Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Set Design

My students, all of whom are visually impaired or blind, have an Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) added to their academic curriculum. One of the nine areas of the ECC is Career Exploration. For the last two months of Friday mornings, I have been able to teach set design as a possible career. Some students worked with another teacher learning to build panels. Each of these panels was built from 3-8 foot 2X4s: one for each side and one cut in half for the top and the bottom. A  4ftX8ft birch panel was nailed to the front and back of the frame. Then 2X4 scraps were used to built a stand at the bottom with 4 coasters on each to move with ease. This gave my class 4 large panels, with two sides each to use as a canvas for our images.

The chorus teacher wanted to use the panels in our upcoming winter concert and requested an outdoor snow scene and indoor Christmas scene. As a class we researched source material on the internet and decided the best parts of each image to incorporate into our own images. I drew the final scene which they copied onto a piece of overhead plastic and then we projected it onto the panels and traced them. 

Because my students are visually impaired, I had them paint mostly the large, flat areas of color. 
They did stones for the fireplace. No one noticed any imperfections from the audience.

And tape works well to keep students in the lines. Any mistakes were fixable since I kept enough paint mixed to go back over stray marks.

There wasn't enough time in our brief Friday classes to finish, so some of my regular art students pitched in during the week.

Trees and wreathes had a black underpainting to give richness and shadows to the forms.
Then we added details such as green branches topped with snow. Candles, berries, stockings and fire in the fireplace. It was fun feeling like we were having art inside a toasty home decked with holly, or out in a snowy landscape. But the ultimate pay off was seeing a performance brought to life through quality sets. I am so glad my students had the luxury of working on such a large scale and know they will never forget the experience.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Wax Paper Stain Glass

Stained glass window crafts are always a winner with kids. I've had my students sandwich colored tissue between two pieces of clear contact paper or color with sharpies on scraps of laminator plastic, but this time I took the melted crayon craft from my childhood.

I always start my lessons talking about how this project fits into the art world. There are beautiful stained glass windows in the European cathedrals of the 13th and 14th century that are still bathing its viewers with intense colors. Tiffany lamps illuminate front he inside out. Frank Lloyd Wright windows with geometric shapes to go in his buildings.
With real stained glass, some of the coloring is anti-intuitive. copper oxide produces a turquoise and gold makes the glass red. When it comes to melting crayons however, what you see is what you get.

We used a hand-held pencil sharpener to sharpen crayons. The colored shavings were arranged on a piece of wax paper, and then covered with another piece of wax paper. It's important not to get the shavings too close to the edges or the crayon may leak out. 

We discuss how crayons melt in hot cars and dryers, but this can can work to our advantage if we want to them to change their state to create an image with a technique other than coloring. An old towel or sheet can be placed under and over the wax paper-crayon sandwich, and rubbed gently with an iron. I used a medium setting. The fabric did get stained quite a bit.

After the colors melt, we created contraction paper frame. This was done by putting two pieces of paper together, folding them in half, and cutting out half a shape starting and ending on the fold side. The edges can be cut to the desired shape as well. The "glass" part is glued between the front and back of the paper frame and taped to a window to let the light shine through. This can also have a ribbon added and hang from a branch of a Christmas tree. As long as there is a light source it will glow. Color can't exist without light after all. And art can't exist without someone making it…so what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Homemade Christmas Gifts

Christmas has always been a favorite time of the year for me. It gives me an excuse to make things and let people know how much they mean to me through personalized gifts.

This month I accomplished my goal of 20 consecutive years of homemade Christmas cards. I got the idea for this year's card by having my Art students stitch yarn into burlap. Often I'll do a demonstration, and end up liking the product enough that I run out and buy the materials for my personal projects. Another example of this are little wooden ornaments made from cross cuts of small trees or branches. These are great for wood burning tools, but markers are a safer medium for my blind students. A brown Sharpie gives a similar affect to a wood burning tool, but it is easier and less expensive to use.

Last year I made a lot of rice bags. I cut 2 pieces of fabric a little bigger than 18" by 6", and sewed them together like a long bag. I turned it inside out, filled it with enough rice to fill 1/3 at the end, then I used pins to hold the rice in its place while I sewed that section closed. I did the same for the middle section and then sewed the end closed after inserting the 3rd division of rice. I made a paper funnel to get the rice inside. I think I used 2 or 3 cups of rice for the whole thing. A few drops of lavendar oil on the bag, and directions to heat it in the mircrowave for 1-2 minutes is all that is needed. I kept a rice bag for myself and I often use it to wrap around my neck and shoulders after a hard, muscle tension, kind of day.

This year I made ornament wreaths. It takes about 50 ornaments, so if you wait until the clearance sales in January, you may be able to do the project for about $6.50.

You'll need a metal hanger to open up, bend into a circle and use to string the ornaments. A wide wire bow will help fill in the gap at the top after bending the wire to seal it off and loop into a hanger.

Clay ornaments are fun too. Here are some of my students' projects that they, in progress. They hope to sell some and give some away.

Consumable gifts are best for people who already have everything they need. 
I have a cookie "exchange" at my house each year for a handful of parents whose children are in the same school program as my son. If participants each bring 3 dozen cookies we can divide them up into 20 tins for the teachers of the program. This saves us from having to buy a gift for each individual teacher. Many hands make light work.

