Friday, December 22, 2023

Sugar Cookie Creativity

Edible crafts are the perfect way to get students engaged in the classroom and family together during the holidays. Decorating sugar cookies can feel like a coloring book, obvious answers answers are the first you see, but once you forget what the "cookie cutter" solutions are, the options become infinite. An upside down Santa or a bell shape can be used as monster heads. A stocking Santa head shape can be made into a fish, and even traditional solutions can be given twists like a gingerbread man with an exposed ribcage and fins for arms. Traditional approaches for conservative cookie decorators are always a back up, but why not encourage some originality and see what happens?


Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Student Christmas Craft Sale

The last week before Winter Break, my students printed rubber stamp gift cards, painted wooden sleds and sleighs and trees, collaged tactile Christmas cards and melted wax and molded candles. The projects were small enough that they could be done within a class period or two and everyone could pick the type of craft that interested them the most. We set up one table of those craft items ranging from 25 cents to 6 dollars, and ended up making $200 hours within an hour. We're going to use it for something fun like pizza.


Painting Party Backdrops

Painting 8 foot high presents for party backdrops this year, made for a quick and easy math lesson for a couple of special needs students. For example:  they had to  divide the panel in half (vertical line at 2 feet in from the side) then divide the 9 inch ribbon in half and make 4.5" marks on either side to place the painters tape. A similar problem was made for the horizontal ribbon. We mixed green paint from yellow and green, so suddenly it was a color theory lesson) and then the painting began. Within a few hours we had simple images that made for a big impact for pictures of Santa at our student party.

We had another couple of large panels and a smaller tree at a seating area for students to take selfies and group shots throughout the party. By the time you add music and food to the decorations, you've got yourself a party! High School students are more likely to participate in karoake and dancing then middle school students, so we set up games like  twister, giant Jenga and Connect Four for smaller group activities. The photo booths were a hit regardless of age. Everyone had a blast!


Another fun backdrop for Santa photos included three yard reindeer with twinkling lights, a plywood sleigh made by a friend from church, and cardboard trees that we painted for a dance years ago. This set up was a hit at two separate parties! It's worth putting in a lot of effort into one year of building so that future years are just a matter of repainting and tweaking!

Spin Art

 I've had little Spin Art machines in a cupboard for 10 years, and when I finally got them out to use, I realized that batteries were required. Why bother getting batteries, when I have a quality potter's wheel that can do the same thing? Today my students  taped paper to the center of the wheel, put the pedal to the metal, and started squirting gel paints to the paper. It only takes a couple seconds to make the images, but being able to create a science lesson on centripetal force that includes a fun painting experience is totally worth the tiny bit of effort.

Cyber Security Posters

My students recently participated in a Cyber Security Poster Contest. It's a great way to start important discussions about safety and as well as learn about the role artists play in creating awareness on social issues.
Drawing is a huge part of these kind of contests, but it is where we generally fall short in a school with visual impairments, some of whom only read Braille. Rather than focusing on coloring and typography most of our students used the computer and printed the text for their posters. Then they collaged most of the shapes to give bring color and contrast without crayons and colored pencils. I think they came up with some cute ideas.


Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Community Outreach with and for my Students

It's been quite a week! I took my Art students on a field trip Thursday to decorate a Christmas tree for the Museum of Art and Science's Festival of Trees. My kiddos loved playing with all the science toys and art supplies, and were happy about being served doughnuts, but I hope they remember that community outreach is our goal. We want to support our local museum while advocating for those who our blind. Our tree shows every student at the Academy for the Blind with a homemade, cardboard face, and the snowflakes made with Brailled paper, reinforce the idea that no two children are the same.
That afternoon I was allotted time to present during the keynote address by Dr. Matt Marone for the 2023 Virtual GLOBE North America Regional Meeting. GLOBE stands for Global Learning and Observational Benefits for the Environment and it is part of NASA. I was able to show my student's "Layers of the Atmosphere" claymation video and tactile cloud charts as part of our collaboration with Mercer University and the Museum of Art and Science in making science more accessible.

