Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Word Mandala

Mandalas are repeated patterns using radial balance. They are used in some Indian religions and ancient architecture to symbolize the universe.

After my 12 year-old daughter came home with the painting above, I had my own students create mandalas. First I  folded a square of 12" X 12" paper in fourths to make 4- 4"X4" pieces and then diagonally to make 8 identical triangles. I cut them out and gave one to each student. They wrote a name or word that was meaningful to them. (My daughter's says "APPLES.") This can be done with the bottom of the word against the longest side of the triangle or one of the shorter sides, but the letters should fill the space. The word needs to be traced with marker so that it can be seen well enough to trace. We used a light table to trace the word into one section of paper and then flip upside down on the next section and trace it again.The flipping and tracing continued the entire way around the paper. Some people might want to do every other space with the word reading correctly, and then flip the word upside down and fill in the mirror images in the missing spaces. Either way, the results are the same: 4 mirrored pairs of the word.

For my students who are completely blind, and read Braille, instead of print, I wrote the word for them and traced it in hot glue. Their job was to color them using the tactile lines.

These two say "Kind" and "Faith." 

I wish I had taken pictures of the finished pieces because they looked fantastic. This project really helped students who felt like they couldn't come up with a pattern or design themselves, realize that they could. It also helped some of my students think about negative space, and find ways to repeat color for sense of wholeness.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Unity and Variety in Art

E pluribus unum. Out of many, we are one. It's true for a great nation and true for a great class.

I started this school year, a couple weeks ago, by trying to create a sense of community in the classroom, so I asked students to talk about the things we have in common. We all live in the same state, spend our days in the same school; we all like music, on and on. Then everyone shares something about themselves that makes them unique. They each have something special to offer the group and it helps when they recognize it and say it out loud. We listened to each other's favorite songs, and looked specifically for repetition in the music and how it unifies the piece. Then we listen again for variety and how the words are changed up or a bridge is added to make it more interesting. This is how it works in visual art as well. Repetition is one way to create a sense of unity in a painting or sculpture. Variety within the repetition makes it interesting. We chose to spend an entire week focused on making circles. One shape, repeated again and again would be pretty boring except that we made them with a variety of sizes, colors, and decorated with different patterns.

We ended up cutting out half of the circles to make a collaborative art piece on the hallway bulletin board. The words, "Our commonality unites us. Our diversity strengthens us," were in the center in print and braille, along with the art standard which requires that each student "Discusses and applies concepts such as...variety within repetition." Empty toulle spools were used to make some of the circles pop out from the board, at varying depths. The students stapled circles, while I hot glued spools and they were pretty pleased with the results. Here is to a year of unity and cooperation among my art students, and to finding the common ground to unify us as a nation and as human beings.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Creativity Part 2: Work, Play, Rest

I'm always surprised when I see articles that suggest that every creative person procrastinates or that real artists get up before the sun. In truth, great minds are not all alike. They are vastly different. Every one has to find what works best for them, so it is with humility that offer three suggestions to become more creative, which you can feel free to take with a grain or two of salt. It is these: Work hard, play hard, rest hard.

Pablo Picasso said, "Inspiration does exist but it must find you working." He should know, he was forever working and getting new ideas. 
So my first suggestion to anyone who wants to do creative work, is to show up and do the work. Really make an effort! Sometimes the ideas will be great, sometimes they will be poor, sometimes new ideas will be non-existent. But go into the studio, go to your computer, to your piano, to your easel,  and do your job. When the economy was collapsing and bankers stopped going to work, I remember hearing world-renowned painter, Chuck Close, comment on NPR, that artists go into the studio no matter what's going on in the economy. Artist's make art because what they do, whether or not anyone buys it. 
Ideas inspire work and work inspires more ideas, so work, and think, and search for answers. And when they don't come right away, don't freak out, just let the questions marinate while you work on another project. Solutions aren't always immediate.


For the luckiest among us, the line between work and play is very blurry. Actors get to spend their days pretending, artist's get to try new materials and marks. Writers wonder "what will happen if...." This is the exploration of childhood. Piaget called children little scientists because they're trying things out to see what will happen, and Picasso famously said, "All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist when one grows up." 

