Monday, December 16, 2019

Whoville Christmas Program Sets

Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot. This year our school is performing a Grinch themed concert and so I was tasked with designing the Whoville sets. 

I sketched out some of Dr. Suess's house drawings, placed added some trees and mountains and projected them onto 8 foot panels. I had to outline them in black paint for my visually impaired students to see, and even then it was hard to differentiate from the gingerbread background that was already there, so I'd trace those with thicker color lines.

Within a couple of Friday afternoons, most of the painting was finished and we were able to use them as a backdrop for our "Santa and Mrs. Claus pictures" at the student Christmas party.

Meanwhile, I got word that I was on a team to help decorate an office space the Department of Education in Atlanta. Guess what the theme was? How the Grinch Stole Christmas!  So I spent a few afternoons creating cardboard cut outs of Whos.

My teammates stuffed Grinch pajamas with newspaper and added hands, feet, and a lower face using polar fleece that matched perfectly. They curled bulletin board paper for tree boughs, made a 3D paper roast beast, and printed labels for cans of who hash! The Grinch has a cane and is reading a Braille book, which is also a scratch and sniff book from 1970. It still smells! (No one will probably notice, but we get a kick out of little things like that).

Flat decorations were made tactile like garlands and snow (batting) were  glued to the "Welcome to Whoville" arch. We hung real ornaments on our paper trees. Glued yarn for hair, beards, and colors, buttons, pom-poms, and jingle bell for accessaries. 

 A couple of Whos and Max the dog as a portion of our office hallway to deck.
Of course the sets eventually made it to the stage. We painted colorful cobblestone walkways with snow in between on the stage floor. Now we just wait for the giant Whoville backdrop and the Grinch to show up for this week's performance.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Clay Christmas Crafts

Student made ornaments, some spray painted gold
Our classroom slab roller is more than just a space-filler or a pretend pirate ship wheel as an incentive for kindergartners to do their work. It is the best way to make a blob of clay into a perfectly even blanket of clay, out of which you can build something fabulous. We started simple: see what kind of textures you can roll, stamp and press into the clay, then we cut textured shapes to create ornaments.

Little bird ornaments from textured clay that I made as a demo

whimsical cone trees in bright latex colors

The next day, we thought a little bigger and used the textured slabs of clay to create either vases or cone-like Christmas trees.
Surface treatment didn't end there. Some students made tiny balls or tootsie roll shapes from the clay and then pressed them into tree boughs, using an additive process.

glazed ceramic trees

And of course once the pieces were fired, there were lots of options in terms of color. Students used glaze, spray paint, acrylic, and laytex. Some speckled lights, or painted ornaments onto their tree. One painted snow on the tips of each bough, and another was inspired to trim hers with glittler.

Screen Printed Note Cards

note cards I made by screen printing with a paper stencil of a bird

It's always a good idea to keep note cards on hand for last minute invites, "thank you"s, and "thinking of you"s. They also make nice gifts if you bundle a set of five or ten, and that's what I did last year for my family members.  Once I came up with the idea, it was easy to cut paper stencils, tape them on the back of a silk screen, print them onto pieces of card stock, and tie with ribbon in stacks with matching envelopes.
Student image of bird on a branch. We used special heat sensitive ink that disappears when you touch it.

The white of the paper becomes the white of the penguin.
For my students this year, I emailed my friend Matt Forrest images of student bird drawings, and he created screens for them.  We then used paper stencils for a second run, so my students could learn how to print two colors on the same image.

We had an assembly line. One student put the card stock down, one lowered the screen and printed, a 3rd removed.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Mosaic Project

Student piece, titled "Toast"
I honestly don't know why I was so afraid to try this assignment. I put it off for years, having never made a mosaic before myself, but it turns out they are not very intimidating once you decide that doing it wrong is better than not doing it at all. I introduced my students to ancient mosaics from Greece and Pompei contrasting the difference between geometric and organic designs and making inferences about what life must have been like based on the images made of tiny tiles.

