Monday, December 17, 2012

The Snowman Helpeth

Snowman drawings are always a crowd pleaser. We draw them "miniature style" using oil pastels since we just read the lovely story Our Snowman, by M.B Gothstein. I think it's out of print. But I adore it for it's simple narrative and whimsical illustrations that kid's can relate to. Then we add jumbo craft sticks around the edges to make a frame. The we made patterns on the frame using little cutout foamies or woodsies. (if you are an art teacher you really know about "foamies" and "woodsies"). I do this lesson with all grade levels K-5 they all really love it and want to do it every winter.*

*Sparkles are involved. The white kind. The kind that looks like snow.

When my 1st graders came whirling in this morning (yes, they were literally whirling) I was a little nervous that I would be answering or listening to questions about the massacre in Newtown spoken in tiny voices. Our staff discussed all the best ways to deal with the potential questions before school this morning. We were going to make this is a positive day.

I decided to circumvent any problems I might have by introducing Snowman drawings, because kids love drawing snowmen (snowpeople if you wish). I mean, if you think about it, snowmen are really fun to draw.
So we read the book and watched this snippet of The Snowman movie (i love the music, one child said..."it sounds like a lullaby") and all I heard and saw all the rest of the day were children deeply engrossed in making a snowman portrait.

I heard some good news today after driving home from school and listening to Cliff Schecter being interviewed on The Majority Report (one of favorite podcasts! I love how Sam Seder expresses rage). About you know, gun laws.  I hope I am not wrong to feel encouraged.

Until the grownups figure it out, we'll be drawing, painting and sculpting snowmen. Because that's what little kids like to do.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I'm from Newtown

Yes, I am from Newtown and even in some small way you are from Newtown too. I thought if I could post some work by my students it might make me feel better...I need to do something send a message somewhere for someone to hear, that might help. Being an elementary school art teacher in another town in Connecticut the same ages of the children murdered yesterday gives me a feeling of despair, fear and helplessness I don't think I've felt before. I live here in Newtown, and the lost children in Newtown were my children too. Because being a teacher makes every child feel like your own.

In future posts I hope to use the stories and art of my young students to promote or inspire ideas I feel will bring positive change to the world.

                                   To help us remember that all children are our children.

                                     But right now I need to grieve with my community.

Gun Control. Now

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Stone Soup: An Old School Feast

Just in time for the 2 and a half days of school before's a lesson that adds the nuanced magic of a Mort Schindel's Weston Wood's production and collage art lesson about the joy of sharing a meal with family and friends, new and old.

If you don't know about Weston Woods productions & you adore vintage children's picture books as I do, look them up.  Here's a good place to start. I had the great fortune many years ago, of working for and learning from Mort who lives the next town over from me. This is a man who truly, truly understands, appreciates and reveres the essence of a great picture book. This reverence & insight allowed him to produce an amazing catalogue of animated picture books, working with some very talented animators and artists.

Anyway, back to the classic folktale retold by Marcia Brown, Stone Soup, which you can watch here. After years and years of teaching with this book, it never loses it charm and the kids are riveted. This is amazing to me since it seriously only has like two colors in the illustrations plus white and black. See? But good story-telling & illustration doesn't need bells & whistles to capture the imaginations of children.

The Weston Woods animated version is "old school"no major FX, no CGI. Not one kid budges though out, though. There is a special quality to the narrator's voice that makes the ingredients that the villagers add to The Stone Soup sound so delicious. My kids are always so hungry and excited to create their paper sculpture feast after watching.

We discuss how the soldiers "tricked" the villagers into sharing their food, but in the end everyone benefitted. Yay! Then we chat about our own families and the ways we all celebrate Thanksgiving. My school is a melting pot of many cultures, so my students like to share about the foods that come from what they refer to as "my country".

Like maybe enchiladas?

or "dirty rice"?

Even without a holiday connection, this lesson invites students in grades K-5 to transform flat paper into 3 dimensions, creating delicious sculptural objects of art, while engaging the fine motor skills of gluing, cutting folding and curling paper. And we all know by now that children use higher order thinking skills in fine arts class, as well. Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

1st Graders Connect the Dots and Come Full Circle

All kids love (and need) to make their mark. In 1st grade we read the book The Dot by Peter Reynolds. A simple story...but it illustrates so perfectly important things I always hope to achieve with my kids in the Art Studio. Encouragement, creativity, acknowledgment, self-motivation and reflection, ingenuity...all these ideas can be drawn from The Dot.

The dot is such a simple thing, but it means a lot. And it has inspired many artists. I highlight one artist, Wassily Kandinsky's work because he is so accessible to kids. His work is playful, whimsical and easy to take in.

Starting small and working our way out...we use water soluble oil pastels. They go on slippery and smooth.

                                Inspiration comes from many sources! Why not fingernails?

                    When we paint with pastels we learn to be careful of "unintentional smudgery".

                                           Dipping and drawing and dipping and drawing....