The evening before, I got to speak to education majors during their Exceptional Child class, about how to teach children with visual impairments. A teacher's job isn't just to teach his or her students the curriculum, but to get others on board with supporting the needs of those students. The fact that I had 3 venues to advocate and educate within 20 hours is proof that people want to be informed. And once you start getting involved, more opportunities come your way.


Sunday, November 5, 2023

Clay heads: Expressions

 In an one hour hour lesson, my students were able to learn about facial proportions, expressions, and the ceramic techniques of making a pinch pot, slipping and scoring.

A small handful of clay is all it took for kids to roll a ball, stick their thumb into the center and then make the hole bigger by using their fingers as a paddle to press against the thumb. the little bowl shape
was stretched to make an oval and turned upside down. Viola! We had the beginnings of a face.  Because the eyes are in the middle of the head, we started there, first by pressing in eye sockets, and then rolling small eyeballs. the sockets and balls were both scratched with a needle (scored), brushed with watered down clay (slip), and attached before poking a hole for the illusion of a pupil. Then students moved to attaching eyelids, brows, noses, ears, and lips by scoring and slipping each individual piece. Because this was a Halloween Day lesson, students had the choice of doing a human or monster head, and each face was required to show an emotion of some sort, even if the emotion was "bored." I look forward to building on the skills and ideas touched on in one simple project.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Curly Paper Wigs

Elementary and Middle School students get a kick out of turning flat strips of paper into fun hats and wigs. Long strips of poster board can be wrapped around a child's head to measure the headband size before removing to staple. Another two straps make an X across the top to make a crown. Paper is curled by rolling each strip up in a pencil. If you pull the pencil out the side, the curl remains tight, but if you unravel it with in the pencil as you pull it out, you will have looser ringlets. Younger children will need help stapling each curl to the crown. They could choose to just line up big spiraled circles along the posterboard under structure, or try to fill in the gaps with longer curls. They may choose just one one or many colors. They may even create crimped effect by forgoing the curling technique by folding the strips back and forth for a zigzag line. Whether the goal is a hat or a wig, crimped, curled, or straight, it won't take much time or money for kids to feel happy about their wacky new look.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Painted Aprons for Chili Cook-off Winners

 Autumn is the season of Chili Cook-offs. Instead of spending a lot of money on trophies that people don't want to have to store, why not give them something useful to go with their bragging rights, like a set of wooden spoons or an apron. For an upcoming Chili cook-off I thought I'd give first, second, and third place winners aprons upon which I painted cooresponding number of chilis. Aprons were about $3 each. It's easy to copy chili shapes from images online, or you can trace a real chili in pencil if you've got one handy. I painted the silhouette with black acrylic and when it dried, I painted the topcoat of red or green acrylic, leaving some of the black show through for hatch marks. It's funky, fun, washable, and a conversation piece. I hope the winners can use it to brag about their win at cookouts for years to come.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Inktober 2023

Each October 1st, my husband reminds me that it is time for us to get out our pens and sketchbooks to do our annual Inktober Challenge drawings. We look at the official prompt list by Jake Parker, used by artists all over the world, and try to come up with an idea to bring each word to life.

I love the exercise of bouncing ideas around. For "dodge" I thought of a Dodge (car), a game of dodgeball, a Dodge playing dodgeball... and within a few seconds, I was asking myself questions about what kind of things could be thrown at each other besides balls. I settled on a snowman and the headless horseman from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow hurling and dodging each other's make-shift heads. "Map" can just be a map, while also being a topographical landscape to be explored.

For the prompt "toad" one can do a realistic rendition of a toad, or one can differentiate it from a frog, by placing it on a toadstool. Toadstool, barstool, bartender serving up "the usual" bar fly-suddenly there's scene to create. I had taken the prompt "wander" and made a guy walking through a bamboo forrest, until my husband reminded me that walking on a path isn't necessarily the most conducive thing to use for wandering. As I found my mind wandering through landscapes, and wondering how to execute it, I came up with an actual brain. I like the idea of asking questions letting your mind explore ideas. 

