Monday, September 29, 2014

Art Projects for the Little Ones

My students this year have ages ranging from 5 to 20. They're all blind or visually impaired and many have multiple disabilities, so my creative exercise each day is figuring out how to teach each individual child something about art that they didn't know before. I try to keep similar units and themes, whether the classes are elementary, middle school, or high school level, just to help have visual reinforcement of those concepts in my room. Our first month back at school this year was shape month, and our second month is centered on line. This post centers on shape and line assignments for the youngest of my students.
Matisse Collage

This assignment gave me a chance to tell stories about the life of Henri Matisse and explain the concept of "painting with scissors."  Students were told to use geometric shapes in the background and organic shapes in the foreground. I love explaining things in pairs of opposites: geometric and organic, background and foreground. For the children who were able to use modified scissors, they were encouraged to create their own shapes, but I had piles of pre-cut shapes for the ones who aren't to that point.
Watercolor Resist Still Life
We used the design element of shape to talk about how to depict still life objects. This time the medium was oil pastel and watercolor. This student used circles to create a bowl of apples.

Stamping Animal Shapes
For this assignment we used repetition of shapes to create unity. It was fun passing sponges around and having students guess the animal shape of each.
Barnett Newman Line Painting
In case you hadn't heard, a Newman painting of a blue line, entitled Onement VI, sold for almost $44 million at a Sotheby's auction last year. That piece of news was a fun way to discuss the value of line and introduce minimalism to first and second graders.  Rubber bands stretched around paper and cardboard acted as stencils for students to create their own straight line paintings. It wasn't my favorite project, but it has potential so I may try it again one year with modifications.
Yarn Drawings
While the older students were doing their string art, by stretching it across boards or sewing it through holes, the younger students were using glue and yarn collage to create drawings.

Cross Contour Lesson

Here is another assignment I used for Line Month. Cross contour drawings are a great way of showing dimension through line. We spent several days of class trying to find ways to draw lines on top of appropriated famous (and a few not so famous) portraits to give them a greater sense of depth.

The student who did the piece on the left was completely blind but you can see where I hot glued around the nose, eyes, mouth etc. so he would know when to stop with a certain color. 

Students were also required to do a cross contour drawing without a starting image. One visually impaired student tackled hands doing a pinky promise in cross contour.

 Wiki stick shapes were formed by this blind students who would draw lines with rulers outside the shapes and made curves inside the shapes to create their cross contour drawings.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Line Month in My Classroom: Wire Quilt & String Art

As an artist, I sometimes feel sorry for mathematicians and their limited definition of the line. Lines in art can curve, wiggle, wave, zig, zag, and have three dimensions. Tangible lines are more meaningful to my blind students, who I walk around the room and have feel the spaces between the cinderblocks, the legs of a chair, their canes, wire, yarn, and say, "these are lines."

Sometimes art supply companies create lesson plan ideas to help to their sell supplies and I'm glad I bought into Dick Blick's idea of making a wire quilt. Students used thick aluminum wire, thin, plastic coated wire, pipe cleaners, beads and  the list grew each day of the week to include yarn, ribbon, vinyl, tissue paper and buttons. Had I limited each student to one square, I think the easiest solutions would have been their only solutions.  By asking them to make as many squares as they could in a week, they were able to explore new materials and ideas, such as making a tic-tac-toe board or an American flag The finished product was 70 squares which ended up being about 40" X 30"

A couple years ago, my sweet Minnesota nephew, John, sent me his string art to show me a project he  thought my students would enjoy.  I know I loved doing it as a kid, and it turns out that you don't need working eyes to be able to figure out how to make these.  The magic is discovering ways to make curves, using only straight lines. I hope this is something my students won't be afraid to try at home.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Shape Month for My Art Class

I dedicated our first month back in school to the design element of SHAPE. I've never taught any of these projects before, but I wanted to find the clearest ways possible to teach the basics of art to students who are visually impaired.

