Friday, September 25, 2015

Paul Klee Water Color lesson

One of my college professors described a Paul Klee watercolor as "perfect." That may have been the only time I have ever heard a work of art being described as such, and it really made an impact on me. Paul Klee was a Swiss/German artist who was part of the Blue Rider Group of painters and later became a teacher at the famous Bauhaus School. In 1937, when Hitler had his famous "Degenerate Art" exhibit, Klee was included on the list of artists to be ridiculed. He fled Nazi Germany to Switzerland where he painted the remainder of his days. He was an accomplished musician, a lover of nature, a master draftsman and teacher. His effort to reduce things to the very essence and provide balance and harmony, is something I really admire. I also have a nephew whose middle name is Klee. What's not to love?

I began Klee week in my classroom with a documentary on the life of the artist. I discussed, with my students, the various styles his work took over the years and the variety of media he used. Next we focused on a few water color paintings and looked at the things they had in common: the vertical and horizontal lines, arrows, color harmony.

Each student created their own compositions, some using grids, others using symbols, some using horizontal lines broken up by a few vertical lines, or arrows.

For those with no vision, I would follow their directions and draw lines on the watercolor paper using Elmer's glue.

For some of the low vision students, I would reinforce the lines they drew themselves with hot glue to help them stay within the shape boundaries. My low vision students tended to mix the cakes of color, muting the clean, bright colors, which turned out to be a bonus. I love the earthy tones they created. While no one will probably ever describe my students' work as "perfect," I think there is beauty in the imperfection, and I'm glad Paul Klee's work could inspire them to make something of their own.

Relief Printing for Kids: Yarn Stamps

To me, printmaking is more than just an art standard to teach, it is a passion of mine. I have a couple of degrees in it so it feels like a big part of my identity. My yarn stamp lesson was a fun and easy way to introduce the students I love to the medium I love, just like I was introducing two good friends who I knew were going to get along really well. 
The following technique is great for young children and students like mine, who have multiple disabilities. Each student picked a shape, letter or symbol to make. They folded a rectangle cardboard in three parts so that the middle part was less than a third and the two sides would bend back and be pinched together to become the handle. We used masking tape to keep them together. 

I like thick yarn for this project. It absorbs the paint and stands out far enough to keep the paint from the cardboard. Cut a piece of yarn and glue it to the bottom of the stamp in the desired design. If you want to make a letter, make sure it is a mirrored version of itself. For example the letter "K" would turn left instead of right. Symmetrical letters such as "O", "M" and "T" will work easily, but it never hurts to look at the stamp in a mirror to make sure it will print correctly.

Once the yarn is dried, you just pour tempura or acrylic paint in a shallow plate and begin dipping and stamping. 

 Think about the whole image. Repetition and rhythm are principles of design. Try out a couple of  different colors.

My students are visually impaired, so we did some of our prints on recycled braille paper. For other prints, we added sand while the paint we'd stamped was still wet. The tactile element is so important for my students, but I wish I had used colored glue instead of paint for the stamping. Unfortunately, a lot of the sand fell off after the paint dried.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Making Rain Sticks

Some of the most meaningful and popular art projects for my young blind students are the ones in which we make instruments or objects that make sound. This week's rain stick project was a great way to combine visual art, with culture and science. Rain sticks were originally made by the Aztecs out of dried cacti and little pebbles. The cactus grows with the needles, forming a helix.

If you'd like to make a rain stick that lasts for years, a large piece of PVC pipe is perfect. This 18 inch piece of pipe has 50 holes drilled  in a spiral shape, about 3/4" apart. Tiny brads (headless nails) were pounded but tooth picks with hot glue work as well.

I had dozens of empty paper towel rolls left over from last year's projects, so I decided to use those. Students decorated the cardboard rolls using paint or marker, followed by strips of tissue paper and colored masking tape. The process involves painting, cutting, gluing, and taping. But wait, there's more! For the ends of the tube, we used tooling techniques on foil.

To create obstacles for the grains of rice, I curled strips of cut toilet paper roll, and hot glued them to the inside of each tube. I could only reach inside a short distance to glue the strips, but I found 3 or 4 of them were enough.

After one end was ready, we'd tape it to the tube, and then place it in a bag of rice before scooping several little cups or handfuls into the open end. Miraculously, there were no major messes given the number of students who fulfilled this task in the last two days. We topped the other end with foil and tape.

We talked about where rain comes from which is a great way to reinforce water cycle words, like condensation. For our next step, we created our own little class rainstorm which included stomping for thunder, gentle tilting of the rain sticks for a sprinkle, and tapping the sticks on the table for a downpour. We used some dried lentils and white beans with our dried rice to make it sound like some raindrops were bigger than others. So put on a raincoat, get out the craft supplies, and get ready for a downpour of fun.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Monochromatic Landscapes

Here on planet Earth, we have a little thing called atmosphere, which makes it possible for us to stay alive. It also makes things look fuzzier the further away they are. If it is night-time, things will probably look darker if they're farther from you. If the sky is a light gray, mountains and buildings may look lighter and softer from far away. Atmospheric perspective is a way for artists to show depth in their paintings.

I think the easiest way to introduce atmospheric perspective and color schemes to students is with a monochromatic assignment. Mono means "one" and chroma is "color." Students pick a color and add that color to white to tint it. They add black to that color to shade it.
Before mixing paint, students had to research and draw landscapes or cityscapes, thinking about vertical placement of rooftops or mountains. The foreground is at the bottom of the paper, the sky is at the top, and there are several divisions in the middle.

The color, straight out of the bottle was used to paint the middle ground before tinting and shading in increments for the other layers. My students who were completely blind decided what they wanted to paint and what color to use. Then I cut out layers of cardboard and paper for them to paint on their own. Ultimately, we glued the layers together. This makes for a tidier end product for sighted students as well. 

If you try this assignments with students be sure that they add the darker color to the lighter color so as not to waste a gallons trying to lighten up a dark color. It's also helpful to look for how atmospheric perspective works in the real world, beyond the classroom doors.