Saturday, July 14, 2018

Creativity in the Classroom: Character Development in Writing

Anyone who knows me, knows I love my full time job of teaching art to 5-22 year olds (grades K-12), but summers at Wesleyan College remind me that my absolute favorite is teaching graduate students. I had a blast co-teaching a Masters of Education class about creativity this month and it was so much fun!  We painted, mind mapped, created illustrated type, danced, sang, and wrote.

One of my favorite lessons for elementary school students, which I shared,  focuses on character development in writing. I start the lesson with an exercise in having students make predictions about the characters in John Frank's hilarious book, THE TOUGHEST COWBOY.

"One of the characters is a miniature poodle.  What do you think a good name for a miniature poodle would be?  Another character is the camp cook. Can you think of the perfect name for a camp cook?"  I ask as I lay out a description label each character. Then when I read off the actual names of the characters in the book, students match the name to the description. It isn't hard to figure out that "Bald Mountain" is the name of the tall bald character, and "Grizz Brickbottom" is the toughest cowboy.  Once the students make their predictions, I read the story and we pause each time a new character is introduced to check our predictions.

We discussed the fact that a lot of great authors who use descriptive names for their characters. In BLEAK HOUSE, Charles Dickens named the flighty woman, who was obsessed with her pet birds, Mrs. Flight. His names Lady Deadlock and Tiny Tim make perfect sense for the characters they represent. Dr. Suess couldn't have been more accurate when naming his characters, "Cat in the Hat" or "Thing One and Thing Two."

Then we developed a character as a class before giving him or her a descriptive name.  I stood at the board, asking for details about our character, jotting down the answers as quickly as they came. Sex?Boy! Age? 14. Place? Montana. Year? 1984. Family situation? 10 sisters in a mixed family. Then comes the most important question. What does he want?  Baseball. That's all he cares about. All he wants to do is play baseball. Toss in an obstacle and we've got ourselves a plot.  There is no baseball team in his small Montana town. By the end of the story we are bound to see a little team emerge with uniforms and possibly a win...all because of little....(here's where we had to give him a name) Henry Homer.  So within about 3 minutes of brainstorming, we've got a character, story, and even a title: HOME RUN FOR HENRY!

After doing this a couple times in a  group setting most students will be eager to create their own character, especially if their idea of an old lady who lives on a moon or their mermaide living in an aquarium in a museum in the 1800s didn't get used during the group activity.

Another collaborative idea to develop characters comes from the 1930's French Surrealist Artists and their Exquisite Corpse exercise. It feels like a game, and was in fact, a past time done in cafes, but there's nothing wrong with education feeling joyful! One person draws the head at the top of a piece of paper, before folding it down and passing it to their neighbor, who only has a couple neck marks to go on in order to draw a torso. After this is folded down, the last person adds the legs.  So you may have a robot head with bird arms and ballerina legs.  Try giving that character a descriptive name and some characteristics!

Students feel empowered when they have the green light to get in the driver's seat and, fueled by creative juices, move an idea forward. For children (or graduate students) who aren't used to creative problem solving, it will take a little practice, but once they realize their ideas aren't going to be shot down, they will take more risks and end up with some exciting characters and plots.

Friday, July 6, 2018

You're Framed

 When a couple of my students asked for help making frames, I offered the simplest solution I could think of. We used two pieces of cardboard (8" each) with a 4" square cut out of one of them. Upholstery samples were cut slightly larger than each piece of cardboard and glued to the pieces. The corners of the fabric were trimmed, at a 45 degree angle, leaving enough for the thickness of the cardboard to be covered.

Students cut a big "X" from the fabric's 2" square opening in the frames front, and then turned them back and glued them to the opposite side, trimming excess fabric.  Then they placed a picture between the front and back of the frame and glued the two together with hot glue.  These are permanent frames that could be used for memories with friends or favorite kid art to lean on a book shelf.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Sports Themed Camp for the Blind

I had such a blast at last week's summer course!  Blind and low vision teenagers from around state of Georgia came together to play beep kick ball on a wheel chair accessible ball field, go bowling and  attend a baseball game! They spent a morning to do virtual fishing and hunting. Students took a tour of the Sports Hall of Fame, went swimming, and learned yoga. They rode a mechanical bull, played goal ball (similar to indoor soccer but with three blindfolded teammates on a gym court) and attended a tennis clinic with soft, bouncy, jingly tennis balls.

Part of my responsibilities for this program included doing art projects.  One day they screen printed their own camp t-shirt, using a silk screen I had photo-mechanically processed with a design my husband did in Adobe Illustrator based on my drawing.

The next day, students created their original designs, which were cut out of paper for stencils to screen print on their tote bags.

And finally they chose colors and designs to represent their own team before making into felt penants (not pictured).  

