Thursday, October 24, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect

I was on Nantucket for a painting class almost four months ago. If you click on "Nantucket Adventure" above, you can read all about it. My professor always said that he was "addicted" to painting. He spent his two weeks on the island teaching us, getting his show ready and painting. He would spend a few evenings a week with the easel set up in his makeshift living room, painting by whatever light he could get. I actually think that one of the paintings he completed in his apartment, went into the show. I enjoyed a couple of evenings painting in the aprtment too... the screen door open, the sound of the locus, some music and solitude... I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to paint on Nantucket.

I realized when I got back just how "addicting" oil painting is. I've managed to make some time for myself here and there to keep painting.

I started with this "exercise" in glazing. I went to the library in September and the Children's room was buzzing with energy from the 10th anniversary of The Dot by Peter Reynolds. I LOVE that book and thought to myself that I could start with dot, like Vashti, and see where it it takes me. I added another layer of dots tonight and plan to keep going until a get some more depth, like water on a windshield at night.

This painting I have wanted to start since day one of my class on Nantucket. The first weekend we were there, before class officially started, a couple other girls and I went to the field station. We walked around the grounds in the fog and mist and tried to start something... anything. Before tracking the grass and mud in the field station, I took my sneakers off and left them on the front porch. Not knowing where to start with a painting, I was sitting in our little studio thinking, looking around. My sneakers caught my attention and I immediately went outside to photograph them.... Notice the name of my blog... I love my shoes. My students have come to know me as the teacher who wears Chucks. My photograph didn't really fit in to the theme of my work while on the island. Once I took the "plunge" getting back into painting with the dots, I figured now was as good as any time to try out my chucks painting. The original photo is on the right above. The straight lines and subtle value changes have proven to be a great and exciting challenge.

And finally, I have challenged myself to work teeny tiny compared to any other paintings I have done. The canvas above is only  5 x 7. All my other paintings have been at least 12 x 12. I have been working from the photo that is at the top of the second image. This inlet is called Black's Creek and on the other side of that sliver of land in the background is Quincy Bay. It's one of my favorite parts about living where I do; I am so close to the ocean that I can smell the tide... and see the Boston skyline.

Hopefully by Christmas I will finish!

P.s. the opening image is the view from my classroom window! How can I not be inspired when I get to look at that everyday!?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


I have come to LOVE the weekends.
Last school year, weekends meant balancing real life with graduate school work. I'd read in the morning, do some housework in the afternoon and spend the early evenings writing.
This year, I can do whatever I want, whenever I want!

So what do I do?
Shop and cook.
Watch reality tv and blog.
Nothing exciting really.

Actually, I am currently blogging and watching the most recent America's Next Top Model. It's definitely a guilty pleasure. I have never watched this show in earnest before this season. Maybe it is something about having a guys versus girls competition. However,  I wish there was a little more behind the scenes as far as the fashion and creativity go. How do producers chose the theme of the runway or photo shoot etc? I've also been watching Project Runway, which just concluded, and I bet they could have an entire behind the scenes show, at least every once in a while. We don't need the model show like they attempted a few seasons ago. But to know a little more in depth as to what the make up artists and models go through would be pretty cool.

Back to cooking.
I have attempted "Inside Out Carmel Apples." (see above) Delicious, and I as so proud of making caramel by myself.
Apple Crumble Bars made with the extra caramel from the apples and traditional Banana Bread.
Today, I went back to an old stand by, Three Bean Medley.

I make this meal multiple times every fall and winter. It came from a crock pot cookbook I got a few years ago. Everything else seems totally unhealthy but we enjoy this one. In it:

1 lb. ground beef or ground turkey (I like turkey better)
3-6 pieces of bacon
30 oz. pork and beans
15 oz. kidney beans
15 oz. butter beans (we can hardly find them, so we got cannelloni beans)
1 medium onion or 1 tbsp. onion powder (I think we like the powder better)
1/2 cup packed brown suger
1/2 cup ketchup
3 tbsp white vinegar

Brown the beef or turkey. Cook the bacon. Drain and rinse the kidney and butter beans. Mix everything together and cook in the crock pot for 3-4 hours on low.

For just the two of us, this meal lasts a full week between lunches and leftovers. Between a meal or a snack with tortilla chips, Three Bean Medley is one of our favorites.

It is so nice to have my weekends back.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Found Texture Collage (Exploring Visual Design Part 5)

I find this image absolutely stunning.
Perhaps it is my penchant for purple and my recent adventures on Nantucket.
Either way, this student has a great eye for color and was able to find interesting textures to create this beautiful collage.

Students independently read excerpts from Exploring Visual Design, about actual and implied texture. The exercise was to then find implied textures in magazines and newspapers and build a landscape. Students were encouraged not to cut out entire images, but to try to reassign textures in the construction.

This took a little longer than I anticipated, I think a week and a half, but students really got into it. And I was amazed at some of the results.

Look a little more closely at this one:

This student used an aerial view of a city and a close up of a crowd to build her volcano.  Amazing!

To reiterate texture and pattern, we have started small scratch board landscapes. When we wrap up, I will post more about the lesson.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

High School Art Club

Each week I panic, what are we going to do!?
What materials do I have? (not too much in terms of extra. we have no budget.) What do the kids want to do? Will they like what I decide?

And for the last two weeks, things have gone so well that I have to remind myself that this is really my job... or my volunteer work, as I am not being paid for my after school time.

I have been so fortunate to have a decent amount of prep time to prepare lessons and actually assess student work while in the school building. I have gotten into the habit of not bringing work home! Unheard of in all five years I have been teaching! So planning for Art Club has fallen by the wayside due to my laziness...

Three weeks ago we had an interest meeting. I had about thirty students signed up (or were signed up by friends). We discussed fundraising and community service. In addition, we brainstormed a list of materials we wanted to use and a list of ideas we wanted to cover. Students spent a little time getting to know each other and those who were interested in the fundraising committee, met to discuss ideas.

The following week, we had fifteen students. I gave them a few options: independent projects (NOT assigned classwork), planning a bulletin board/ white board mural for the month of October, or using the available materials to complete the demonstrated activity or otherwise...

I provided students with red, yellow, blue and white tempera paint, as well as oil pastels. I demonstrated how to create a print of the materials, on the same page. My goal was to create a mono print, like the fall reflections I did with sixth grade last year. A few kept it to the fall trees, while others experimented and enjoyed designing their own images. Aside from the demo, there was little I had to do.

Same thing this week, with twenty students. I decided at the last minute to briefly talk about Dia de los Muertos and sugar skulls. I put a few images up on the screen, provided students with a handout if they needed it, and again, there was little I needed to do. In addition, about four or five students started planning the white board mural and began drawing while a handful of others worked independently.

Knowing myself, I will continue to panic until I solidify some funds and an outline of activities. In the meantime, I will marvel in the independence and focus high school students can display. This experience has (gladly) reminded me of how much students grow and mature between middle and high school.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Exploring Visual Design Part 4

Above is a fantastic example of a student's demonstration of knowledge about organic shape, geometric shape, positive space and negative space. This lesson is adapted from Positive/ Negative Bugs from the Incredible Art Department.
There were a few activities that led up to this final product. First I demonstrated the difference between positive and negative space with a volunteer who stood at the front of the class with his/her hands on his/her hips. I explained that if the volunteer were in a work of art, with edges of a page, the person would be the positive space. I then pointed to the space around the person, and between their arms, labeling that as negative space. With our new knowledge, we looked at a few difference pieces of art, finding the positive and negative spaces in each. Next, each student made a quick collage, cutting black paper, or positive space, and arranging the shapes in a balanced manner, on white paper, the negative space. Finally, I led students through creating their own positive and negative space animal design.

If I were to do this project again next year, I would change the size from 12 x 18 to 9 x12.  I thought a larger size would make it easier to add details to the animals. But despite my warnings to draw large, many students did not. So, we spent about two or so weeks on this activity, when I only wanted to spend about one. Overall, I am pleased and many students were successful.