"Rise." Bread rises; the sun rises, each of us rises when the alarm goes off each morning; put them together, and 15 minutes later, you've got the idea: rise. For "plume" I thought it would be funny, of a bird plucking their feathers for a feather decorated hat, or to use as a quill pen, generally used in fancy calligraphy. I ended up drawing a chicken using a quill and ink to write in chicken-scratch rather than calligraphy.

Sometimes you can pair concepts, like when the prompts were "demon" and "angel" back to back. I had a devil eating devil's food cake using a pitch fork, and an angel eating angel food cake. I'm busy with all of my other daily obligations so  definitely can't spend long on working on these. It's an end-of-the-day-wind-down-while-watching-a-sit-com-with-my-sweetheart-activity, not something I want to take over my life. But it's definitely worth the effort to keep skills honed and your mind sharp. The official lists date back to 2016 and can be found at if you want to take the challenge yourself.


Monday, October 23, 2023

Sculptures from Braille Books

Book folding is a fairly new trend in wall art. Patterns can be found online, which give the number of pages and the number of inches from the top and bottom of the page to fold in order to make specific shapes like hearts or diamonds. For those creative souls (like my students) who want to explore their own folding techniques, the sky is the limit! Obviously most books are printed on paper, but Braille books are embossed on card stock, giving extra strength with fewer pages. I demonstrated a couple of folding ideas before letting students try out their own ideas with discarded Braille books. The fact that they are held together with staples and don't have any hard covers or spines to deal with, make them extra conducive to sculpture in the round. It didn't take long to get some great results.


Sunday, October 22, 2023

From Tennis Camp for the Blind to Insights Art Show and APH trip

APH president & my student
This year, the American Printing House for the Blind had more than 300 entries for their national Insights Art Contest; of those, only about 40 works of Art made it into their exhibit. Two of my studensthad work shown since one won an honorable mention and another got 3rd place in the grades 7-9 category, for art they made last year. Two other art students came for a trip to Kentucky to attend the Meet the Artists Reception and Awards Banquet. My student is seen here explaining her use of arbitrary color in her painting to the President of APH at the reception.

Ticket to the IMAX in Braille

They also attended a pre-screening and Q&A session for the Netflix Original "All the Light You Cannot See" at the Kentucky Science Center. It's coming to Netflix in November and I highly recommend it. It's so refreshing to have a blind protagonist played by blind actresses (both old and young versions).

watching bats being carved and dipped at the factory
Much of Friday was spent at the Kentucky Museum of Arts and Crafts (complete with Audio Described tour), followed by Sluggers Museum and Factory Tour and the Louisville Visitor's Center.

Nick Doyle's solo show in denim at KMAC

Orientation and Mobility (O&M) experiences were everywhere: navigating TSA, flying on a plane, the plane train, an Uber, a charter bus, escalators, elevators, moving sidewalks, and miles of city sidewalks. Other life/ learning experiences included being interviewed for a podcast, networking at the reception, eating a meal with three forks and three plates, and shaking hands with the APH president in front of 400 people. It was an amazing trip!

The weekends leading up to the Kentucky trip were also exhausting and wonderful starting with an annual Crisis Clean-up trip. this time, my son and I went to Madison, Florida  after Hurricane Idilia left trees down everywhere. Tree work is physically taxing, but rewarding volunteer service.

Then there was Tennis camp for the Blind. They make special balls that are soft foam, bouncing balls with a rattle inside for Blind Tennis. Students started with basics like moving side to side, front to back as directed. They caught and threw balls, before trying to learn to serve and hit. It would take a great deal of work for an actual game to be played, but three hours flew by and the students were just enjoying getting better at basic skills.

I helped students cook s'mores over a campfire, go on scavenger hunts, play games (hide and seek was especially entertaining), and go swimming.


Tactile Student Face Ornaments

December will be here before you know it, which means, it's time to design our Christmas tree for the Museum of Art and Science's Festival of Trees. I always try to use the tree as a way for my students to advocate or help the community understand them and their disability better. 

Every student at our school has an IEP, with their own goals and accommodations. We have students with a wide range of vision problems and eye diseases, causing everything from blurry vision  to no vision at all. Students cover the autism spectrum and a variety of other challenges. We have students as young as four and as old as twenty-one. Rather than look at them as a recipe of race, gender, age  and diagnosis, it's best to think of them as extremely complex and lovable individuals. I wanted the tree to express the rich texture of our student body, made up with beautifully unique individuals, each represented by a student-made, tactile cardboard portrait.