I also made a sports themed photo booth to help capture the moment and save happy memories.
By the end of the week they were all worn out but hopefully feeling more fit, more confident, and more independent than they were a week  earlier. Yay for camp! 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Wax Resist Ink Drawings

People with low vision need high contrast images more than those of us who can see subtle value shifts.  Ideally, this "wax resist" assignment would be done starting with only white crayon, or white oil pastel, but we also have liquid wax that is used for ceramics to block glaze from the bottoms of cups and bowls. There is dye in this wax to make it easier to see for those who need the some contrast to start with. So my students drew and painted with waxy or oily medium, and then brushed ink on top. The ink only stuck to the paper (although we did have to dab the tops of the oil pastel with a paper towel, to be able to see it better), to create a black and white (or black and green) image, with enough value contrast for my low vision students.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Beach Party and Decorations to Die For

Every time Kim, our school media center specialist, asks me, "Do you want this empty laminator tube?" I hear the words, "Do you want a palm tree trunk?"  I was glad that I had accepted and saved those large tubes when I got the call to decorate a faculty party at the last minute. "Something summery" was the suggestion, so I went with beach theme on a shoe string budget. It is easy to borrow beach towels to cover all the book shelves, bring in a beach umbrella, and buy some sand buckets from the dollar store to and place foam sunglasses, crabs, flamingos, suns and surfboard, made from construction paper or craft foam and glued to dowels. A shark's mouth photo op was made from a discarded trip-fold board, and beach balls were placed around the room. Bulletin board paper cut into palm leaves were given structure by attaching aluminum wire to the bottom with green masking tape. Then the palm trees were placed into buckets or cans with sand or rocks around to hold it up.

 Two days later, I was invited to an Edgar Allen Poe themed murder mystery. I painted a raven for the occasion and each guest posed with it was they entered the dinner party.  The hosts had ravens and sculls in each room, black table cloths. With everyone's costume and a menu that included "crow pie" and "funeral potatoes" it was easy to stay in character and the evening was a lot of fun! Whether the party theme is a luau or murder, there are colors, costumes and little touches that can make the mood complete.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Clay Boxes and Pinch Pot Animals

As an art teacher, it's my job to teach the basic techniques of ceramics, such as making slabs, pinch pots, coil pots, and using the potter's wheel.  But there's so much that can be done to learn each of those techniques. It has been four or five years since we made slab boxes to learn slip and score method of joining two pieces of clay, and about that long since we've made animals from pinch pots. And so this was our year to do those projects, and it was great fun.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Discarded Books to Works of Art

Old books can become new sculptures with a few folds and maybe some glue and paint. The book above just had the top and bottom corners of each page folded in, while the book below had a group of pages with the  bottom corners turned up followed by a section of pages in which the top corners were turned down.
After eight sections of alternating turned corners half of each section rolled right while the other half of each section rolled left. then the rolls were glued into place. Then it was sprayed lightly with gold spray paint.

Here is a similar process of folds and rolls, followed by a touch of red spray paint.

This Christmas tree idea that was found online is the only one in which the pages were cut before they were folded. Although some students cut out pages and painted ink silhouettes with them.

And one student used discarded maps to make paper flowers.

In order to create a vintage feel or a piece of art that communicates layers of meaning, it might be wise to look beyond a plain white sheet of paper into discarded reading materials.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Goodwill Volunteer of the Year

This month our central Georgia regional area of Goodwill Industries awarded my students and I with the volunteer of the year award for our many hours putting the art show together for them in January. There were about 500 people at the employee meeting/ party where we (among others) were recognized; The honor of being appreciated is just part of the fun of a happy partnership that I hope continues.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Rags to Rugs!

Teaching a textile art unit gave me a perfect opportunity to clean out unwanted clothes from my craft closet. I had meant to use husband's old shirts for quilts, but never got around to it.

I was taught to make a braided rug when I was young, by my adopted grandmother, but the task of sewing the braids together was so labor intensive, that I never did it as an adult. Luckily there is a no sew method, that makes things much easier, and probably stronger.  It requires four strands of fabric (1 1/2" to 2" wide). I tied the four strands together.

Then I took the first strand at the far left and went under the 2nd, over the 3rd, and under the 4th, ending with a small tug. I repeated the processes until about 5 inches of woven strands gave me enough wiggle room to wrap a small spiral.  Then I continued with the under over under pattern, except I ended by tucking it down through a loop from the previous weave.
When a strand got too short, we cut a little button hole slit in the end and stuck the end of another strand through the hole. That strand also had a slit cut into the end so that the other end (of that long strand) could thread through it and be pulled tight. This was much less bulky than trying to tie the two ends together.

And so the rug grew as each strand connected to the existing spiral. You may need to pull a little to make the loops big enough to push the strand through. But it comes along pretty quickly. And once my students could work independently, I could sit back and watch.  I put a piece of tape on the top to remember that we were spiraling counter clockwise and keep the pattern and shape tidy. Some students made personal rugs that were the sizes of hot pads, and others worked together on bigger projects.

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 us.

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 me to 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-hearted 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 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 an 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: