Monday, October 23, 2017

Toy Design Project for Kids

For the few elementary students who don't understand how art relates to their lives, I walked them through the process of toy making. Toys don't just appear on store shelves or in the bedroom toy box. Someone had to come up with the idea, make a preliminary sketches, present the sketches, rework the sketches, make pattern, choose the fabric (color and texture), or make a 3D model for hard plastic toys. I showed (and described) a few youtube videos that go through the elaborate process it takes to make a single toy for a kiddie meal.

I required my students to start with a sketch to be used as a pattern, and for those who needed something tactile, Wiki Sticks did the trick . They cut it out of paper first, and then  two layers of fabric.

They ran fabric glue around the edge of one piece of fabric, leaving a few inches without glue. They added the second layer and once the glue was dry, they stuffed the opening with stuffing.

The openings were glued  and clothes pins helped keep edges together until dry. Students used foam pieces, puffy paint, googly eyes, and buttons to decorate their toys. The project only takes an hour, but the knowledge that every toy they ever see was made by someone who went through a similar creative process, will hopefully last a life time.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Crazy for Carle

Months ago, my friends and I went to see the Eric Carle Exhibition at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and we were charmed. His process of children's book illustrating is unique in that he paints tissue paper and then cuts the paper and collages the shapes to make images. His work includes classic books such as "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" (my school has a braille version of this one complete with tactile illustrations) and "Brown Bear, Brown Bear" (for which we have finger puppets).

After reading the books to my elementary students, one girl said, "White chicken, white chicken, what do you like? My favorite thing is riding a bike." She inspired me to ask each child to come up with an adjective and noun (usually a color and an animal use as a subject for their question. Then they changed the verb from the original, "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see?" They had to answer with a word that rhymes with the verb.  This teaches parts of speech and word families. And before you know it, we had completed a classroom book, or at least a bulletin board for now.

One class, in which most of the students are non-verbal, helped paint the boarder. This is still a good way to teach color mixing, and basic paint strokes.  Everyone gets a chance to contribute and take ownership in the final product. Thank you Eric Carle, for the inspiration!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

String & Nail Craft Project

 Three weeks in a row, my art students were able to work with wood and hardware supplies to create art.

I love it because it reinforces basic home improvement skills to help my students become more independent.  Visually Impaired students aren't just required to learn the same curriculum as their sighted peers, they are also required to learn an Expanded Core Curriculum that includes life skills that they wouldn't learn unless taught explicitly (from how to use a fork and knife to how to us a hammer and nail).

In terms of Art Standards,  this week we focused on "Line as Design Element".  Elements of Design or Art are the tools you use to make art. All week we sang a list to the tune of "Oh My Darlin'"/ "Found a Peanut":  "Line, Shape, Color, Value Texture, are the Elements of Art. Line, Shape, Color, Value, Texture, Are the Elements of Art." I know, I know, some lists include "point," and "form" (the 3D version of shape), and I talk about how those are valid. But I'm not a big fan of including "space" on the list because how do you create space?  You can create a sense of depth or illusion of space, by overlapping shapes, using linear perspective, or atmospheric perspective (value), etc. but you can't do it without using the other elements on our list, so I cover that when we talk about Principles of Design, and stick to the very essentials for elements. My apologies to the people who make the posters that include "space" as an element.

To make this project each student sanded and painted a board. Cut out a shape from a piece of paper and used that as a template to mark where to place nails. Then embroidery floss or yarn was chosen (a contrasting color form the painted board. The end of the string was tied to a nail before "connecting the dots. When  a student doesn't know where to begin I have them go around the outline of the shape, wrapping it around each nail as they go along. And then it is just a matter of exploring. If they didn't like what was happening it only took a minute to unwrap it and try something else. Exploring the possibilities of straight lines is a great way to begin learning about the elements of design...and so much more.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Screw Art

I recently discovered an inspiring 5 minute video called, "Please Touch the Art"  about artist, Andrew Meyers making a tactile portrait from screws, for a blind man named, George.

After looking at more work by Meyers, I decided that this would be something that my blind students could not only appreciate, but create.

They each began by drawing a shape onto a piece of wood, and creating a grid of 1/2" squares. 

Then they made holes at each intersection with a drill or nail, before painting the shape black and the background a different color. Screws were drilled into the holes. Some students chose to try to have all the screw heads at the same height, while others tried to create curves or rounded shapes by varying the height.