This is my new favorite way to teach the concept of NEGATIVE AND POSITIVE SHAPE. Notan is a Japanese design principle in which dark and light shapes are juxtaposed in an image.  With blind students I found it very helpful to have them use  foam sheets because they could feel the indented lines they drew in creating a shape, and once it was cut out they could put it all back together like a puzzle. After they flipped and glued each piece, they could feel the negative shape (the hole) and the positive shape (the piece they flipped). They each made two images, one symmetrically and one asymmetrically balanced.


Rectilinear Relief Sculptures
I felt like a little kid at Christmas when all my new classroom supplies rolled in; I just wanted to play with the boxes. I cut these boxes into hundreds of cardboard rectangles which I sorted into piles according to size.  Students gathered a variety of rectangles and picked two primary colors, which they could mix to create an analogous color scheme. They learned about visual unity through color and repetition of RECTILINEAR SHAPES. They arranged the rectangles several times and took digital photos of three different compositions before they chose one for me to hot glue.


Sports Posters
This assignment came about because Coach asked me for help covering his ugly cupboards and I'm all about interdisciplinary assignments.
CURVILINEAR SHAPES are the opposite of the rectangles we worked with the previous week. But we were still building unity through variety of size and unity through repetition of shape. My blind students traced circles with wiki sticks. This provided the tactile boundaries so they would know where to paint. They used black acrylic for the under painting, and then acrylic or oil pastel for the color on top.The fingerprints and smudges come from trying to feel for the dry areas that still needed painting.

Half Face Drawings
I remember loving this project when I was a kid and have been wanting to try it out with students for a long time. National Geographic had a great article about race in America and I was able to read it and discuss a little genetic science with the students. This assignment was used to teach about NATURALISTIC SHAPE as well as symmetry, proportions of the face, and observational drawing skills like trying to match color. Observational Drawing is hard when you are completely blind, so I traced half the face in hot glue for those students, and after they glued that half face, onto a piece of card stock, they used wiki sticks to create the other half the face. Then they used colored pencils and pastels to color it. Students really enjoyed the process.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Family Writes Part 3: Ways to Journal

I started writing in a journal when I was eight but didn't write consistently until my Jr. High English teachers, Mr. Rit and Ms. Ursprung, required it of me. I still have those spiral notebooks, with John Halgrin's drawing of the Roadrunner on the front of one. When I was in high school I took a keyboarding class and practiced my typing each day as I'd write a single spaced page about the happenings in my life. These volumes are a treasure to me as a record from the past.

Journaling is deeply personal, and the way one writes is personal. Here are a few format ideas you can use to make journal writing experience more meaningful to you.

Hardbound diaries:
“Dear Diary, I think I'm in love!” The for-my-eyes-only approach to journal writing is old school and its benefit is that you can write anything you want without having to worry about being judged. There's also something to be said about slowing down to a thoughtful handwriting pace.

Letters and Emails: These stories and details about life have a slightly broader audience than oneself. I treasure the binders of hand written letters and copies of emails I wrote to my parents, as well as the typed excerpts from the letters my mom wrote daily to her parents. These capture the flavor of my early childhood.

Blogs: The audience is even greater with a blog, which hopefully inspires photos and better organization. Some people write weekly or monthly about recent family vacations or craft projects. You can upload your blog pictures and paste the blog text into Snap Fish, choose your formatting preferences and viola! A hardbound keepsake.

Facebook posts:  Speaking of copying and pasting...I have quite a few pages accumulated from copying and pasting my daily Facebook posts into a Word doc. I love looking back at these peeks into my days. Then I take the funny kid quotes from each of my children and organize them into a page or two of their own each year, which I print out and put into their photo albums. If your posts and photos on Facebook are all part of your history, you may prefer to have a company like Blurb or My SocialBook create the journal for you, as they automatically download and format everything from the parameters you select.

Calendars: Some people journal by writing a few bullet points about each day, but I already have events listed on my calendar. I love skimming old calendars and remembering places, friends, and events. It is an amazing way to track priorities and how time (or as I like to call it, life) has been spent.

Time Line:  My husband's old professor, Ray George, made him a sketchbook which was very, very horizontal. When we got married, we decided to use it to track our life together with a timeline. Each page spread usually covers a year, and each month is listed with major events: our first kiss, the marriage proposal, new jobs, births, deaths, trips, and art shows. We usually include the best 6 or so photographs from the year. If brevity is the soul of wit, this time line is extremely witty. We fit 15 years into this volume and are now working on a second.

