Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Those Who Can, Teach: Balance, Passion, and Career Identity

Me and my Art at Macon Art Alliance
February has been a month for me to reflect on my career and my identity. I come from a long line of teachers, my grandmothers, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, siblings-in-laws, and husband teach in some capacity. We live on academic calendars, share research, and get excited for the success of each other's students.  I didn't start out in education, though. I was a full time student for nearly nine years, studying art, because, even though I knew lesson plans were in my blood, I wasn't going to teach Art until I knew I could get into exhibits and sell art to collectors and interior designers. The cruel saying "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach" didn't make sense to me. My dad was a psychology professor but he was also an active clinical psychologist, conducting research and providing therapy. My mom, taught Family and Consumer Science (FACS) after 20 years of sewing everything in our home: from curtains and sofa to her mix-and-match professional wardrobe. She ground wheat for our bread, made yogurt from scratch, and manage a budget like no one's business. I believed that one should not be talking the talk unless they walked the walk; and I knew that only an artist could teach someone else how to be an artist.

So I made and exhibited art for years, while teaching college part time. After my third child was a toddler, I felt impressed to go back to school to get my early childhood teaching certificate.  When she started middle school, I began teaching full time. If you follow this blog, you can trace my last solo art show to the year that I started teaching at Georgia Academy for the Blind. Teaching there has been such an amazing outlet for my creative energy that I came home feeling fulfilled....and pretty tired. I had been pretty busy before adding 45 work hours to my schedule. Something had to go, and it ended up being art, because the last of my waking hours each day belonged mostly to my family: getting everyone to church activities, swim, piano, cross country, track, band, orchestra, and chorus concerts. It wasn't until the last month that I finally found a moment to enter a juried show: Drawn to Macon. All 3 of my pieces got in, and two sold before the opening. They aren't new. They are 8 years old...from that last solo show.

The exhibit's opening night kept the gallery busy all evening

Here's the thing. I became an artist because I need to create. I feel like I'm doing that every day in my classroom. I'm probably never going to be famous. Making a fortune isn't my goal. I just want to use my hands and find creative solutions to problems. 
The most recent PAGE ONE magazine has an article spot lighting me as a 2020 Georgia Teacher of the Year finalist
Melanie Thompson and I with State Superintendent
Dr. Woods and GA Teacher of the Year, at the
Teacher Advisory Council meeting this week, before
going to the capitol to see education legislation happening.
I teach because it helps me build relationships and help those around me. My success is the happiness that I find every day. Just today our school tech guy came into my classroom and asked, "How do you get to do fun things every day in here?" and one of my high school students said, "It's Art! That's what we do." The next period a student said, "Thank you for teaching me to work hard, Mrs. Applebee!" Another, without a prompt, bounced up to me and said, "I love you too, Mrs. Applebee!" It's so gratifying to help students have fun, learn to work hard, and feel loved. It's better than gold!
Not that I don't aspire to make my own work again. My youngest is wrapping up her junior year in high school, and can finally drive herself to soccer practice, which means that I can keep my sanity and still find time to work in my sketchbook each day.  Making art is good for the soul. So is teaching. So is motherhood. You don't always have to choose, but you do have to realize that "having it all" doesn't mean "having it all at the same time."

Umbrella Mushrooms & Eight Foot Checkerboards

We are thinking big in my art room these days. My set design class has been making the backdrops for our "Alice in Wonderland" themed prom. We went through a lot of painter's tape to make a checkerboard pattern on two white and two black 8'X4' pieces of birch.

Then, some of my daily art students and I took a couple of broken umbrellas and turned them into giant mushrooms. For the base, we poured cement into coffee cans and stood giant cardboard tubes in them. The umbrellas were inserted into the tops of tubes and from the bottom of the cans to the top of the umbrella handles were wrapped in big cardboard to give it the shape of a mushroom stem.

In order to change the shape of the umbrella top, we kept taping mounds of newspaper to the top, and trying to add poster board to the edges.

 Then we spent a couple of days with papier-mâché. Using strips of newspaper dipped in either fabric starch or a flour-water mixture.  We painted the mushrooms  tan with house paint and finally, we dusted with pink (or blue) and gold spray paint. Prom is still more than a month away, but we've got more ideas and projects to do.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Portrait Painting and Back Ground Activiating

I have been wanting to teach my students how to draw a well proportioned face (from scratch) all year. I mentioned last month that working from photographs or projections was OK, but I'm not going to deny them the skills to work from home with nothing but a sketchbook and pencil. Teaching drawing is my job.
So we start with an oval. Draw a line of symmetry and find the center of that line. We make the line go from one side of the face to the other. The eyes (contrary to popular belief) are in the middle of your head. We divide the horizontal line into fifths with 4 dots and then create a slight arch for an eyelid between the 1st and 2nd dot and the 3rd and 4th dot. The iris of the eye is a perfect circle but you can rarely see the whole thing at once, so I tuck it under the eyelid by making almost a U shape. The pupil is centered on the iris.