                                     Once we start there's plenty of room for Dot Innovation...

                                                                 and Dot Variation...

                                                    Now...make your mark...get set... GO!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Dance is Art

Alvin Ailey's inspirational life and work makes for a great dance/visual art springboard, I dare say. His story is about overcoming difficulties and following your dreams no matter how many challenges you face, you must persevere. Kids need to hear stories like that. The book Alvin Ailey by Andrea David Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney is a great introduction for kids on Ailey's life & passion.

The arts need to stick together in this day and age of education budget slashery, an insipid and pervasive focus on meaningless & costly high-stakes testing and disappearing pubic school arts programs around the country. That's why as much as possible, I try to integrate other art practices into my visual arts lessons, to help kids understand about art in all it's forms. 

Let me tell you something about the impact of seeing Alvin Ailey dancers has on my 2nd graders. They are amazed! They are inspired! They cannot believe that people's bodies can do those things! Our conversations are so much fun. We talk about dancers as athletes, how dancers bodies need to be trained and dancers practice just like we practice any instruments we play or hone our skills as visual artists by drawing and painting and sculpting. We talk about what a choreographer is and how they  design the dances that we see performed. Choreographers & dancers are artists of movement.

Then we talk about drawing bodies in movement.

I have some cool figure models that the kids can make move the way they'd like, to replicate the ways that a dancer can move.

We look at the models and break down the body in simple shapes. We talk about "proportion".

Then we trace and cut-out, in preparation for a mixed-media dance-painting. Add "lifts" so the dancers pop off the paper.

The background of the dance-painting should show movement too, so we use watercolors and do a little something pizazzy using salt. The water colors are a fluid paint that can move on it's own when you add more water...but when you sprinkle salt...well, the paint does a dance all it's own.

Our "finale" is a mixed-media painting collage that has the energy and vibrancy of an Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe performance!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Rainbow Connection

Why are there so many songs about rainbows... the Frog once asked. Well, maybe because they're the AWESOME?

My Kindergarteners seem to think so judging from their enthusiasm and the joy their paintings show.

But I am getting ahead of myself here. So, kindergarten studies rainbows as a Science unit. So I did my art scaffolding routine, natch. I mean, how can I not?

I really love the book A Rainbow of My Own by Don Freeman. It just creates this "anything can happen" atmosphere that right off the bat draws kids in and allows them to start imagining their own rainbow, so we read it together. Natch.

Then, because I am big fan of sign language and music, I teach the kids I Can Sing a Rainbow. It lists colors of the rainbow, well actually not the actual colors of an actual rainbow because then the song would have to include indigo and violet and blue is easier to rhyme, I guess. Plus, they learn the real ROYGBIV colors in science. Artistic license, folks! But I do mention ROYGBIV to them just to clarify. But mostly they just want to paint a rainbow of their very own.

So now let's see what the K's came up with rainbow-wise:

First, we thought talked about what happened in the book. Then we put ourselves into the story. And drew. 
And drew some more. With pencil first then crayon. Some kids wanted a friend or sibling in their story picture. It's good to share a rainbow
Now we can paint!
And paint. Of course we use watercolors because they are translucent. So are rainbows!
Watercolors are so perfect for K's. They can work at their own pace mastering the technique and they always looks bright and beautiful.
Told ya.
The end of the rainbow. Or just the beginning?

Speaking of endings and beginnings...indulge me in a little advocacy and maybe even some outrage? (outrage is good sometimes, if it's directed and action-based.)

Firstly, President Obama. this little (and I mean little) Turnaround Arts Initiative you, err...initiated...seems a bit of a lame attempt at acknowledging the true importance the arts play in all of our children's education. Not just the lucky recipients of 8 schools. EIGHT? How did you come up with that number? Funny, the arts plays a large, critical role in your own daughter's school...I bet you knew that when you enrolled them. Just thought I'd throw that out there. If I was allowed a place at your cozy roundtable of "ed reformers" I would show you and Arne Duncan all the beautiful art my kids do with me and how it allows them to experience joy, creativity, develop and refine a personal aesthetic, fine motor skills and use higher-order thinking. But I wasn't invited to the table. we don't leave on a non-magical, non-rainbow-colored note: The Frog wants to remind you to watch this:

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

In An Octopus's Garden

Do you ever wonder when and why you stopped drawing a smiley face on everything?
Ok, so this lesson connects to my K's curriculum study of underwater life and their visit to the local Aquarium. Terrific! But more importantly this octopus lesson allows me to introduce the kids to The Beatles! Little kids need to hear a Beatles song at least once, in my humble Beatle-loving opinion.

One of the reasons I love being an art teacher is it allows me to share the things that bring me joy and call it teaching.

This lesson is a quickie, a one day media circus with music, video and books. Oh and I can't forget the delightful crowd-pleasing water soluble oil pastels they use to create their Octopus's Garden! Dip and draw...dip and draw...

