Sunday, April 22, 2018


When my son has a track meet, he drives fifteen minutes to an hour to get to each meet. But when my students want to compete in track events with other blind students, the closest team is in the next state. So once a year, the southern schools for the blind (SCASB) get together for a weekend of track and field. Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi all came to Georgia this last weekend for the fun and stiff competition.

Because this month was very stressful and busy, I tried to keep my contributions simple.
The origami crane center pieces
 from prom three weeks ago were re-purposed for the administrator's dinner. The mini gift were clay ornaments turned magnets with the note "SCASB attracts the best schools."  The prom screen and lights were reused for the SCASB dance. And I painted a photo background with the school mascots.  Our buddies Oklahoma didn't make it, but if they had, they are also panthers. And for some reason I thought Texas was a lion, so I had to repaint it as a wild cat, once I found my mistake. It was a great couple days with a lot of great kids, and I felt lucky to be a part of it.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Soap Box Derby

It started as a sketch  and ended as a 1st place for "Best of Show"at the Soap Box Derby race today. A team of students have been staying after school to build a soap box derby car, and I was given the task of painting the car body.  I made some quick sketches, had my Art students vote. They chose an all-American, Evil Ken-evil, dare-devil style.

So we primed the white car with white spray paint that was supposed to work with plastic. And then we taped out our design, covering the rest with newspaper.  There were lots of glitches, such as the newspaper turning the white to gray, and the paint coming up with the tape to make rough edges. But the vice principal (Thanks Jon!) got some wide tape and stickers to cover the rough spots.  And we'd hoped that during the race, it would look like nothing but a blur.

Here's a link to the news story, about our driver getting ready for today's race.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Student Show at Allied Arts and Printmaking Workshop at Georgia College

This is the second art show this year my students have had off campus, and the first we've ever had in another city.    Last week (the day of prom), Georgia College student volunteers paired with each of my legally blind students for a printmaking workshop, organized by Printmaking Professor, Matt Forrest. Then we all attended a reception at the Allied Arts.  It was a sweet and memorable field trip. Getting our pictures in the paper, was icing on the cake.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Japanese Style Prom Decorations

Last night was prom at my school! This year's prom theme, as decided by the seniors, was "A Night in the Land of the Rising Sun."  That worked great for me because I lived in Japan for a  year and a half and love all things Japanese.  And since all the Japanese people I've met,  love it when geigin (outsiders or foreigners) celebrate their culture, I could share all of their amazing aesthetics without fear of causing offense. I wanted to transform our school cafeteria for as little as possible, and so I spent $100 on paper lanterns and a handful of koi fish wind socks, and pieced everything else together with whatever I could find lying around.

I started by teaching students to make origami cranes. I spray painted eight #10 cans that had been sitting in my room for a year. Then I spray painted branches silver.  I wrapped the bottoms of the branches with newspaper and stuffed it into the bottom of the can, filling the top half with small landscaping rocks to hold everything in place. Each set of branches received 20-25 colorful paper cranes (160-180 total) for dazzling centerpieces.

For a fun photo op, I painted a samurai and a parasol holding geisha infant of a background of bamboo and the kanji characters for "Nihon" (Japan). The heads were cut out for prom goers to peek through.

I used the back of an old photo backdrop to paint another scene:  Mount Fuji with a footbridge, stone lantern, and rock garden, during cherry blossom season.  Our town is home to the larges number of cherry blossom trees in the world, but they all came from Japan and so there's a special connection to that country for u

This photo back drop gives students (and teachers) a chance to use the photo props I made from craft foam and wire.  The foam was so thin, that I cut out two hair shapes, and hot glued a wire in between the two. This allowed bend it to conform to the shape of the head.

When each senior and their escort were announced then entered through a torii, the iconic red gate that often sits outside Japanese cities and shrines. This had been a 4'X8' piece of scrap wood that was cut into strips, and a kind-heated maintenance man (thanks James) helped me figure out how to get to to be a free standing entrance.

3 8'X8' PVC pipe squares were wrapped in tulle and icicle lights, creating e a 24 foot wall, which divided the dance floor from the eating area.

Garlands of large (12" X 18") and small paper (4" X 5") Japanese flags, were a inexpensive, easy way to make a visual impact.

And paper lanterns and fans hung from light fixtures, reinforcing the colors of the flag and creating visual unity.

Some 8' high discarded wood, and a couple of hinges was painted to make a faux rice paper wall.  by having this next to the 8' pagoda painting we did for the spring concert last year, there were places to take length pictures to show off their gowns and fancy shoes.

My daughter and husband came to the dance because they know how hard I've worked on this the last few months, and they're really supportive. One of my students (who didn't come to the prom) suggested that it wasn't worth the effort considering that "we're blind." But I had several students approach me and thank me for caring enough to try to make their night special.