The lower half the the line of symmetry is divided in half again. The bottom of the nose is drawn 1/4th of the way from the bottom of the face. It is as wide as one eye, which is also the size of the space between the eye, so use that for a guideline. Of course people have wider and more narrow, longer and shorter noses, but we are just learning the average as a starting point.
The lower 4th of the line of symmetry is divided in half again so that the mouth is 1/8th of the way up from the bottom of the line. It is about 2 eyes wide, so it would go from the center of one eye to the center of the other eye.  The ears are drawn from the the eye height down to the nose position on the side of the head.  It's so funny that people who have looked at millions of faces over the days and years of their lives don't realize that your ears line up with your eyes. And some of them wear glasses.

After my students drawn their faces in pencil or wiki sticks, they paint their back ground color. Then they find or make stencils that they can use to spray paint pattern onto the background. We talk about figure-ground relationships and how important it is to activate the background if you want to add interest.

Everything is painted on the figure and then black paint lines are added to most of the drawings. This flattens the people into almost cartoon characters, but it also covers up all the rough edges and makes it look clean and finished. Plus it is easier for my low vision students to see each others work from a few feet away.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Puppetry Paradise!

I felt at home in Big Bird's nest
Jim Henson is a creative genius who brought happiness to millions. His college degree was not in Art, even though he drew every day. It was not in English, even though he wrote scripts for TV and film; and it wasn't in theatre or performing arts even though he won lots of Emmy and Grammy awards.  He studied Home Economics, and he used his sewing machine the way other artists use a paint brush. I introduced my students to the world of Jim Henson (via documentaries, articles, and performances) as a spring board for students to create their own puppets.  Throughout the lesson, students also did writing assignments to learn things like character development, dialogue/monologue, and voice.
Our puppetry lesson is part of a month long unit about the tie between visual and performing arts. The costume (hat) design project  came before, and set design is is coming after.  I love it all! 
Differentiation (buzz word in education) is a key to puppet making, because it lends itself to a huge range of interests as well as a huge range of ability levels. We had students who did elaborate hand puppets, complete with costume and students who made simple hand puppets from two pieces of fleece and sticky foam shapes to make a face.

Simple rod puppets allow one hand to move the arms, while the other turns the head
Some students made rod puppets from painted foam balls and inserted wooden dowels. Other students made more challenging dowel puppets with sculpted paper mache heads.

One student made a very simple marionette frog with a foam ball body attached to two strings to help it move. Other students made more complicated marionettes such as a long legged, long necked bird, or a unicorn with four moving legs.
Finger puppets made by and for the very young from felt and glue

My youngest students made felt finger puppets with characters that ranged from a pig to an alien. I have a student with an obsession with caterpillars made very simple puppets from a single piece of thick, fuzzy yarn, google eyes, foam nose, and pipe cleaner antennae. Two pieces of wire or pipe cleaner twisted around the body brought the bug to life, causing it to inch along or dance.

caterpillar puppets made from very thick and furry yarn

Students handle an Asian shadow puppet
The two week puppet adventure included a trip to the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta. It is an amazing place and I couldn't believe how accommodating they were of my students of visual impairments.  Our tour guide allowed my students to handle and try out a variety of types of puppets from around the world: Africa, China, Indonesia and the U.S. The Japanese puppet required three people to work it. The learned about stop animation and tried to assemble puppets from found objects.

We learned even more about Jim Henson with exhibits dedicated to Sesame Street, The Muppets, Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth. Students played on a TV set, and handled materials in the workshop.

I have a student who wants to design puppets for a career. I promised her that if she faced her fear of flying to Kentucky last fall to attend the exhibit and awards ceremony, to which she was invited, that I would find a way to take her to the Center for Puppetry Arts. This trip was my keeping a promise, but it was also a huge gift to every student who came to experience a world class collection and learn about this art form.

The lesson included writing components as students began, even before their first sketch, developing a character with a name and attributes. They wrote questions to ask our tour guide for out tour. One student nudged me as his question was being answered before he even asked. They wrote scripts, each with a beginning, middle, and end. And they wrote about the field trip, so although students are making art, they are also learning social studies, language arts, and just adding joy to life. Watching students perform around our classroom table, with their silly voices made the lesson all worthwhile, for me.