I did this lesson for the first time about two years ago with eighth grade.  You can read about it here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Exploring Visual Design Part 3

This is not the best image...
I have been a little hesitant to take photos of high school student work.
I try to be relatively anonymous about who I am and where specifically I post from etc, but I know that with just a little detective work, someone could figure it out. Its not that hard.
When I taught middle and elementary school, I felt relatively safe posting student work. They probably wouldn't find me online, nor really care that I posted their artwork. But now that I teach high school... if they really wanted, they'd find me online. (Heck, they see me in the grocery store and the football games!)  And I think that they'd take a little more ownership over their work than my little ones.
Its a conundrum that I will try to contest this year.

The image above was selected to be in our miniscule art show last spring. It is an example of organic shapes and curved lines, versus geometric shapes and angular lines.

After our exciting Elements and Principles Memory game, we started very basically with line.
We looked at slides I made from Exploring Visual Design, about line quality and line personality. I tried to reiterate the difference between outline and contour line with this exercise created by my predecessor.

We also did a few studies of our hands and shoes using contour line.
Next, students designed as many words as possible on the following sheet, also created by my predecessor but adapted by me.

The following class we talked about how an area enclosed by a line is a shape. There are also two basic classifications of shapes: organic and geometric. Students then designed two images, one using organic and curved lines, the other using geometric and angular lines. The opening image is an example from last year. At this point, almost three weeks in, students were itching for some freedom. I was pretty impressed with their creativity and even more happy that this was a great opportunity to simply demonstrate gained knowledge.

Exploring Visual Design Part 4 will be an exercise in positive and negative space.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Exploring Visual Design Part 2

From Amazon
Exploring Visual Design is actually a textbook from Davis Publications. If you follow the link, it will bring you to the Davis Art website and the most recent edition of the text. When I was an undergraduate, one of my professors recommended another book, Art: A Global Pursuit, to study from for our teacher's exam. I passed, with a 92 (!) and highly recommend their publications. I now own the teacher's edition of Art: A Global Pursuit and the above teacher's edition of Exploring Visual Design. The information is straight forward, written in a student friendly language. There are numerous activities to support learning, studio experiences, images, art history, and opportunities for written reflection in chapter "check(s) for understanding." On a personal note, the company is located in Worcester, Massachusetts, so I take some state pride, but also, my middle school art teacher was a contributor to Art: A Global Pursuit. (I had no idea until I read it!)

The only trouble is...
I have one copy of each book.
So what do you do?
Thanks to technology, and the blessing of prep time, I have been able to scan pages and create Power Point Presentations. To change it up, I've photo copied short lessons with self directed learning activities listed at the end of the packet. Both are not ideal, but it is the best I can do for now.
In the meantime, I am waiting to hear if a mini-grant proposal I wrote was accepted. If so, I plan to purchase an Epson DC-06 document camera, with recording capability. That way, I can project the text on the whiteboard as needed, but also have the ability to record my voice and whatever I am doing for the camera. I will be able to create my own demonstration videos!
From Amazon
Isn't it so cute? Bonus, it can fold up into that plastic well, comes with a carrying case, and is portable. Which is perfect, because I teach in two classrooms!

I have yet again digressed from the content of Exploring Visual Design... check back for Part 3 soon.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Exploring Visual Design Part 1

Once classes were officially "closed" and we completed a series of pre-instructional drawings, I spent a day or so talking about the elements and principles of art. When I taught middle school, I tried to address the concept, but approached it as more of the vocabulary of art and brought one or two in to each activity. But our time was so limited at that level, that we never really went in depth. Seeing my high school students four out of five days a week gives us much more time to grasp and explore the elements and principles.

So, I started out with a game!
Nobody was as into it as I was.
Oh well, hopefully I made an impression.
I got the idea for an Elements and Principles Memory game from Teach Kids Art. I played the game last year with my middle school kids and they were excited to make the connections between the objects and the vocabulary. High school, not so much. 
Perhaps it was because I asked them write things down. My hope was for students to actively participate, so I created a worksheet to go with the game. I also wanted to put it in this post, but I can't seem to find it, so it must be on my computer at school... until next time.