Finally the heads of the screws were painted. Half an inch apart was not as close as I would have liked to have placed the screws, but each student was allotted about 50 screws, so they did what they could to fill the space.  One student who is totally blind, felt a piece progress and said, "There's the 'A'"  I didn't even know she knew the shapes of print letters, since she is a Braille reader. It was gratifying to teach my students how to use sandpaper, hammer, and drill, not just once or twice, enough times to actually gain some confidence in a life skill that they wouldn't have learned from observation.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Collaborate Cardboard Relief Sculpture

I recently revisited a project from four years ago, in which I had each student choose a type of shape (rectilinear or curvilinear) and a set of analogous  colors (from yellow to blue, from yellow to red, or from red to blue). After they each painted and arranged their cardboard shapes into a personal relief sculpture, I asked how they would feel about combining them. (They looked so pretty-like a large stained glass window laid out on a large table together).  Eight students agreed, so I got out the hot glue gun and combined them into what now hangs  from the hall ceiling with 2 pieces of wire. It ended up being 6 foot tall, and there are enough individual personal relief sculptures to brighten our classroom as well.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Coil Pots

Coil pottery is an ancient technique and a fun way to introduce functional ceramics to art students. 
The process begins by rolling out a "snake" like shape with clay. This is used to  coil, or spiral around in a circle to form the bottom of a bowl, or it can be added to a slab (clay rolled out into a shape) to form a small wall. Layers of coils are added using the slip-and-score technique in which the attaching edges are scored with hatch marks and a slimy clan-water mixture is added for glue. If the clay is very soft than the slip and score method isn't needed; as two pieces can be smoothed together.

In the past, I have had assignments in which the students must smooth the inside and outside as they go along building the wall, but for this assignment, only the inside was smoothed so that the outside showed the texture of the coil process. Students were encouraged to use a variety of ways to add coils, in squiggles, spirals, horizontal layers etc. This way the end product makes it possible to see, feel, and remember the process.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Caulk Paintings

Sure, you've used caulk to seal around your bathtub and baseboards, but have you ever thought to use it as a drawing medium. 

Last week, I brought enough plywood from home, for each of my students to create  an image. They sanded and painted the boards a solid color before drawing their image in chalk. This was then traced in caulk.
Two tubes of caulk made all 9 images on this table.

After the caulk dries (it takes maybe 3 hours, so we waited until the next day), the paintings are ready for more layers of color. Most everyone kept their background color the same as their underpainting, but one student, kept her original pink board color for the flowers and added a layer of  yellow latex for the background. I love how the brush strokes create visual texture to compliment with the caulk texture.
Tactile images are great for visually impaired art consumers, but they are also great for visually impaired artists. These students were able to stay in the lines better when there was a little caulk wall to create a barrier for the paint brush. One student was so pleased with her work that she has come into my room the last three mornings, offering the phrase, "Wanna feel my painting?"

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Hip to Be Square: Josef Albers Art Project

Josef Albers was one of the talented German artists who taught at the The Bauhaus School until the Nazis put pressure on the school to shut down in 1933. Hitler hated modern art.  Albers immigrated to The U.S. and went on to teach at the then new Black Mountain Art School. He is most famous for his "Homage to the Square" series, which consisted of hundreds of paintings, each of several squares nestled inside one another.  He was very interested in color relationships. A green may look blue-green next to a yellow, but yellow-green next to a blue.  A warm color will look like it's coming towards you, but a cool color looks like it's receding in space. This week, my elementary students studied Josef Albers.

Color relationships are an interesting thing to try to teach students who are color blind, or completely blind. We've been reading the picture book about Esref Amarmagan, the blind artist from Turkey, who had to keep his colored pencils laid out int he same order, and memorized the color of objects, so he could recreate them in paint in a way that made sense to future viewers.

When I asked one class,"What color is a watermelon?" A couple girls, with some vision, answered, "Green!" But when I followed up by asking about the color of the inside of a watermelon, a boy, with no vision, eagerly said, "Green!" The only way for kids like him to know the colors of things is to be told.
So we talked about the color of things, and then we worked collaboratively to make a giant collage of hundreds of 1 inch squares of color.  First, I used Elmer's glue to trace the giant chart paper grid. After it dried, students felt the squares and were able to independently glue and  place their pre-cut 1" squares or origami paper. 

To avoid gluing the color side down or having to tell each student the color of each square they picked up, I gave them a tool to tell them the color of things, It's the APH Color Test, and you just press it against something and push the button and it will tell you what it is (as shown in the video below). Everyone got a kick out of testing their skin color. Apparently mine is "murky gray beige" or "gray pink" so that information will come in handy next time I buy make up.

Each child also made his/her own, "Homage to 'Homage to the Square'" piece gluing various colored squares together and trying to explain why they thought their combination was working.

Extra time meant gridding another giant piece of graph paper with glue and having students use dot makers to make color clusters and patterns. What a corful way to start the school year!

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.