By the way, the picture with my teacher-cookie stack, has an advent calendar in the background. Many years ago, I made a fabric advent calendar just like this one for each of my siblings so their children could track the days. My daughter still races downstairs each morning to add a little snowflake to the tree.

For my husband's colleagues and some neighbors I usually make goodies like those pictured above, but this year I tried to work ahead with gifts in a jar. The chili mix sells for $11.00 in stores, but can be made for much less. Hot chocolate and cookie mixes are also winners. And for non-food jar gifts, sugar scrubs are easy and inexpensive. It's just sugar and olive oil. This one has crushed peppermint sticks, but the smell is hard to detect without adding several drops of essential oils. It's a great bath gift idea, or keep one for yourself to exfoliate and and moisturize.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Celtic Knot Trivets

Celtic knots are wonderful symbols of Irish art and heritage. You can find them in tapestries, jewelry and illuminated manuscripts, like The Book of Kells.  I decided to introduce my students to Celtic knots during our clay unit and have them each create a variation of their own.

After a little research on the internet, most students were able to find a favorite knot to print and use for source material. They needed to change it in some way which required a little playing around. Clay coils are so easy to make that a few mistakes and restarts doesn't feel like a big deal. Some students did a complete design from their imagination, while others linked together some simple, tried-and-true designs.

We talked about form and function being a part of good design. These fired clay pieces are going to be used as trivets, protecting tables and counter tops from hot pots and pans. There is no reason for useful, every day things to be beautiful, and hopefully my students are developing the cultural awareness and skills they need to make their environments more atheistically pleasing.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Coil Pots

A thousand years before I moved to the south, there were Native Americans here making amazing pottery with the same Georgia clay, and the same coil methods that we use today. I taught my art students the styles and techniques used by the Mississipian and Creek nations, beginning with the shapes of their vessels.
I needed to make drawings with puffy paint for my blind students who couldn't see the slide show.

They each sketched their own variation of pot, using the correct terms for the parts: neck, lip, shoulders, foot, and handles. Some students tried to replicate what they felt in my drawings, using wiki sticks.

Then the students made coils "or snake like shapes from clay by rolling their hands on top of the clay and moving each hand and finger further apart to evenly stretch it.The bottom coil rolled up like a spiral and was smoothed out top and bottom. In the end, I didn't want the coils to show at all. 

The Ocmulgee Indian Mounds is a National Monument in our town. It has videos showing how the coils were smoothed and used to create walls. Then wooden carvings were pressed into the sides of the pots to create pattern. I required my students to use a repeated texture too.

There is a school wide media fair coming up, during which each teacher will show case how their students learned about the people and history of the state. We will showcase some of our pots in the bisque fired state so that they look more authentic. Once the show is over, we will glaze and fire the pots again. Maybe, they will be ready just in time for Christmas. Who wouldn't want an ancient style, modern twist, home made, coil pot! 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Dot painting

The Aborigines of Australia are such an amazing people, and most of my students had never heard of them before this week. We started Monday with a documentary to help them understand the significance behind some Aboriginal customs and ancient art. Accordingly, we began our own dot paintings.

The Aborigines have symbols that communicate meaning in their art. A single arch symbolizes a person, concentric circles are a symbol for water hole, diagonal lines represent rain, and arrows can be spears or emus. Acrylic dot paintings became popular in 1960's, but dots are used to create ancient rock art as well.

A lot of students chose to use black or another dark color as a background to provide contrast for the lighter colors. We dipped unused pencil erasers into house paint to make the dots.

The student who made this painting has prosthetic eyes. The latex paint dots and puddles were somewhat tactile. When she felt her painting the next day she said, "Oooooo. This is really nice!"

Because these paintings didn't take very long, we continued making dot paintings with dot makers and puff paint. This project was a really fun way to bridge ancient and contemporary non-objective art.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Clay Heads

Having never made a life sized clay head myself, I was a little apprehensive about assigning it to my students. But with the thanks of YouTube and a little playing around, I managed to get the courage. I had students start with with a ball of newspaper, with a little newspaper roll or empty paper towel roll attached to the bottom. Then we made slabs of clay to wrap around the bottom for a solid neck and then  more for the head.

A line of symmetry helps provide guides for where the eyes, nose, and mouth should go.
Then, clay is added and shaped in those areas. The hair is the crowning touch. Even students with cognitive impairments can pinch and place little pieces of clay, or roll coils for braids and dread locks.
Once it looks finished, we slice the top of the head off with a wire cutter, to remove the newspaper. One problem we found was that the clay was still too soft. I was taking some of the students on a multiple-day field trip, so I was trying to fit a week-long assignment into 3 days. A few of the heads started to collapse. It's better for the clay to be almost leather hard before taking this step.

We smoothed out the inside and then slipped and scored to rejoin the top of the noggin.

Then we bisque fired the pieces. 

Some of the heads were painted with acrylics and a few of them sold at a silent auction fund raiser. Others were glazed. I think the students really enjoyed this project and I love that little their personality comes through with each face.Students glazed or painted their pieces