Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Cardboard Sculptures

In a time when Art funding in many schools can be hard to come by, teachers need to get creative and resourceful. This project was a win-win situation situation for me since I was trying to figure out what to do with all the cardboard boxes left over from Christmas, and some of my students wanted to make large pieces.

 I broke the boxes down, and gave students the task of taking the flat pieces of cardboard and making a sculpture that is  interesting to view from every angle: front, back, left, right, and above. They could make it as big or small as they wanted and could make it representational or non-objective. We had begun our week by discussing the term "sculpture in the round" (as opposed to "relief sculpture") and varying degrees of flatness. They had each taken a flat piece of foil and manipulated it into a 3D form as a warm- up exercise.

Then students got busy picking up pieces of cardboard and trying to figure out ways to make it attach to other pieces. They made slits for pieces to slide together at right angles, used colored tape, and hot glue to make their pieces as well constructed as possible.

Pieces of cardboard were painted with acrylics or with spray paint before (or after) assembling them permanently. And when needed, new pieces were cut, painted and attached.

Some added pattern to the surface using regular or metallic markers. These pieces took up a lot of surface space in our room, but luckily only 14 students were given the assignment. There were a few set backs, like the student, who made a chair from flat pieces of styrofoam, and found the foam melted when sprayed with gold paint. We chalked it up to part of the learning process and started again with cardboard. In the end they were so pleased with the results.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Aluminum Foil Sculptures

This project was part of a lesson about sculpture in the round. The Family and Consumer Science teacher had covered the bulletin board with aluminum foil to look like a cookie sheet, and then she had students make paper and foam cookies to cover it. When it was my turn to do the bulletin board, I took down the foil, and gave a piece to each student. We felt how flat it was and talked about the difference between two dimensional and three dimensional art. Then they were given the task to make a 3D sculpture from the 2D foil. Here are the results.

 The horse was the only piece that required a little pipe cleaner armature to cover. If they were going to make bigger pieces, I'm sure we'd use wire structure to start. Mostly, this is an instant gratification type of lesson and one I have already referred back to several times to help them remember my students difference between 2D and 3D art.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


In my last post I wrote about how to fail, but today I want to focus on succeeding. Of course you can't succeed at anything worthwhile without risking failure, so if you need a refresher go back and read that.

What is success?

The first step in being successful is knowing what success looks like to you. Some people consider a successful artist to be someone who makes a lot of money selling art, while others would consider a successful artist to be someone who makes good art. Everyone's ultimate goal is to be happy and so it is up to you to figure out what happiness looks like. What brings you joy: time with family? Travel? Inner peace? Not having to stress about getting to the next paycheck? Not having to spend an hour trying to find your keys? Would improving your golf swing or bowling score make you feel happy? Earning a higher degree? You get to decide for yourself.

Envision success

This is the fun part. Once you know what you want to happen, imagine it happening.  Daydream about what it will feel like when your agent calls and tells you that your book is going to be published. How are you going to celebrate after you run your first marathon? Imagine. And then write it down.  You can type up a list or write a goal in bold marker- anything that makes it a tangible reminder will work.

A lot of people create a dream board or a vision board to help them realize their goals. It can be a poster board collage of magazine images and computer printouts of things that represent what you want. Maybe yours would be pictures of house plans and paint swatches for when you finally buy a house. You could Photoshop a montage of you paying off student loans, losing 20 pounds, or learning how to salsa dance.

I draw a mind map in the front of my sketchbook and look at it several times a week. I put the most important thing at the center of my drawing: my balanced, happy, life.  Arrows extend from there with categories of my life written on each arrow: family, health, job, finances, fun.  Then arrows and pictures break off of that to include things like date nights, places I want to go, a goal for when to pay off the mortgage, when to finish my certificate add-on, and get a raise.

I am required, as a teacher, to make goals for what my students will learn. Likewise, as a mother, I include goals for my children on my mind map . My son isn't going to get his driver's license without me remembering to teach him to drive or gather the paper work, or take him downtown to take his test. I need to do my part to help my kids achieve. Kids don't just happen; they need mentoring. There's a reason, after all,  parents get special pins when their sons become Eagle scouts.


No worthwhile success comes without sacrifice. The bigger the success, the bigger the sacrifice. One author told me that she had to give up reality TV to find time to write after her young daughters went to sleep. Last month there were three nights in a row that I gave up concerts and dance performance invitations to get my work handed in for a class I was taking. You may need to make financial sacrifices to add that studio on to your house, which may mean taking on extra work or not buying anything new for a long time. Successful people are willing to delay their gratification until they reach their worthwhile goal. (Remember the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment of the 1960s?)

My friend was a college graduate in his mid-thirties with a family, an established career, and a paid-off house. He had a dream to go into law, but felt like maybe he had missed the boat. If he applied to law school and got in, it would mean a 3 year commitment before he could start work as a lawyer. In a conversation with his dad, he expressed his reservations.
"I'll be 38 by the time I finish law school!" He said.
"You'll be 38 whether or not you go to law school." was his father's wise response. The choice between being a 38 year old with a law degree and without a law degree was clear. He's been practicing law for over a decade now.

Time marches forward, and it's up to us whether we want to use those days and hours and minutes to grow, or not.
Benjamin Franklin asked, "Doth thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of."

