Monday, February 19, 2018

Matisse, The Beast

Fauvism, as an art movement, only lasted a couple of years, but it left quite a Post-Impressionism impression. In French "fauve" means "wild beast," and although it was meant as an insult by a critic of a salon exhibition, the name was embraced by painters like Braque and Henri Matisse who enjoyed wild brush strokes and arbitrary color usage.  The painting of Madam Matisse was called, "The Green Stripe" because of the green that runs down the middle of her half yellow, and half pink face. Her hair his blue.

My students were given the task to make a portrait in the style of Henri Matisse, and they really enjoyed the freedom of color play.  And I really enjoyed seeing what they could do.

Matisse made art for the last 64 years of his life. Once he was wheel chair, and then bed ridden, his painting days were over, but his paper cut outs were just as exciting. My paper cut out lesson plan can be found here:

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Let It Show! Let It Show! Let it Show!

There is much to be said for the process of art making as a means to itself.  It is therapeutic. It is a way to learn, grow and observe the world more carefully. But good art, like good ice cream should be shared with others. And I find that when my students know that their work will be displayed, they are more likely to work hard and make something worth displaying.
My students have an art exhibit right now at our local Good Will. Participation perks for them have included a field trip to an opening reception with live music, tasty refreshments, and interaction with members of the community. They were mentioned us on local TV and we got a write up in the local paper.  Four pieces sold at opening night.  Fifteen more students got paid this week for work they submitted to The American Printing House for the Blind Insights Art Contest last year.

We had a school wide exhibit in December and will have another in the Spring to coincide with the school concerts.  But there's something extra satisfying to step outside our little family of students and teachers into the real world. This spring we will have another exhibition of student work at Georgia College about an hour away. I'm not likely to have many students go on to art careers, but as long as they stick with me, they get a chance to feel like a pro.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Roy Lichtenstein, Pop Art Star, Assignment

As an art teacher, I get my inspiration for assignments anywhere I can. I got my Roy Lichtenstein/ Pop Art project from Roy Lichtenstein himself, even though he'd taught in the Ohio State art department long before I was a student there, and has been dead for years.  He was famous for creating large, comic inspired paintings, using primary colors and Benday dots, as though they were printed in a newspaper.  In collecting images of his work for a slide show, I stumbled across a painting he did based on Van Gough's painting of his room.  It seemed like the perfect solution for my students who only had four class periods (minus time for lecture and research) to complete a large painting. I had them pick a famous masterpiece from art history. Once a painting was chosen, the subject matter and composition were already in place, freeing the student a chance to use his or her time to focus on colors and mark making. They could create shapes of solid color, as Lichtenstein did, but were also required to create a Benday dot pattern, using the back of a large pencil to stamp out the paint.

I wish we'd had time for to have the students get a pop art make-over, but it was all we could do to get through with the painting.  I did, however, try some Lichtenstein cosplay with left-over Halloween make up on my own.

Through the week, old masterpieces became new. Rembrandt's burnt sienna became saturated and Cassat's modeled furniture became flattened. Everything felt more commercial, mass produced, and! That's the point of Pop Art. Make it, sell it, love it.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Monster Mash-up Mania

If you had told me 10 years ago that I'd end up teaching children with multiple complex needs how to design monsters, I wouldn't have believed you. Yet here I am, and  I'm loving it! A normal art teacher at a normal elementary school might model how to think through each part of "building" a monster before opening the gate to let students run wild with their imagination. They might make 20 arms, or eyes on elbows, or create fuzzy tentacles.  But I have a couple dozen art students who aren't able to function on that level. All of them are legally blind, some are in wheel chairs, and many of them are non-verbal.

Inviting participation is a matter of giving them choices, often only two choices.  So in our make-a-monster assignment I walk these students through each step by asking questions.
"Do you want your monster to be on a yellow or blue piece of paper?"
"Do you want your monster to be tall or short?" (vertical or horizontal paper orientation)
"Do you want the body to be soft or rough?" (felt or upholstery fabric or burlap)
"Do you want the body to be purple or green?"
"Do you want the body to be a circle or a square?"
Questions continue about head, hair, arms, legs, feet, eyes, mouth, etc. until the entire figure is completed.

When I have a student with echoalia (who always repeats the second choice back to me), I ask the question a couple times changing the order.  For a nonverbal child with no sight, I move their hand from one option to the other, and then have them touch their choice. One of my students carries a communication device with preprogramed buttons, so I ask only yes or no questions.  "We have ribbons and tape. Do you want to use ribbons for legs?" If she pushes the "no" audio button, then I ask, "Do you want to use tape for legs?"

Every student is expected to help me squeeze the glue, position and pat down every collage piece. The most important thing to me is that each student takes ownership in the finished piece and does as much work as they can possibly do on their own. Progress is very slow, but when I see one of these students use a pair of scissors, or learn the word, "collage" I feel like I'm Anne Sullivan, living a scene from "The Miracle Worker"!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Muppet Inspired Hand Puppets!

I believe that genius is being able to turn your mother's green coat into a world famous frog, which is why the genius of Jim Henson was the springboard for last week's art project, starting with a slide show discussion and this documentary that shows behind the scenes at The Muppet Show.

The making of the muppet show 1982 - YouTube

My high school students, then got busy creating a character for their very own hand puppet. They researched, sketched, cut and glued. Some puppets were as simple as a couple of pieces of craft felt stitched together and turned inside out before embellishing.

Others were more elaborate puppets with mouths that opened and closed. A variety of materials are important for creative detail work: pompoms, puffy paint, lace, upholstery fabric, glitter, foam, wiggly eyes,  doll hair, and ribbon.
I have planned a field trip to see Muppets up close at the Center for Puppetry Arts museum, and we'll catch "The Wizard of Oz" performed with marionettes while we're there. By the end of the week, it was clear that puppetry arts are a happy marriage between performing and visual arts!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Tactile Graphics

Crayon pictures are great for kids with sight, but for the blind, tactile pictures make more sense. My elementary students recently used cardboard and Popsicle sticks to create a bus, a swimming pool, houses, dragon flies, a swing set, and more.
Teachers can help students with visual impairments find their way to the cafeteria by making them of the school with hot glue. Elephants, squids, and planets can be made into tactile graphics so that the students can get an idea of the shape of things that they can't see (even on TV or in magazines) or feel in real life.
Having students make their own images helps me to know what they understand and what they don't. And if there's some one on one time, it's an even better learning experience. "Did you know that houses often have peaked roofs?" or "Cars have four wheels, but there are two on each side, so how many wheels should we have on a side view of our car?"

These are also an excellent way for students to tell stories or to illustrate stories. They might talk about things that happened in their neighborhood, or an afternoon at an amusement park, complete with tactile roller coaster. And of course, the option of creating non-objective art should always be an option. There is something joyful about just putting shapes together.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Christmas Gifts to Make

You don't have to break the bank to show someone that you love and appreciate them. Gifts of the heart are far more meaningful than gift cards.  Here are some ideas I've used in years past.

Paper Ornaments

I made a jar of paper Moravian Stars for a friend when I was in high school. I'd used a kit, which was just strips of paper and instructions. After I had grown and had dozens of nieces and nephews, I created kits for them to learn. Of course a finished star was included and could be a little gift on their own.  Four 1"X16" strips of paper makes a 4" star.

The paper 3D snowflakes require 6 squares of paper. I used 4 inch squares, which means that it takes 1 1/2 pieces of card stock per star. Scissors and glue are the the only other materials needed for this project, which means my kids could make gifts for their teachers for about 10 cents each. Middle School teachers know that each student has half a dozen teachers so they don't expect expensive gifts, and something homemade to use in their room or house is a nice reminder of the student.

One inch strips of paper stapled in the center, bent back and glued at the bottom make beautiful paper flower ornaments.


I grew up using a mug that my Aunt Janet had made me. She made one for each member of our family. Anything with a name on it makes it extra personal. I decided to make personalized mugs for the next generation. This ended up costing almost nothing (clay can be dirt cheap) as I had access to the college ceramics studio, but it was very time consuming project, and for awhile I thought of it as a part time job. 

Sign Posts

One year I cut wooden 1X4s into arrows, painted them with white latex, and then painted the city names of loved ones and the miles from my house to theirs. I did this for each of my siblings who owned a home and added the city of my parents as well as my in-law's parents. I included the hardware, but not the poles (for obvious reasons). 

 Here is mine, in the backyard, with my folks, brother, and two of my sisters, all of who have home towns listed on my sign post. Wish they lived closer, but at least I can find the way to them.

Name Paintings
This is my favorite thing to give at baby showers, and kid birthdays, but I've given more than a few away at Christmas too. This is another gift of time and talent, as the frames are $10-$20, but if they were to have their own name painted it would cost about $40-$50.

Graham Cracker Houses

My family made graham cracker houses every year when I was growing up. I probably only missed one year in the last 35 from this tradition (when I was in Japan and couldn't find graham crackers). Each of my kids make their own and then we have carried on the tradition of Christmas caroling and delivering either a house or cookies to our neighbors.  Here I am, building 25 houses in advanced for my daughter's kindergarten class to decorate. The icing is made from 1 lb of powdered sugar and 2 egg whites (or pasteurized egg whites), mixed 20 minutes on a mixer. I place a scoop into zip lock plastic snack bags for kids to use pipe.


Homemade cookies and candy are a treat for everyone who isn't diabetic. I have used inexpensive boxes, tins, paper plates and paper bags with ribbon to keep costs down and let me share with more people. Small loaves of pumpkin bread or banana bread look adorable with a ribbon and small card, and fit nicely into teacher's boxes. Consumables are the best gifts for people who already have everything they need and who want to avoid clutter in their lives.