Video Diary: Some people like to sit in front of a video camera or phone and record how things are going in their lives or with a project. This is a great idea because you get all the non-verbal cues, the fatigue or enthusiasm that goes along. I like to use my two to three minute video summary of each year to document the fun stuff. It's like the timeline but with music, more movement and fewer words.

Sketchbooks:  I remember all sorts of things when I look back on my sketchbooks, such as where I was and what I was doing. This is a travel sketchbook (the Quebec pages) from my young adult years.

Idea books:  Writers keep books with bits of conversations they hear on the subway, descriptions of how the air felt and the sun looked on a certain day. They keep ideas of titles, plots and characters. Ideas come from everywhere, and when these ideas are recorded, the source of inspiration can also be recorded.

Book of Lists: 
What are your top 10 favorite places on the planet? What brand names have won your loyalty? What are things that you have been afraid to try? What people have helped shaped your life? I think lists are fun to make and they can capture your essence in ways that others can't. I made my husband a list of 365 reasons I love him. There were dates for every day that year with something he did that I noticed or something I admire about him. Secretly adding to the list each day increased my love for him. List books can be a collaborative effort. My siblings and I made a similar gift of top 10 lists for my parents of  lessons taught, meals made and favorite quotes from them.

Dream Book:
When my oldest child was in pre-school he said,  "Martin Luther King had a dream...that he was being chased by killer robots." You can use whatever definition of dream that you'd like. Get a book and write your big life vision type of dreams: who you want to become and what you want to achieve. Or write the weird being chased by killer robot dream that you had the night before. Your choice.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Family Writes Part 2: The Benefits of Journaling

In the last post, I talked about the benefits of a family narrative and knowing ancestral stories. Today, I'd like to list a few of the benefits from writing your personal narrative in a journal.
Writing in a journal can help you:
Journaling is very cathartic. Therapists are wonderful for letting you talk out your problems, but journals can have the similar benefits and save you the $50 copay. Writing allows you to release your stresses, burdens and frustrations through your pen and on to the paper so, you don't need to carry them around in your head.

Writing requires you to organize thoughts and articulate them. I believe that it is through writing that one becomes not only a better writer, but a greater thinker.

Increase Objectivity
There have been times when I have been venting and realized how whiny and one-side my words came across on the page. I've stepped away and from myself and tried to see things more rationally and balanced, and then I am able to come up with the other side of the story.

Increase Happiness
Research has shown that people who keep a gratitude journal are happier. They get better at seeing the good that was already in their lives and good things seem to multiply as a result. Even if it's not a separate journal for documenting blessings, writing about positive experiences will make you feel great!

Increase Awareness
There are times in my day that I will pay special attention to something that is happening so that I can tell my husband about it that evening. I will remember a news story or conversation in greater detail if I know I'm going to share it later, even if it's with a blank book. Writing in a journal, means living life with a greater awareness.

Record History
There are events in my life that I had totally forgotten had taken place until paging through old journals. Details of a time and place that would have otherwise been lost have rushed back to me.  Besides, when there are discrepancies with friends or family members how something happened, the person with the journal entry holds the key to what really happened.

Track Growth   
In reading entries and documented conversations I had in high school, I can see how much I've matured. This gives me more patience with my own teenagers.

Track Miracles
Sometimes it's the seemingly insignificant decisions and events that lead to major life changes. You never know when that guy the secretary just introduced you to, will end up being your spouse, or plane ticket you just bought will affect where you live for the next half of your life.

Cultivate Humor
Journals are more fun when they are funny. Seeking out the humor in the day or even finding it after it happened when you sit down to journal is a great pleasure. And humor can be cultivated and make life in general more bearable.

Learn to Type
When I was in 9th grade and taking a keyboarding class, I'd come home and type a single spaced page a day about my day. My typing skills grew more rapidly than my peers as a result.

Journal writing is a hobby, a skill builder, a way to let off steam and see beauty. Why not dust off the old diary and get reacquainted with yourself?