Our prom even made the news. You can see the clip here:

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Wire Art Commission Piece

I just finished a commission piece for the NAEYC (National Association for Education of Young Children).  The sketch they approved was one of a teacher blowing bubbles to gleeful toddlers. They asked that I add the initials of their organization and some glasses on the teacher.  So here's what I ended up doing:  blowing up my drawing until it was 36" X 26".  I traced each figure with wire, and then I filled each shape with curls of plastic wire, and stripes of pipe cleaner. I stitched upholstery fabric, strung beads, and wrapped wire mesh.

I have no control over what color the wall will be behind this piece, and so I tried it out on several walls to make sure each partied enough contrast to be seen from a distance.

The project took about four times longer than I'd anticipated, but that's how it goes with art never know when the muses are on going to take a day off.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Field Trip: The Center of Puppetry Arts

Today we had our spring student exhibition, in which we showed off the Jim Henson inspired hand puppets.  This month we also made a trip to the Center for Puppetry Arts, where we were in Jim Henson heaven as we saw exhibits about The Muppets, Sesame Street, The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth.  There were also puppets from all around the world, some historic, some contemporary "War Horse" and "The Corpse Bride" ring a bell? Julie Taymor's masks from"The Lion King" were there too, which kicked off our mask making project, (see the previous post). Plus, we saw "The Wizard of Oz" performed with marionettes in a room full of toddlers, and so it was well worth the trip.  If you are ever in Atlanta, try to stop by The Center for Puppetry Arts!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Clay Masks

The first time I'd heard of Julie Taymor was when I saw an exhibition of her work at the Wexner Center in Columbus, OH decades ago. Yes she's a theater person, but I've always loved the relationship between visual and performing arts,so  I showed my students  videos and a slide show of her amazing costumes from "The Lion King," It just so happens that the Chorus took a field trip to see "The Lion King" the week before so the timing of this lesson was perfect.  And then we saw her actual Scar and Mufasa masks at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta,

My students each made sketches, newspaper forms, and then used clay slabs to create their own mask.  These are much too heavy to be worn, but holes were made on each side for wire, which makes it easy to hang on a wall. It was so gratifying to see them fired, glazed and displayed within two week's time.

Monday, March 12, 2018

What's In YOUR Closet?

For those who think that Art has nothing to do with their life, I'd invite them to look around them.  Every piece of junk mail, every web site visited, every bill board, every board game, every movie, T.V. show, theater production, every pieces clothing has involved a person with a visual art back ground. Graphic designers, industrial designers, fashion designers-all use the same tools: line, shape, color, value, texture, etc. They use the same rules: balance, emphasis, repetition, proportion etc.

And so my students looked at sketches from designers such as Ralph Lauren.  They learned the proportions of the human figure (or at least the idealized, 8 head high figure), and then they came up with their own fashion plate. Art isn't just for the galleries, it also
for the runways.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

If I Were Pharoah For Just One Day

For a fresh look at an ancient civilization, my students used technology to print photographs of themselves for a mixed media "self portrait as pharaoh" assignment. We watched videos about Ancient Egypt before discussing the mummification process, what life was like along the Nile, and how tomb raiders were tricked by pyramid architects. Then we looked at traditional head-dresses, before each student picked one for their two dimensional self. They used collage and oil pastel for their costume, boarder, and background. Then they embossed their name in foil for a cartouche using hieroglyphs.
We ended our lesson with a Venn Diagram to compare what we'd learned about Egypt with our previous week's study of ancient Greek's culture, religion, architecture, and mythology. It's just matter of time before some fashion designer brings headdresses like these back into fashion. Hey-it could happen!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Stellar Stella Relief Project

I have always been partial to Frank Stella's hard edged minimalist artwork of the late 1950's and 60's. But that's not to say his maximalist pieces done as recently as this decade, don't have some exciting things happening in them too, including relief elements, which are so helpful for my students who have visual impairments. Our Stella inspired, maximalist cardboard relief sculptures were made to go all out in terms of patterns, shapes, and brush strokes popping out.

Minimalism whispers to us that that less is more, where the maximalism philosophy shouts more is more! And when my students finished these projects, they were shouting for more!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Matisse, The Beast

Fauvism, as an art movement, only lasted a couple of years, but it left quite a Post-Impressionism impression. In French "fauve" means "wild beast," and although it was meant as an insult by a critic of a salon exhibition, the name was embraced by painters like Braque and Henri Matisse who enjoyed wild brush strokes and arbitrary color usage.  The painting of Madam Matisse was called, "The Green Stripe" because of the green that runs down the middle of her half yellow, and half pink face. Her hair his blue.

My students were given the task to make a portrait in the style of Henri Matisse, and they really enjoyed the freedom of color play.  And I really enjoyed seeing what they could do.

Matisse made art for the last 64 years of his life. Once he was wheel chair, and then bed ridden, his painting days were over, but his paper cut outs were just as exciting. My paper cut out lesson plan can be found here:

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Let It Show! Let It Show! Let it Show!

