Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Teaching Linear Perspective to The Blind

In the book, PAINTING IN THE DARK,  ESREF ARMAGAN, BLIND ARTIST, Rachelle Burk describes how a blind boy, growing up in Turkey during the 1950's and '60's, wanted to learn about perspective,  which is, "creating a three dimensional appearance on a flat surface. This was a difficult concept so he sought the advice of an art professor who explained how size and angles show depth in a picture. The professor drew examples for Esref to feel, demonstrating how a road or bridge appears to narrow to a point as it stretches into the distance. Esref understood applied the methods to his work. He practiced until he could paint in perspective as well as many sighted artist."

All of my art students are legally blind, which means they have 20/200 or worse vision, in their best eye, with glasses. I teach those with a little bit of vision, two-point perspective drawing much as I would a sighted child. We start with a horizon line with two vanishing points at either end (often going off the page onto paper taped underneath) and then determine where the tallest vertical line, the closest corner of a building, will intersect the horizon line.  Lines are drawn from top of the vertical line down to each vanishing point and from the bottom of the verticle line up to the points.  The width of the front of the building is determined by cutting the triangle made from the building corner to one point, with another vertical line. Another vertical line is used to make the side of the building.

For students with no vision at all, the process was a little more abstract. They followed the instructions using using wiki sticks. I traced their wiki stick lines with hot glue, and then removed the wiki sticks, to make it more permanent and able to withstand coloring.

Some low vision students used a Visio Book, a closed circuit TV, as a magnifier to add details.

Just because perspective drawing is a concept based on visual illusion, doesn't mean that the visually impaired can't rise to the challenge of learning something about how their sighted friends experience the world. In fact, in Burk's book, she explained that when Esref Armagan had an MRI done while painting,  the part of his brain that controls sight, lit up. He was able to see with his finger tips, and others can learn to do the same.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Man-in-the-Moon Bedroom Make-Over

My daughter recently asked me to paint her yellow bedroom, a teal or turquoise, so that's what I did. And since I've been storing my homemade "paper moon photo booth" (See April 11th post), in our hallway for the past few months, I offered to add it to the sky-colored wall.

The trick to mounting this wooden wall piece, was making sure the screws were unobtrusive and aligned with the studs. There are  three layers of clouds with 2" blocks in between each layer, for greater dimension.  We covered the nails and screws that could be seen from the front,  with white, circle stickers, which were then painted over. Wood putty would have worked too, but it would have made it much harder to remove.  I gradated some darker paint form the top of the wall before adding a few tiny stars and light clouds for the illusion of even more depth.

I know my daughter is growing up quickly and it may only bee a couple years before she is too old for this type of wall decoration, but compared to the busy visual chaos, seen in the "before" picture above, it is worth the effort for a couple years of simplicity. Here's to sweet dreams for my sweetheart.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Sky's The Limit at the Summer Program for the Blind

At the end of our week of fun and learning I asked one of my students what they had learned from our summer program for the blind, and he said, "I learned that the sky is really the limit."  He had learned for the first time in his life, how to put his head under water in a swimming pool, something he'd previously thought was impossible. That made me so glad that I lobbied for "The Sky's the Limit" to be our theme this year. For their art classes we screen printed t-shirts of hot air balloons.

We made paper rockets and shot them off PVC pipe rocket launchers. 

We made kites from dowels and bulletin board paper.

And we took pictures with the photo booths that I re-purposed from a "Fly Me to the Moon" 
themed prom.

Hopefully, each one of those kids will break through glass ceilings and despite their disability, realize that even if they miss when they shoot for the moon, they're still among the stars.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Out of this world Mural

They say that students never care what you know until they know how much you care. How do they know you care? By your listening intently to them talk about their interests, and letting them incorporate those interests into their classroom work.  I had one student who absolutely loved graffiti art, so I showed him examples of brilliant contemporary street art, then I gave him a can of spray paint and a wall.  Actually, he had to take the initiative in consulting the principal, finding a teacher to offer their wall, and coming up with the idea.  Then as a tiny team,  we made the sketches, and went to work.

Luckily, the science teacher was ready for a change from his large, off-white wall with a sun and the equation for photosynthesis. I took my three  students and we painted that wall black, around the sun.Then we recreated a sketch of the color system in chalk on the wall. We made a paper stencil to match each chalk planet, and hit it with a little spray paint.  The biggest challenges were creating ventilation (fans and open doors), making sure surfaces were covered before painting (and quickly wiping down those that weren't), and finally dealing with the equation coming through the layer of latex and spray paint.  We still need to go back and do a few more layers on Jupiter for that one to be fixed. I want my students know that I believe their ideas are worth pursuing even if they sometimes seem far-out.

Hoorah for Seurat!

I've always loved George Seurat's paintings and wished he had lived past his 30's. He is famous for using Pointillism, which is a technique in which tiny dots of color are placed next to each other and for the viewer's eye to blend, rather than mixing the two colors on the pallet, which can muddy the hue. It is a process that requires patience. "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," the painting that inspired the musical "Sunday in the Park with George," took Seurat 2 years to complete. We spent 2 weeks on our projects.

