Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sculpture, Watercolor, and Mandala

I tried to cram as much in before the school year ended as possible and thought I'd share a few assignments that my visually impaired students enjoyed the most.

Wooden Sculptures. My friends, Heather and Drue McCroan make elaborate wooden monograms for people to hang on their door or put over their mantel. They offered me the wood scraps and I, in turn, offered them to my students. They played, balanced, re-arranged, sanded, glued and painted these wooden pieces with some interesting results.

Our beautiful campus and our spring weather made for a perfect landscape opportunity. We started with an exercise to explore what watercolors can do. Students tried wet-on-dry, wet-on-wet, blotting, wax resist, and blending techniques before they could begin their landscape project.

The better the vision, the more accurate the images, but I also love the energy that comes from the marks of those who can see almost nothing.

Nothing says wholeness and perfection more than the circle. As a class we explored Native American medicine wheels, rosary windows found in many cathedrals, and we watched videos of  Bhuddist monks making amazing sand art creations before sweeping them away as a symbol of impermanence. Each student made their own mandala with the help of a light box, and a basic knowledge of fractions and balance.

Art projects for Learning about Our World

Art and Social Studies pair perfectly in the classroom. In March, when our town was exploding with Japanese Cherry Blossoms, I taught a unit on Japanese Art.  Japan is dear to my heart, having lived in Hokkaido for more than a year. I began by teaching students about the culture: traditional food, dress, homes, gardens, religion, and even some basic phrases. We handled artifacts and tried on a  kimono.
I read “One Leaf Rides the Wind” which is a counting book of haikus that teach about bonsai trees, pagodas, koi fish and tea ceremony. I have students figure out the pattern of the haiku from my reading, and then they write a haiku about themselves. They mount this under their name, written with sumi brush and ink in katakana (Japanese characters). Younger children decorated large koi fish wind socks I made from bulletin board paper.

We also used brush and ink to do some bamboo studies. I managed to bring in fresh bamboo with leaves for students to feel and better understand the brush strokes.

Japanese are famous for their wood cuts, and so we study Hiroshige prints and talk about the printmaking process, before making our own relief prints. I’m not comfortable giving visually impaired students carving tools, so we just used pencils and foam to create our images and then brayer and ink to edition them.

Greek Art is fun to teach, because the students love me to read myths to them while they work. We listened to a documentary on ancient art, used white sheets for over-clothes togas, and discussed the culture at length. We looked at how and why our government buildings resemble those of Ancient Greece, and I asked them to find each type of column capitol (Ionic, Doric, Corinthian) in our community, which is flooded with neoclassical architecture.  Students used charts of vase forms to create their own symmetrical, black-figure vase image, complete with a stylistic narrative from their life.

I didn’t realize that Cinco de Maya was a bigger deal in the U.S. then much of Mexico, until this year. I played the NPR story "Cinco de Mayo: Whose Holiday Is It Anyway?" for my students, and we looked at images from Mexican culture. Older students cut tissue paper which teaches use of negative shape, balance, and pattern. (Saved scraps are great for collages and contact paper stained glass projects.)

Elementary school students filled plastic Easter Eggs from home with dry rice or beans, to create papier machie maracas, which they painted and played to mariachi music. This seemed to be a favorite project for some of my non-verbal students.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Mud, Cloth, and Kids

I started out my second semester at the Academy for the Blind teaching a ceramics unit.  The youngest of students could figure out how to roll a coil to make trivets, or make slab tiles on which to make texture by pressing sea shells. Middle and High School students started with small pinch pots turned into animals.
 Some students left their pot upright, for  vessel-like head or body, while others turned theirs sideways (for a mouth), or upside down (for a shell).
 We used the slab roller to make boxes and some of those boxes looked less boxy than others.

I worked with each high school student individually, guiding their hands to show them how to throw pots on the wheel. I never found a pedal or base for the wheel, so we set the wheel on a table and used it standing, without control over speed. It was a challenge for me to get used to, but students who never used a potter’s wheel before didn’t know the difference and most were pleased with the results.

I also taught a unit on quilting. There are so many great picture books like, “The Keeping Quilt” and “The Patchwork Path” which open up meaningful discussions about the stories quilts tell. We studied Amish quilts as well the fabulous Gee’s Bend Quilters. Repetition and crystallographic balance were the design principles we emphasized through individual pattern studies.

 That led to individuals contributing favorite patterns to make Class paper quilts. Quilting is traditionally a collaborative process.The youngest students picked from piles of smaller squares which had been divided by hot glue lines to help them use the space.

The older students used fabric markers to make a school-themed quilt block that they could then sew, iron, and quilt. Nothing warms my heart more than to see macho teens using a sewing machine. That week, we went to the amazing quilt exhibition at the local Museum of Art and Science, where students were able to play with traditional and non-traditional textile materials.