Before we start I read them this book:

a totally hilarious story about a giant squid, who's a little bit of a show-off and a doofus, in the most endearing way possible. The story shows a lot of very colorful cartoony underwater creatures and a cute little octopus is featured.

Then, so the kids know what a real octopus looks like, I created a short Powerpoint of different kinds of octopi. Then we made  a math connection; Octo=8 as in number of legs, and a science connection; octopus are mollusks, a kind of sea-creature.

Then we watch this video:
Which has the song and the real-life octopus! The internets are in love with octopi and I'm glad! There's another great little video here and here.

Now take an artistic underwater journey to an Octopus's Garden with me!

We did a lesson all about spirals in nature the other day, and we saw that the legs of the octopus were spiraled so most of the kids created very curly legs! 

You can tell that we talked about the suction cups on the octopus's legs, can't you?

                    I hereby nominate this day (in my mind) Octopi the Art Studio Day! Huzzah!

Friday, May 4, 2012

I am Your Groupie: Ezra Jack Keats

Ezra Jack Keats, now there's an author illustrator whose body of work seems to exist just to provide me with endless amazing springboards from literature to art. Seriously. That man could write a wonderful kids book. And make it seem effortless. If you've ever attempted to write a children's'll know it's hella harder than it looks!

His story-telling seems to float off the page and his illustrations...well... I'd say they were hip and vibrant and mesmerizing. I'm no fool...I see how my kids eyes are glued to the page when I am reading one of his books. So many of his stories - even 40 years later - speak so clearly to my small urban students, in words and pictures together.

I am a sucker for collage and I adore the way he uses it. The colors, textured and patterns, they are all so relevant to his stories and the environment his characters live in, like Peter and Archie and Willie the dog (who I am particularly partial to!). Nothing cutesy or patronizing in the way Keats portrays his characters. Keats' kids inhabit places in childhood like quiet wonder, resourcefulness and creativity, being an older sibling, playing with friends and meeting new ones, and sometimes having some serious chutzpah, like in the following book...

One of my favorite books is Goggles. I like to introduce the book to my kids by telling them that it is a suspenseful story! Then they all want to know - what's suspenseful mean? So I tell means, you just don't know what's going to happen until the end! And you really don't. Until as Archie says at the end of the story.."things look real fine now!"

Take a look at a photo journey of my 1st graders: "Portrait of a Friend in Goggles":

Firstly, we need to make an oval for our friend's head. So we trace it! 

Then of course we cut it out. In this lesson, the sequence of events is important.

Glue, glue glue. They use cups of Elmers with a swab and make "dots" of glue all around the thing they are gluing. I ran out of glue sticks a week ago! I tell the kids to save the scraps after they cut out the head to make the neck!  

Now comes the suspenseful part: Can 1st graders trace and cut-out a rather complicated template?  

Well, yes they can! Some of them need me to help them make the "snip" cut in the center of the goggles to cut out the eye part...but most can do this with no help at all! 

Now there's a method to my madness: You have to glue down the goggles first--so then you know where to put the eyes, nose and mouth!

Cut up some wallpaper or other colorfully patterned paper for the shirt and also a little matching frame on top!

After coloring in the eyes and lips with pastels...the piece de resistance...yarn hair!

The Boy With the Blue Goggles. Sure beats The Girl With the Pearl Earring.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Flower Power

A lesson about Georgia O'Keefe, that old chestnut. But wait...kindergarteners, even the most sophisticated among them have probably not yet heard of the Doyenne of Very Large Flowers, although they may have seen her flowers on a mug or calendar. Excellent.
Plus I can introduce a vocab word like "organic" in a way that helps them tie a word to art and nature instead of soy milk or cheese sticks.

You can always count on Ks to respond to beauty, so when they see O'Keefe's dramatic flowers, they are fittingly moved when shown some examples. To set the tone beforehand, we read the book The Flower a sort of dystopian tale for tots, haunting but ultimately hopeful, of a world devoid of flowers...until one day...

Drawing, cutting, tearing, gluing...all important skills to be practiced and refined. Skills that are not assessed on any high stakes testing that I am aware of. Making aesthetic decisions about color, shape and placement. Allowing children the freedom to create their own interpretation of a flower, while getting a glimpse into the creative mind of a woman artist who blazed her own trail. All this makes for some colorful tributes.

We start out by drawing an "organic shape" around the paper, making sure we use the whole page or as much as possible! We want these flowers to be big!

Glue it down, using delicate finger action.

Ah ha. Someone likes the idea of a tulip. No problem. The world of flowers is diverse and all inclusive.

Now it's time to add the eye of the flower and the radiating lines to create petals.  

Attention to detail like this would make Ms. O'Keefe very happy, I am sure.  She was once an art teacher.

Next, glue on (if you'd like) some crumpled tissue paper to make some texture for the eye of the flower. Makes it easier for the bees to hang on and do their job.

A bouquet of flower heads. Gorgeous.