Some students used tiny mosaic tiles that they glued to wood or adhered with caulk. The caulk, when piped too thickly oozed out the sides of each thin tile, filling in the cracks as a messy, make-shift grout.
White grout provides high contrast for black tiled background and the greenish-gray number seventeen.

Older students put on eye protection and therapeutically hammered donated tiles into smaller pieces. Then they puzzled the shards together into shapes drawn onto wooden ovals and rectangles. Once each broken tile piece was adhered with tile glue, we let it set overnight before we began grouting. White, premixed grout was very easy to use. Since many of my students don't have any vision, they just used gloves and pushed it into cracks, trying to wipe the surfaces and polish the tiles almost immediately.

Gray, cement based grout was a little trickier since it had to be mixed in a 3 part powder to 1 part water mixture and used before it became too thick.  Dust masks are essential for this process. The texture wasn't nearly as pleasant to work with, but in the end, the gray, middle ground gave a really nice aesthetic. Most of the students who used white grout, later wished they had used gray.

Younger students used sticky backed craft foam, cut into squares and rectangles. These were arranged onto pieces of paper or painted cardboard.
foam "tiles" on painted cardboard bases make for a primer mosaic lesson.

A piece sign made from colored tiles glued to wood and filled with white grout, was much neater than using caulk

Whether you are doing a table top or stepping stones, mosaics are a great way to let yourself go to pieces and then pull it all together again.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Leaf Collage

 One of my favorite things about teaching Art is that nothing is off limits in terms of other subject areas I can tap into for inspiration. This week's cross curriculum lesson touched on science. We learned about the seasons (specifically autumn), went on a walk across campus, collected leaves and learned the characteristics of each tree.  The goal was to find a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors (elements of art). Students reviewed when they tried their hand at leaf identification. There was an art history component as I shared, with them, the Earth Works of artist, Andy Goldsworthy, who often uses leaves to create his art.  Then each student choose pressed leaves according to size, shape, and color, to create an image.  Many of them made animals, but some higher level students created patterns, and some lower functioning students just practiced gluing leaves on the paper with out much thought given to arrangement.  Fall leaves, like cherry blossoms, come and go, and so if you don't get out and enjoy the colors and weathers soon, you'll have to wait another year before the chance comes again.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Painted Pots & Plants Project

A school's Art room is often simultaneously the school's garbage can, with teachers constantly coming and asking "Can you use this?", and the school's gift shop, with administrators saying, "We have a special guest coming today, do you have something we can give them?"  In the past, I've kept a few student-made ornaments or magnets on hand, but this year I decided to have a couple more projects worked into the curriculum that can be used for gift or sales opportunities.

One of these assignments was to paint a terracotta pot, with colors and  patterns to make it unique.  When the fundraiser for the senior trip approached, I heard the call for silent auction items, and went to the shelf of pots that had been sitting there for a couple of months.  Luckily, our horticulture teacher was on board with donating plants, and so it became an interdisciplinary lesson and collaboration to pot birds nest plants and auction them off. Too often student fundraisers are working with companies that take a big cut of the sales, but since these projects are using classroom materials that would have been spent on learning experiences anyway, (a buck or two worth of supplies per pot), the entire price goes right back to support the students.  Come out to the silent auction and corn hole tournament on November 16th to help GAB students earn and learn!

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Vision of Christmas Tree for the Visually Impaired

The Museum of Art and Science has an annual Festival of Trees exhibit. This year, my students and I participated as a way to advocate and inform the public about what it means to be blind. I spent a couple weeks teaching my students how to make ornaments that do that. We cut pages of a Brailled magazine into 3/4" X 22" strips to fold into Moravian Stars and we cut and painted wooden dowels to make white cane ornaments. The black handle and the red bottom was made with colored tape, and the tips were made with beads. Red was added to white canes so that they could be seen in the snow. There are a lot of different tips of cane tips to be chosen according to the needs of the user. There's a pencil tip, which most of my students avoid since they get caught in side walk cracks; there's a marshmallow roller (a cylinder wider than the pencil tip, which is about the same size, shape, and color of a marshmallow), a ball tip, which is very common, and a disc shape jumbo roller.

