Sunday, January 22, 2017

Chinese Calligraphy on Paper Lanterns

This week is Chinese New Year. I wanted to celebrate but was hesitant to do a lesson on Chinese calligraphy because I remember how it took two weeks to learn (not master) our first horizontal stroke in my college Chinese Calligraphy class, and two more for a vertical stroke. I resolved to the fact that skimming the surface was better than not teaching it at all. First, my students handled ink stones, rice paper and bottles of ink. They practiced the correct way to hold a sumi brush (vertically with the thumb opposite from the index and middle fingers). We discussed the fact that there ar e more than 1,000 Chinese characters and explored how these came from pictures that evolved over a thousand years. Japanese and other Asian countries share many of the same/ similar characters, although Japanese have phonetic alphabets too: hiragana for Japanese words, and katakana for foreign words.

Each student learned to make vertical strokes to represent bamboo stalks, and triangular strokes for bamboo leaves. These brush drawings help everyone feeling successful the first day of trying. They used black watercolor paint since ink stains are impossible to get out.

Then, each student chose a character to learn. They could also learn their name in Japanese katana. Visually impaired students used a close circuit TV to magnify the writing enough to practice his name many times, first with a marker, and then with a brush.

Once students were ready, they wrote their name or character on a paper lantern. Several students who were completely blind, needed me to guide their hand, but we had repeated the process enough times that they would say, "over, down, across..." just as we were about to make each mark. Lanterns rested in #10 cans to dry and then they were hung from the ceiling.

I wish we still stressed penmanship in our culture the way that calligraphy is still valued in Asian countries. My Korean friend once told me that if you didn't have good handwriting, you couldn't get a girlfriend where he lived.  I'm glad my students got a feel for how language and writing is different in different parts of the word, and can appreciate the art form of Chinese writing.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Monochromatic Compositions

I didn't study color theory until college, but it turns out color schemes aren't difficult for children to learn, if you start simply. For a recent monochromatic color scheme assignment, I had each student make a composition. They each started with their marker (a pencil would work fine for students without visual impairments) at the edge of the page and move it through curved straight, curly or zig-zag lines to another edge. They continued doing this with lines crossing over one another until the page was divided into large, medium, and small shapes. 

Then they picked a color, and painted several of the shapes, throughout the composition in that color. Tints were made by adding the chosen color to white. Shades were made by adding black to the original color. the shades and tints of the color are spread throughout the picture plane to make it a strong composition, one that leads your eye around. 

I used a large hot glue gun for students who couldn't see their original lines and had to feel the edges of the shapes. We used tempera, which leaves a chalky feel when it dries, so students could feel which shapes had already been painted. Here is one made by a student who is totally blind. The only thing he wasn't able to do independently is trace the shapes in hot glue, and mix the various tints and shades.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Color Wheel

The color wheel consists of 12 colors (3 primary, 3 secondary and 6 tertiary) Primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. Secondary (purple, green, orange) colors are made when you mix two primaries.  Tertiaries come from mixing a primary with a secondary. Making a color wheel teaches children how to mix paint, and better understand the relationships between colors. It is very difficult for children to make a well crafted color wheel, however, since one one blob of paint can ruin the whole thing.

I have found that the trick to a really good color wheel is to paint each color on a separate piece of paper, Even 3 X 5 cards work as long as it's the side without lines. I start by having students paint each of the primary colors on separate cards. Then they pick two of the primaries to make a secondary:  yellow and blue make green. The green should be a perfect blend of the two colors, not more blue than yellow, nor visa-versa. The green is added to yellow to make a yellow green and blue is added to the medium green to make the blue green. The same thing is done  red and blue making purples, and yellow and red making oranges.

The tertiary color names are easy, they are just a list of the two other colors that were used to make it. The trick is to always put the primary name first and the tertiary second, yellow-orange for example. You'd never have an orange-yellow, because once a primary color is contaminated with anything other than itself, it is no longer the primary. It may be a very yellow orange, but it is still an orange.

If they lay out their colors in order, they should be able to tell if their colors progress in even steps. If there is a sudden jump, students try to mix a color that would be a better blend of the 2 colors it falls between. 

Once the cards are dry, students come up with a template of their own shape: hearts, triangles, circles, arrows, starts, etc Then make 2 marks on a piece of paper in a circle, as though it is the hour marks on a clock, so that each piece will be glued in the right position.

All of these steps make for a more professional looking color wheel, that can be used not only to teach primary, secondary, and tertiary colors, but later be used to refer to to teach complimentary, triadic and analogous color schemes. (P.S. I don't exempt my blind students from this project. Although I help in mixing the colors, they are responsible for telling me which colors to mix to make the desired color. They paint (sometimes braille) and glue the cards themselves. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

T-shirt Quilts

My husband's dad died last November unexpectantly. As I watched him deal with the plans for funeral and inheritance with my two sister-in-laws, I was impressed at how selfless and cooperative each of them was. There was a question of what to do with "dad's clothes" since they wouldn't fit anyone in the family. I offered to make quilts for each daughter. Little did I know what a learning curve I'd have, and how long it would take.

Justina (younger sister-in-law) sent me a text, once the shirts had been chosen, packed up and sent to Georgia. Minutes later I got a second text, frantically explaining that the cat was also accidentally packed up and shipped. I can only imagine what a cozy and welcoming place a box of shirts would be for a family pet. Luckily, UPS was able to find the cat before the box left the Chicago area, and made it home within an hour or two.

Each quilt was queen size, consisting of 20 squares (4 columns of 5). Ten squares were solid 16" X 16" which become 15"X15" after the seams were sewn. Ten squares were made of 9 smaller squares. Each of the smaller squares was 6"X6", which ended up as a 15" square. The strips of fabric on every side of the square were 6" wide, which allows a .5" seam allowance. The end quilt size was 85" X 105". That's a little big for me to maneuver and I was wishing I had a quilting machine at more than one point in the process, but a sewing machine quilting foot did help. And by using thinner batting, there's less to try to wrestle.

Since most of the shirts were knit, an iron on interfacing backed each square. This kept the fabric from stretching and becoming mis-shaped.

Part of the reason this project took over half a year to complete is because I wanted my 12-year old daughter to participate, not only to learn how to quilt, but to have her hands on family history, and be able to show love to her aunts.

 Despite our months of working together, the end results are far from perfect. Still, I hope that each time these quilts are used, two sweet daughters can feel a hug from their dad.