I started and ended the activity with a few points about the elements and principles that I read at the Virtual Art Instructor.
I began with a quote from Michelangelo: "A man paints with his brain, not with his hands." I asked students what they felt Michelangelo meant by that. Many suggested that people need to use their imagination and creativity. I suggested that artists also need to draw upon their experiences and knowledge to create. I tried to drive home the point that if you have knowledge, and really explore each of these terms, you will be successful in art.
I ended with the analogy that the Virtual Instructor used, that making art is like being a great cook. The elements are like quality ingredients that you learn about and appreciate through exploration. But you can't just slap a bunch of ingredients together and hope it tastes good. Instead you follow a recipe and in art, those are the principles of design. So many students are aspiring chefs, we have a fantastic culinary program, that this analogy was very helpful.

The worksheet that I designed asked students to record the object that they remembered, then write the element or principle it represented, while we discussed in class. There was also room for a written definition and illustration. Finally, students were asked to underline the elements in blue and the principles in red. There are posters in the front and back of the classroom with the same color code.

While it may not have been the most exciting game, which I will work on for next year, I feel that it  laid the foundation for where we went from there. Plus, the idea of the cooking analogy made so much sense to me that I used it in my speech for open house. I felt really confident and I feel the parents and families left the art room knowing that their students will be learning along with creating. I almost feel that they were more at ease after I explained my expectations and briefly mentioned how we will use the elements and principles. It amazes me how many people immediately tell me once they know I am an art teacher, that they can't draw. Its like the families had this same anxiety and weren't sure how to encourage their students. So it was nice to see them confidently leave my classroom.

I have digressed.
I have more about Exploring Visual Design, so look forward to Part 2.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Pre- Instruction High School Drawings and the Aftermath

My co- worker, a teacher with ten years of experience, rather exclusively uses Better Edwards' Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain the first half of the year with her Art One students. Admittedly, I don't think I had ever heard of the book before last year. But the teacher for whom I was covering (he was on a leave of absence turned resignation) also used a few of the exercises and I tried with little results. I didn't have time to read the book last year between my four hundred students and graduate work, but found time this summer. Plus, the book I mentioned in my last post, A Retired Art Teacher Tells All, speaks highly of Betty Edwards and even adapted some of her exercises. I decided that this year, I should really give it a try...

Let me tell you, it has made a world of difference.
Perhaps the exercises have nothing to do with the current state of my classroom, but I think the precedent was set by the series of pre-instruction drawings we did the first week, as suggested in both of these books.

After going through Art Room Rules, and goals, plus the grading policy, we used the remaining time to complete  a series of pre-instruction drawings. 

First I asked students to draw a hand with details. They were given about ten minutes.
Next, students were to draw an imaginary face from the shoulders up, in about fifteen minutes. 
Finally, with the remaining time, students were asked to draw a person sitting in a chair with four legs. 

These drawings were totally a challenge. Before we started, I reiterated that I wanted students to complete these drawings in order to see how much they will grow in a school year. Plus, in order for me to assess them this year, I needed to know where they were at, as their grade is not dependent upon what "star art student" accomplishes, but rather whether or not they have challenged themselves. I didn't want them to purposely do poorly so that they look awesome at the end of the school year. 

I, as the teacher, have benefited greatly from these drawings. For one, I now know from where all my students are starting. But also, from the get go, students have realized that art at the high school level is serious business. My largest class, at 27, is relatively quiet, each and every day, as students are focused on the task at hand. That rarely happened last year. Maybe my students are more serious this year. Maybe the smaller class size has helped or maybe, just maybe between the pre-instruction drawings, and a part time year of high school art under my belt, I am more confident and students are responding well to my mentality and the exercises and activities.
Either way, I will take it and very much look forward to where the rest of the school year takes us.