For students who couldn't handle the complicated instructions of the Moravian star, I taught them create curls of Braille by rolling it around dowels and pencils.  Some of these, like the stars were dusted with gold spray paint.

Left over Brailed paper from the magazine was cut into quarter or half inch strips to create quilled ornaments. These ornaments make tactile images of hearts, flowers, angels, birds, snowflakes and snowmen, once glued to cut up plastic covers to Braille books.  There were also Braille beads that students strung to make words like "Joy" and "Peace," but we ran out of the letter beads we needed after a handful of ornaments.  For the tree topper, I made a large Moravian Star using poster board cut lengthwise in 2" wide strips. Two strips were glued together and folded in half.

  I took twelve high school students the the museum to decorate our assigned tree for the display. We titled it "Vision of Christmas" and if you look close enough you'll find some stress balls that look like eye balls peering out from boughs. We're not afraid of whimsy and it matched our theme.

While we were at the museum we checked out the art exhibits, the mini zoo, the artists workshop and science center for lots of hands on fun.  After a picnic lunch we made it back to the school for the second half the day, with our hearts full of early Christmas cheer.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Terezin Artists Lesson

Art encompasses the entire human experience. It can be about and affected by anything. We pretend that economics, philosophy, technology, race, weather, politics, environment, religion, personal relationships are all separate things, but in fact, they are intimately related and intertwined. This month I have tried to show my students that Art created the 1930's, 40's, and 50's were influenced by world events and world events were influenced by art. In the last couple of months we have talked about The Great Migration & Harlem Renaissance (1920's and 30's),  The Great Depression and WPA as well as the Bauhaus School of Art during the 30's, World War II's influence on the Art of Europe and how it legitimized the Abstract Expressionism and New York School of the 1950's

A painting by Hitler proved too safe for Germany,  a Modern Art center for the world in the early 1900's
How would the world be different today if Hitler had gotten into art school as an 18 year old? How did Germany go from being a capitol of Modern Art to a propaganda machine? Why would the Nazi's plan their invasions based on the location of the world's masterpieces?  Why did president Eisenhower order soldiers to use precision and avoid monuments while bombing Europe?

I asked questions like these before showing my students the enlightening documentary "The Rape of Europa." This film shows how painstaking it was to evacuate the art from 8 miles of corridors of the Louvre museum in order to protect it from the Nazis. It shows how the museum in Leningrad, (which had four times the number of pieces than the Louvre), had half of its work stolen, while the other half was being stored and guarded by thousands of people under the museum. There was no heat. There was little food. Some burned candles while others ate them. Dozens died, and their corpses remained frozen throughout the winter. But protecting art was a priority and gave a reason to live.

Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, Art teacher
My trip a year ago to The Czech Republic included a sacred day in the Terezin Concentration Camp and Jewish Ghetto. There, during World War II, 18,000 people died from sickness and malnourishment, while many others were held until they were shipped off to death camps like Auschwitz. Art was an escape for many of the Jewish prisoners living in Terezin. I was touched by the music, costumes, drawings and paintings created by the people who took instruments and art supplies in the small amount of luggage they were allowed to bring to Terezin. The urge to create increases in times of destruction. One twelve year old girl, painted a picture of a snowman and had it secretly delivered to her father, since families were separated. He responded that she should, "draw what she sees."  At the end of the week, I had my students draw, not from their imagination, but from their experiences.
Art teacher, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, also helped children document their surroundings and process their emotions through art-making. Many of the images of the children, and adult artists are on display today.
In The Living Quarters of Terezin's Jewish ghetto, illustrate the horrible and cramped living conditions during World War II.