The idea that work is not work unless it is odious, doesn't make sense to me. I think for the most part, would should be something that you should enjoy. I love the art of Robert Rauschenberg for it's fresh, whimsy and grown up humor. It's no wonder he offers this advise: "Have fun, if not you'll bore us." We don't want to look at or listen to or read anything that the artist, musician or writer found no joy in creating. 
Creativity requires a bit of fun, in fact Einstein defines creativity as "intelligence having fun." Fooling around is not a waste of time if it gets you seeing things in a different way and bares fruit from time to time.

Take Breaks

Catching ideas can be like catching fish, you have to sit still and relax before they come to you.  Often great ideas come in the shower, because, according to Leo Widrich, that's when our minds are relaxed and distracted with a, well, somewhat mindless activity. It's also a time dopamine is released. Many artists keep a pen and notepad on the nightstand since it is just before, during, or just after sleep that they are able to finally let go of the control enough for ideas to come together.
Albert Einstein put it so perfectly when he explained it this way: "As one grows older, one sees the impossibility of imposing your will on the chaos with brute force. But if you are patient, there may come that moment when, while eating an apple, the solution presents itself politely and says, "Here I am!"
 When I need to give a big presentation, I start with the work, researching, jotting down pertinent ideas. They I let all the ideas simmer, blend, clarify, and organize themselves over the course of weeks, as I drive to work or rest in the hammock. By the the time comes for me to get it down on paper, I already have all the components ready to go and it's just a matter of fine tuning. The fine tuning takes me back to the work mode, and the cycle starts over.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Mind Mapping a Vision for a New Year

In Jr. High I learned how to outline a paper using Roman numerals as main ideas, and capital letters as supporting details. The problem with this is that, it is too linear to make connections between ideas, big and small, and requires one to prematurely commit to an order. In his book, How to Think Like Leonardo DaVinci,  Michael J. Gelb, explains that mind mapping can help you explore ideas for a paper or project in a way that is more brain balanced.

You start by drawing a picture and a word or two in the center of a piece of paper that represents your subject. It may be body systems for a science project, a character for a novel you are writing, or an upcoming family reunion that you want to plan. From there you draw different colored arrows out from the center, for each main topic; so for the body systems, you'd have an arrow for the digestive system, another for the circulatory system, etc. You may have arrows branching to body parts with in each system. You can draw arrows between topics, for example, the oxygen from the respiratory will mix with the blood in the circulatory system, so add a word or picture and some arrows to show the connection.

I make a mind map each year (my new year starts in the fall with school), to chart my goals and vision for the upcoming academic calendar. I always place a balanced, happy life in the center, which often includes a picture of my home, because home is where my heart is. But the parts that I make goals for include work and finance. Health goals split into physical and spiritual hopes. Family is split into each child and the goals and things that I can help them achieve. I have a fun section that usually includes small, medium, and large trips I want to take. Going to Peru and Italy are long term goals that may not happen this year, but I want to keep them on my radar. Travel is with family and requires financial planning so it makes sense to place travel between the two. Other goals float between sections such as date nights with my husband, which pertains both to my "fun" and "family" topics; reading the New Testament this year is both a family goal and spiritual goal.

I keep my "vision board" mind map in the front of a new sketchbook every year and look at it often. It's not set in cement, but is always open for more scribbles. I check completed goals off with the dates, and sometimes write more detailed plans in the margins, like this last year as I approached the goal to pay off the mortgage and started charting out month by month how much to pay. I finished that goal early thanks to the reminder my mind map gave me.

While I use mind mapping to outline the goals I have for the future. I use other visual ways of remember events from the past. Several recent sketchbook pages have allowed me to look back with more gratitude for the gifts life has given me, such as adventures of scuba and sky diving, snow and water skiing. Rather than just listing out all of the fun things I've gotten to do, I made very simple illustrations to help me remember at a glance.

I may not remember every museum I've been to and its name, but I remember the location of many of them, and tried to document them. I've done similar pages for memorable meals and foods I've eaten, live theater performances, historical sites. I will probably do a page for National Parks and another for zoos, aquariums, and gardens.  Remembering all the little events that make up my life makes me feel rich and happy amid the daily mess of dishes and carpool. It's been fun to give myself these quick exercise in organizing the past and the future in a meaningful way.