Bear in mind that sacrifice usually means giving up something now for something much better, later. If you keep your eyes on the goal, it won't be so hard to give up the little things along the way.

Don't Compare Yourself to Others

You get to have your own style of drawing or writing. You get to have your own dreams and goals. You are supposed to be you, not someone else. It is a dangerous thing to focus on the fact that you are less smart, beautiful, fast, talented or worthy than someone else. It causes discouragement, which is an enemy to growth. It is equally dangerous to focus on being more of those things than others because that leads to complacency, which is also an enemy to growth. There will always be people who are better at something than you and worse at that thing than you. The focus must be on achieving your personal best! Once you stop comparing and competing, you are free to be able to reach down and lift others with their goals, which will inevitably bring personal growth to you. It allows you to not feel threatened by people who have mastered something you are striving to be good at. Which leads me to the next point:

Spend time with the Experts

I feel joy in the accomplishments of my friends and family who have done impressive things: played on Broadway, sung in Carnegie Hall, worked as a Supreme court clerk, won a Grammy award, and an Oscar. I don't need to do any of those things to be successful since those weren't my goals. Praising them doesn't diminish my personal best. In fact, rubbing elbows with accomplished people inspires me to get my own version of a gold medal. And by medal, I mean happiness.

The more you hang out with experts, the more you will gain expertise. I feel like I'm in heaven every time I go to a dinner party of top notch artists or writers.

My daughter has always gotten a kick out of being the head of her class in elementary school. I wondered how she would handle a new school that was packed with gifted, achievement-centered kids. I was so relieved when she came home the first week and said, "All these kids are smarter than me. I LOVE IT! I'm going to learn so much from them at this new school!" Comparing isn't such a big deal as long as you feel inspired instead of threatened or prideful. Your focus should be on personal improvement.

Keep a Growth Mindset

Over the years of teaching college art classes, I have had quite a few beginning students tell me on the first day, "I don't know how to draw!" to which I respond, "Yet. You don't know how to draw yet. I'll show you how."  When they tell me that they don't know anything about Art, I say, "The point in taking classes is to learn, not to show that you already know it all."

Statements like, "I'm not a math person," or "I'm not a morning person," imply permanent characteristic traits. They imply that you don't think you can change in that area and you CAN. Weak things can become strong; people can learn how to solve complex math problems and enjoy early mornings.

Stanford professor, Dr. Carol D. Dweck, in her book MINDSET, discusses the differences between fixed mindset people who think that you've either got it or you don't, and growth mindset people, who believe that if you don't "got it," you can get it.

Fixed mindset people try to prove that they're smarter or better by judging and criticizing others. They stick to small tasks, hang out with people less competent than themselves, and avoid challenges for fear of messing up. They blame someone or something else for their failures. Why apologize when you can point a finger? They are constantly praising themselves with words, rather than showing with actions and sharing ideas.

People with growth mindset are focused on improvement and not afraid of challenges or minor setbacks. They want to master skills, figure things out and don't mind putting in required effort to make it happen. They're not threatened by the success of other people and are willing to learn from those around them. Listen to the language that co-workers or political candidates use if you want to know which they are. The good news is that even if you've been a fixed mindset person up to this point, you can still change the way you see things and start growing!

Take baby steps

If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, then you'd better get out of the chair and take a step. When it comes to substantial goals, don't expect to have it all done in a day. It takes many tiny acts to make big things happen. That's what daily to do lists are for. Be as specific as possible. Work the 20 minutes of exercise into your daily schedule, if you are planning on losing the last 10 pounds after having a baby. Set a little goal to write a page each day, to get to your big goal of a 60,000 word Young Adult novel. Ultimately it is the little things that make the biggest difference.

See things in in perspective

Pick a hero. If you write down all of their setbacks and failures, and look at them alone, you'll feel like you are looking at the actions of a loser. In fact, Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Michael Jordan, and the Beatles had lots of failure, more than their share.  We consider them to be successful, because they overcame lots of obstacles and worked through the failure to come out the other end on top.

We too often choose to focus on the negative and become oblivious to the positive. Local news stories will tell the same story over and over about a single tragedy and not report the thousand acts of goodness and triumph that happened that same day in the same neighborhood. There is good and bad in every person, situation, and journey. Sometimes we take the bad, but forget to embrace all the good that fills our lives and our efforts.

I am in the process of reading the Old Testament with my children. The goal is to read 3 or 4 pages every night so we can get through 100 a month, and finish it in a 12 month time frame. (Notice the baby steps/plan to get through 1200 pages as a family). Sometimes we miss a day. Instead of feeling like a loser of a mother, I remember the six days that week we did read, and then I make a plan to get back on track and catch up. If you eat a doughnut in the break room and mess up your diet, it's not the end of the world. You are not a disgusting person with no self control. It was a doughnut. Get back on track right away and get on with accomplishing your goal.

Rose colored glasses and an inflated sense of self isn't the answer either, however. I hear kids talk about being in the Olympics someday, but they arrive late to practices, leave early, and complain the whole time they're playing. A view at reality means seeing yourself as you really are, weaknesses and strengths together, and knowing what it takes to get where you want to be.

If we learn to see things as they really are, we will be able to see ourselves for who we are: people with great potential to do and experience amazing things.