this wax to make it easier to see for those who need the some contrast to start with. So my students drew and painted with waxy or oily medium, and then brushed ink on top. The ink only stuck to the paper (although we did have to dab the tops of the oil pastel with a paper towel, to be able to see it better), to create a black and white (or black and green) image, with enough value contrast for my low vision students.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Beach Party and Decorations to Die For

Every time Kim, our school media center specialist, asks me, "Do you want this empty laminator tube?" I hear the words, "Do you want a palm tree trunk?"  I was glad that I had accepted and saved those large tubes when I got the call to decorate a faculty party at the last minute. "Something summery" was the suggestion, so I went with beach theme on a shoe string budget. It is easy to borrow beach towels to cover all the book shelves, bring in a beach umbrella, and buy some sand buckets from the dollar store to and place foam sunglasses, crabs, flamingos, suns and surfboard, made from construction paper or craft foam and glued to dowels. A shark's mouth photo op was made from a discarded trip-fold board, and beach balls were placed around the room. Bulletin board paper cut into palm leaves were given structure by attaching aluminum wire to the bottom with green masking tape. Then the palm trees were placed into buckets or cans with sand or rocks around to hold it up.

 Two days later, I was invited to an Edgar Allen Poe themed murder mystery. I painted a raven for the occasion and each guest posed with it was they entered the dinner party.  The hosts had ravens and sculls in each room, black table cloths. With everyone's costume and a menu that included "crow pie" and "funeral potatoes" it was easy to stay in character and the evening was a lot of fun! Whether the party theme is a luau or murder, there are colors, costumes and little touches that can make the mood complete.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Clay Boxes and Pinch Pot Animals

As an art teacher, it's my job to teach the basic techniques of ceramics, such as making slabs, pinch pots, coil pots, and using the potter's wheel.  But there's so much that can be done to learn each of those techniques. It has been four or five years since we made slab boxes to learn slip and score method of joining two pieces of clay, and about that long since we've made animals from pinch pots. And so this was our year to do those projects, and it was great fun.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Discarded Books to Works of Art

Old books can become new sculptures with a few folds and maybe some glue and paint. The book above just had the top and bottom corners of each page folded in, while the book below had a group of pages with the  bottom corners turned up followed by a section of pages in which the top corners were turned down.
After eight sections of alternating turned corners half of each section rolled right while the other half of each section rolled left. then the rolls were glued into place. Then it was sprayed lightly with gold spray paint.

Here is a similar process of folds and rolls, followed by a touch of red spray paint.

This Christmas tree idea that was found online is the only one in which the pages were cut before they were folded. Although some students cut out pages and painted ink silhouettes with them.

And one student used discarded maps to make paper flowers.

In order to create a vintage feel or a piece of art that communicates layers of meaning, it might be wise to look beyond a plain white sheet of paper into discarded reading materials.