We learned the concept of optic mixing by making a color wheel with dots made from red, yellow, and blue markers. The illusion of secondary colors comes from markers: green comes from mixing yellow and blue dots. For completely blind students, this can be done using 3 bags of small things to mix to represent secondary colors, such as: rice and sand, sand and beans, beans and rice.

While Seurat worked in the studio, he did sketches and studies on site, so we began by taking photographs on walks around campus. Then we drew in marker or puffy paint (for tactile artists).  Mr. Scent markers made finding the right base colors, before trying to be more accurate with nuanced paint colors.  Mistakes were plentiful but easy to hide and the end results were something fun and unusual. I hope my students each got the point of Pointillism.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Cyanotype Mural

A couple of months ago, my art students made a giant cyanotype mural which served as a backdrop for our Spring Art Show, and remains on the school lobby wall.  Emily Gomez, photography professor at Georgia College, introduced them to this process.  To make a cyanotype, a photosensitive solution of potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate are added to a piece of fabric or paper. The dried surface is than placed in the sun with something on top to make a silhouette. After about 10 minutes, the surface is rinsed and the shape of the object blocking the sun remains light while the rest turns a beautiful dark, Prussian blue.

When I was a kid, my mom had us make cyanotype prints using paper snowflakes for Christmas cards.  Small pieces of fabric (that can be purchased at art stores like Dick Blick) were used by students to make hand prints. Several of the students, however, got to lie on the treated king-sized sheet and make prints of their bodies, canes, wheel chair, and large cut out letters. They'll never forget sun bathing, fully clothed in the middle of a busy college campus. And neither will I.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Botanical Illustrations

Botanical Illustrations are a perfect marriage of science and art. Accurate detail for each part of the plant is essential for a good illustration.

My school's horticulture teacher, Keith Blackwell, let me bring students to the green house at the beginning of the week and  allowed them to borrow a plant to illustrate. They were responsible for learning the name and characteristics. 
Some of these include: Cuban Oregano, Hen and Chick, Azalea, Rosemary, Fern, Jade Plant, Snake Plant, and Confederate Rose

Some of my low vision students used the iPad to photograph and magnify (zoomed in on) the image. This student is using a magnifying glass with a special light for the drawing itself. People who are legally blind work from parts to a whole, rather than starting with the big picture and than moving to individual parts.
A couple of my students described how the plant felt, and then painted the drawing I did of their plant in hot glue.
Other students were able to complete the assignment without any help or special equipment.  But I think each student felt a sense of accomplishment. I asked Mr. Blackwell to look at each finished piece and name the plant that was represented to ensure that they met the assignment criteria. I am so thankful for great colleagues who are happy to collaborate on interdisciplinary lessons.  This is how our students grow!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Paper Bead and Paper Clip Jewelry


Paper Beads

With Mother's Day a week away, I thought my students would enjoy making a their moms gifts, so we made paper beaded jewelry.   I got out old wall-paper books and we cut long triangular strips, about 15"-18" long, and 1/2"-3/4" wide). The longer the strip, the fatter the bead, and the width of the strip will be the width of the bead.  Be sure to use an X-acto knife or paper cutter for smooth edges. We started wrapping the wide end (not the two very long sides), around thin paint brushes, thick plastic needles, or toothpicks, and once it was about 1/4th of the way wrapped, we used a glue stick on the back (non decorated) side of the rest of the strip.  This can be done before winding begins too. I found it easier to pull the paper strip out from under the glue stick rather than run the glue down the paper. It used less glue and made less of a mess on the scrap paper protecting the table.

If you don't have big wall paper books, no worries. I almost liked using colored copy paper better. It is only 11" long and a lighter weight, so the beads aren't as thick, but they don't tend to unwind and you can be more intentional with color.  I used purple and blue marker to create a simple and somewhat uniform pattern on mine.  12"X12" patterned scrap book paper is another good option.

 To add a shimmer, I used glitter nail polish.  First I strung the beads on old wire hangers and placed that over a bin, that way the polish wouldn't get on anything.  Some people dip their beads in wood hardener several times. Others, roll their beads on an embossing pad, sprinkle with embossing powder and then use a heat gun to melt the powder. This can be done several times too if you want your beads to look glass like.  Once the beads are dry, it is easy to string on wire or thin elastic for a necklace or bracelet. Store bought beads can be mixed in for some fun.