There is much to be said for the process of art making as a means to itself.  It is therapeutic. It is a way to learn, grow and observe the world more carefully. But good art, like good ice cream should be shared with others. And I find that when my students know that their work will be displayed, they are more likely to work hard and make something worth displaying.
My students have an art exhibit right now at our local Good Will. Participation perks for them have included a field trip to an opening reception with live music, tasty refreshments, and interaction with members of the community. They were mentioned us on local TV and we got a write up in the local paper.  Four pieces sold at opening night.  Fifteen more students got paid this week for work they submitted to The American Printing House for the Blind Insights Art Contest last year.

We had a school wide exhibit in December and will have another in the Spring to coincide with the school concerts.  But there's something extra satisfying to step outside our little family of students and teachers into the real world. This spring we will have another exhibition of student work at Georgia College about an hour away. I'm not likely to have many students go on to art careers, but as long as they stick with me, they get a chance to feel like a pro.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Roy Lichtenstein, Pop Art Star, Assignment

As an art teacher, I get my inspiration for assignments anywhere I can. I got my Roy Lichtenstein/ Pop Art project from Roy Lichtenstein himself, even though he'd taught in the Ohio State art department long before I was a student there, and has been dead for years.  He was famous for creating large, comic inspired paintings, using primary colors and Benday dots, as though they were printed in a newspaper.  In collecting images of his work for a slide show, I stumbled across a painting he did based on Van Gough's painting of his room.  It seemed like the perfect solution for my students who only had four class periods (minus time for lecture and research) to complete a large painting. I had them pick a famous masterpiece from art history. Once a painting was chosen, the subject matter and composition were already in place, freeing the student a chance to use his or her time to focus on colors and mark making. They could create shapes of solid color, as Lichtenstein did, but were also required to create a Benday dot pattern, using the back of a large pencil to stamp out the paint.

I wish we'd had time for to have the students get a pop art make-over, but it was all we could do to get through with the painting.  I did, however, try some Lichtenstein cosplay with left-over Halloween make up on my own.

Through the week, old masterpieces became new. Rembrandt's burnt sienna became saturated and Cassat's modeled furniture became flattened. Everything felt more commercial, mass produced, and! That's the point of Pop Art. Make it, sell it, love it.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Monster Mash-up Mania

If you had told me 10 years ago that I'd end up teaching children with multiple complex needs how to design monsters, I wouldn't have believed you. Yet here I am, and  I'm loving it! A normal art teacher at a normal elementary school might model how to think through each part of "building" a monster before opening the gate to let students run wild with their imagination. They might make 20 arms, or eyes on elbows, or create fuzzy tentacles.  But I have a couple dozen art students who aren't able to function on that level. All of them are legally blind, some are in wheel chairs, and many of them are non-verbal.

Inviting participation is a matter of giving them choices, often only two choices.  So in our make-a-monster assignment I walk these students through each step by asking questions.
"Do you want your monster to be on a yellow or blue piece of paper?"
"Do you want your monster to be tall or short?" (vertical or horizontal paper orientation)
"Do you want the body to be soft or rough?" (felt or upholstery fabric or burlap)
"Do you want the body to be purple or green?"
"Do you want the body to be a circle or a square?"
Questions continue about head, hair, arms, legs, feet, eyes, mouth, etc. until the entire figure is completed.

When I have a student with echoalia (who always repeats the second choice back to me), I ask the question a couple times changing the order.  For a nonverbal child with no sight, I move their hand from one option to the other, and then have them touch their choice. One of my students carries a communication device with preprogramed buttons, so I ask only yes or no questions.  "We have ribbons and tape. Do you want to use ribbons for legs?" If she pushes the "no" audio button, then I ask, "Do you want to use tape for legs?"

Every student is expected to help me squeeze the glue, position and pat down every collage piece. The most important thing to me is that each student takes ownership in the finished piece and does as much work as they can possibly do on their own. Progress is very slow, but when I see one of these students use a pair of scissors, or learn the word, "collage" I feel like I'm Anne Sullivan, living a scene from "The Miracle Worker"!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Muppet Inspired Hand Puppets!

I believe that genius is being able to turn your mother's green coat into a world famous frog, which is why the genius of Jim Henson was the springboard for last week's art project, starting with a slide show discussion and this documentary that shows behind the scenes at The Muppet Show.

The making of the muppet show 1982 - YouTube

My high school students, then got busy creating a character for their very own hand puppet. They researched, sketched, cut and glued. Some puppets were as simple as a couple of pieces of craft felt stitched together and turned inside out before embellishing.

Others were more elaborate puppets with mouths that opened and closed. A variety of materials are important for creative detail work: pompoms, puffy paint, lace, upholstery fabric, glitter, foam, wiggly eyes,  doll hair, and ribbon.
I have planned a field trip to see Muppets up close at the Center for Puppetry Arts museum, and we'll catch "The Wizard of Oz" performed with marionettes while we're there. By the end of the week, it was clear that puppetry arts are a happy marriage between performing and visual arts!