My students drew things like their bedroom, classroom, or lunch tray. Nothing was as well executed or horrific as the art made in Terezin, but their every day life is still worth documenting and I hope they recognize that other people documenting their personal lives, through good and bad times, also have value and are all are part of the human experience.

POSB and APH awards

'Tis the season to attend conferences!  Yesterday,
I finished my third conference in two weeks. Because the job of a Teacher for the Visually Impaired (TVI) can be a lonely job, it is important to come together and share ideas with your colleagues from around the country or state, and to recognize achievements of those who often go unnoticed.

I had the humbling experience last week of receiving such a recognition when I became the recipient of the 2019 Outstanding Teacher of Students who are Blind and Visually Impaired. I flew to Louisville for a banquet during the  Principals of Schools for the Blind (POSB) and Council of Schools of the Blind (COSB) conference, and spoke on the importance of education in helping our students live as independently as possible.

The next evening a couple of my colleagues/ friends brought some students out to meet me and receive their awards from the American Printing House for the Blind. We took them to see thousands of jack-o-lanterns that night.

You tell him Helen!

The upper gallery at the KY Museum of Art and Craft
The next day we all toured the American Printing House for the Blind where my students tried out the latest in assisted technology, saw the room where their Braille books are made, the recording studio where their audio books are recorded, and the museum that contained treasures such as Louis Braille's book, Stevie Wonder's school piano, and Helen Keller's desk and letters, such as this one she wrote to Hitler, in which she essentially told him that you can't kill ideas by burning our books. Dummy. (She was more articulate than me).  Then we went to the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft for a descriptive tour of the their show of contemporary artists, before playing at the science museum next door.

Students had the chance, on this trip to practice their Orientation & Mobility skills, by walking through the city,  riding on a plane, airport trains, van, school bus, charter bus, escalators and elevators!
elevator and escalator practice all day long!

Time to teach students which of their four fork to use.
That night, was the big event of the APH Insights Art Exhibition and awards banquet.  We had seven students get work into the show, all of whom sold their work and five of whom came. (There were also 3 friends, 3 sets of grandparents, and a couple parents to support our artists). This moments of students feeling like what we do in the classroom matters in the real world, are real perks in my career.

This week was the Georgia Vision Educators State-wide Training. I gave a presentation on how to use art to teach core subject matter (science, math, language arts, and social studies). I brought examples of tactile artwork my students have made, and hope that the attendees were able to generate ideas on how to apply these tools to their students.  Learning is a fun, life-long journey and we each have something to gain from the ideas of our colleagues.

Image may contain: Kristen Applebee, smiling, standing and indoor
Art is for everyone, including students with visual impairments!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Harlem Renaissance Lesson

The Great Migration of African Americans to the northern cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, and New York happened from about 1918 to the early 1930s. These were the days of Jim Crow laws. These were also the roaring 20's when Harlem became a hot spot for some of the best art, literature and music in the world. Can you imagine a community of talents such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday, Langston Hughes, Aaron Douglas, Lois Mailou Day, and Romare Bearden? When I look back on the creative movements in history, I am impressed at the power of friendships between creative people. It is not the hermit who becomes part of a major art movement, but groups of people who inspire each other, learn from each other and bounce ideas off one another.

 My students each picked a Harlem Renaissance artist to study and write about. Then they created an image using the style and medium of their artist.   All of my 5th period students happened to choose Romare Bearden as their artist. He was a philosopher, art historian, author, painter, collage artist and jazz musician: a true Renaissance man! The great problem he set out to solve was how to tell the story of his people from the rural south to the urban north, and still adhere to the formal issues of modern art. His work was wonky and relevant and had all the good stuff like symbolism, scale, and strong color relationships.  More than one time, while my students were gluing parts of magazine images onto a background, I found myself saying, "It's not weird enough, yet!"

I highly suggest putting on some big band jazz, cutting up old magazines, and making some funky, Bearden-inspired collages as a pick-up on a rainy day afternoon. It's good for the soul!