Check out the Festival of Trees at The Museum of Art and Science in Macon, Georgia from the 2nd week of December through the beginning of January.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Pencil Cup Project from Recycled Materials

My Elementary School and Middle School students have been learning how something as flat as a piece of paper can be turned into something 3D by looping strips into links of a chain or folding pages of a book to make a sculpture, or quilling folded paper to make framed images. Making pencil cups is another project that teaches a one more technique of making flat magazine pages into a tactile exterior to a pencil cup. It is an easy, fun project that can be used for years, rather than tossed after a month of hanging on the fridge.

Students found magazine pages which they rolled into a tube, using a pencil, drizzling a strip of Elmer's glue to secure the edge. For stiff covers, rubber bands would hold it the tube in place until the glue dried, and with tight rolls a second pencil would be used to scoot the first pencil out of the tube. The each rolled tube was hot glued to a clean tin can, transforming waste from the recycled bin to something you can use to organize pens, pencils, markers, scissors, and paint brushes. Children can learn to think through the side and direction they want to roll their pages to get the nicest edge, and how to organize their colors and patterns on the can. The next rainy day at home with a bored child, consider having them make one of these to spruce up their bedroom.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Fall Student Art Show

 This year, we started school in August and had our first student Art Exhibition in September. Most of my students only come twice a week, but this year but I only have 10 high school students and 5 middle school students, who I teach daily. This means there wasn't a ton of work to choose from, but luckily every student, whether they were low-vision or totally blind, were each able to produce a couple worthy pieces.

The fact that we've been studying repetition, pattern, and unity made for a coherent and colorful body of work. We used some of our zentangle portraits for show posters and invitations, made commercials for the morning news, and cookies for the opening reception. Turn out was better than we'd seen in years and the students felt great about being able to put together a body of work in a short period of time.

Textured Caulk Paintings

Last year's "caulk on canvas" assignment was such a success that we did it again, except we used latex and acrylic instead of liquid water color, and we created more textures with the wet caulk, rather than just lines. 
 It worked best a few minutes after dried a little on the canvas so it wasn't too sticky and then use back of spoons can create peaks, and combs create waves and lines. Strips of cardboard can push and swirl areas to give it enough tooth that a top coat of paint will stand out from an underpainting.

Mosts of the canvases were covered with spray paint for an even underpainting.The contrasting paint on the top layer gave it a richness that didn't exist when students just added paint to the plain white ground. 
The lines of caulk helped students who are blind feel the edges of shapes, when they were painting. And tactile paintings are always good to have on display at schools for the blind so they can be enjoyed by everyone.


Monday, September 18, 2023

Analogous Rectilinear Cardboard Relief Art

I love using this cardboard relief assignment to teach how mixing two primaries makes a secondary, and that a primary and a secondary make a tertiary. So with just yellow and blue, you can not only get green, but all the yellow greens and blue greens, and they all look great together. Even children with multiple complex needs can choose which color and a shape to paint. After enough students painted enough pieces of cardboard, organized them from mostly blues at the top to mostly yellows at the bottom. I hot glued them into one giant rectangle of rectangular shapes. This lesson also reinforces the Principle of Design: UNITY, through the repetition of similar colors and shapes. Everyone contributes; everyone wins.


Saturday, September 16, 2023

Zentangle Portraits

 To build on our pattern lesson and give our doodles something to do, my students created what I call "zentangled portraits." They used a picture of themselves, a friend or a model in a magazine, cut out only the neck and face, following the hairline and collaged to a larger piece of paper.

Some images took on royal or saintly mantles as the background was broken up with halos, arches, and crowns, and those spaces were filled with repeated marks from black sharpies. Some kept  encorporated colored paper, markers or colored pencil to add another layer of complexity.

Students who were blind, used Wixi Sticks to divide the space, and then stayed within each shape filling it marks such as stripes, O's or X's. I love the pattern-saturated surfaces of Gustav Klimt paintings and I love the way this assignment turned out.