Paper Clip Jewelry

For my elementary school students, we began making bracelets by stringing paper clips. I got this idea from my brother's cub scout den mother, Cathy Breuninger. Kevin came home from his cub scout meeting one night with a beautiful necklace with extra fringe for my mother. I think they used fancy blue & white contact paper, but I wanted to make sure each student left with something that shows their mark. They each chose a color of paper, and color of makers, and the pattern they wanted to make.  Since most of these students are blind, most of the marks look like scribbles, but I did have a few who carefully made zig-zag patterns or tiny hearts.  We cut rectangles from the decorated paper.  The width should be slightly less than the width of the paper clip (about 1"), and the length is about 1/2-2" so it can be wrapped around the paper clip several times.  We used a glue stick and covered each paper clip with the decorated rectangles. Nine worked pretty well per bracelet. It would be prettier with tiny metal jump rings between each clip, and fewer paper clips, but these worked just fine for a 30 minute project. And we used the half of the decorated paper that didn't get put into the bracelet, as wrapping paper for their gift.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Cinco de Mayo Decorations

Cinco de Mayo is upon us. I celebrated by teaching my students to make two inexpensive and easy crafts: papel picado and sombrero decorations. For the sombreros I hot glued upside-down Styrofoam cups to plates. The students decorated these by spray painting, and gluing ribbon, and pompoms.  The bulk of the lesson came from my dramatic telling of France and Mexico's battle at Puebla on the 5th of May, 1862.

Older students cut rectangles of tissue paper, either by folding it like a snowflake (for a radial composition) or an accordion and in half again for a crystallographic balance. The word "papel" means paper in Spanish, and "picado" means cut or chopped. I hope when at least one of my children gets married, they will let me make them a bunch of white papel picado decorations because I can imagine a large room (or garden) transformed for $20 worth of tissue paper and a week's worth of evenings spent watching movies and cutting.  Until then, I'll continue to find little projects to honor Mexican culture and history. If you are going to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, why not do it with a taco and a craft?

Monday, May 1, 2017

Hooray for May Day!

May 1st is May Day is International Workers Day to celebrate rights of laborers, but it is also an a spring celebration dating back at least four hundred years, complete with music and May Poles. The May basket tradition that I remember as a child, is one in which a paper basket is made, filled with treats and/ or flowers, and then left anonymously on someone's door.  My students spent last week making paper flowers for May baskets.

One day they made lilies, which required them to trace a circle inside a circle and divide it into 8 sections like pizza slices. A dot in the center of each section on the outer ring would be the point of each petal and then where the straight line (slice edge) intersected with the smaller circle would be where the petal ended. Templates were drawn and cut. One of the petals was removed completely down to the center point of the circle (an entire pizza slice removed.)  The template allowed students to trace and cut several more matching lilies. Dots were drawn towards the center of one side, then the flower was flipped and the petals were curled with a pencil.  A cone is made with the dots on the inside, and glue used for overlapping petals.  A pipe cleaner with a little roll on the top is placed on the center just before gluing.

For hyacinth, half a sheet of construction paper (lengthwise), gets folded up 1/2-3/4" before cutting slits down to the fold.  Each slit (about 1/3" apart) is curled. Some of my students used a toothpick for a nice tight curl. We ran a bead of glue on the edge and used that to wrap down the stem.  Stems were made from green paper rolled tightly. I started cutting the paper in half diagonally and rolling from the right angle corner towards the longest side of the triangle, and then twisting to tighten before gluing the last little flap in place.  We even taped our shortened lily pipe cleaners to the top of the paper stems because they looked better and were easier to bundle or stand in a vase. Basically 2 half sheets of paper and a few drops of glue will get you a beautiful hyacinth!

Tulips were easier than I thought they would be and ended up looking almost real!  To make, we cut 4 rectangles of the same color, each 2 inches wide and 5 or 6 inches long.  The center was pinched like a bow tie and then twisted twice and folded back on itself.  We placed our thumbs in the center to pull the tissue around like a little spoon and then pinched the bottom before gluing each petal to the stem. First two are across from each other (like a clam top and bottom) and then the next two filled in the sides.  These look best with long thing green leaves glued to the stem.

Day four, we made carnation or chrysanthemum type flowers with tissue paper. See last year's Cinco de Mayo decorations for instructions.

May baskets are made by forming a cone of paper and stapling and gluing before trimming the pointy edges on top. We stapled ribbon to hang on a door, and lined each cone basket with a larger piece of tissue paper before placing 5 or 6 flowers in each.  My students are not as stealthy as I'd hoped but they still had fun pretending no one saw them as they knocked on the doors of our administrators and scurrying away.  And they have enough left over for a Mother's Day surprise.  Happy May Day!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Value Drawing of Geometric Forms

Observational Drawing is probably the greatest challenge for students with visual impairments. If they can't really see what they are supposed to draw, how are they supposed to draw it? And it is especially tricky when the visual illusion of a 3D form is so different from the form itself. Take a cube, which is made up of six squares each with four right angles, but is drawn using three diamonds-no right angles. A cylinder is made with a circle on each end, but the illusion of cylinder requires the only circle included, to be replaced with an eclipse. 

For those who are completely blind, it became more of a lesson in following directions and learning about how sighted people see the three dimensional world with illusions rather than necessarily truth. They could measure size relations between objects with their hands and then try to replicate that with wikisticks.  Then it was a matter of explaining light sources and have them draw with charcoal on one side and smudging on the other.

My students may not become wealthy artists years from now, but they will be able to tell you the difference between a shape and a form (even many adults make the mistake of saying "3D shapes"), that the medium of charcoal is essentially burnt wood, and explain what value is and why it is important. Mission accomplished.