Monday, June 23, 2014

got chalk?

Left to their own devices and given a few simple materials, kids will make art on their own. Shouldn't this tell us something about our innate need to create, to beautify, to express ourselves?

Give a Kindergartner some sidewalk chalk and leave him or her alone and some happy things might happen! These two sidewalk chalk drawings were done by Kindergartners at recess on two separate occasions. In each case, no adult told them what to draw, how to draw it, or made any suggestions.
I love the sun's rays and am impressed by their evenness of distance from each other as well as their length. And the sun's face is just too cute! The drawing of the person was done on a cloudy day when rain was threatening. It is hard to tell from this photo, but the drawing was much larger than life size, stretching across the sidewalk to a length far beyond the height of its artist.

But one does not need to be a kindergartner to enjoy sidewalk chalk art. Just today, taking a short break between starting and finishing this entry, I stepped out to the grocery store, and found this drawing on the sidewalk just outside the grocery store door. Considering it's careful symmetry, I'm supposing this was drawn by someone far beyond Kindergarten, a reminder that art really is for everyone, that personal expression can be spontaneous and very public, and that with just a little sidewalk chalk (or a crayon, or whatever!) anyone can make our world just a little happier, just a little more fun, just a little less boring.

Seeing this on the sidewalk outside the grocery store was a happy surprise that made me smile. I hope many others smiled when they saw it, too!

Got chalk?
Got a sidewalk?
Go out and make some art!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

looking at art with kids

With the idea that I would have students do some "mystery paintings" of faces.... white crayon on white paper with watercolor resist overlay.... I started out by having them compare two works, one by Pablo Picasso and one by Paul Klee. I chose these two works because I intended to have them do a contour drawing of a face and then use color blocks of watercolor over the drawings, and these two works are perfect examples.

We started with my standard question: "What do you notice?" I charted the students' responses, encouraging them to identify whether their "noticing" was of the Picasso, the Klee, or whether it applied to both of the works. I asked students to use the artists' names rather than saying "the one on the left" or pointing and saying "that one" or "the round one" or "the pencil one." Those attributes that applied to both were charted down the center. Since these particular second graders are familiar with Venn Diagrams, they understood right away how to read this finished chart after I added the "boxes" around the lists.

On to the students' art making...

I started with a short demonstration of the "mystery painting" technique, drawing a large face with lots of lines for hair and showing students how I could almost see the drawing if I held the paper up to the light. I added a line pattern in the background for interest, and then modeled painting in blocks of color. I emphasized that I was not following the lines, but letting the drawing come through on its own as I painted.

Then I switched gears and decided to invite them to draw anything they wanted with white crayon on white paper. Together we brainstormed subject matter:  animals, flowers, landscapes, and... of course.... faces.

As they drew, I reminded students to press hard with the crayon and try to use the whole paper, either adding more to their subject matter or perhaps including a pattern in the background for interest. As they were ready, they painted over their drawings. 

These were just plain fun to do. Watercolor resist is a popular art-making activity and really does not need a lot of prep or explanation, but the introduction with these two art works gives an added art-appreciation and art analysis dimension to the lesson.

Looking at these two art works helps the students see how a face can take up a whole page, and to realize that one doesn't need to "follow lines" when painting. It also gives students the opportunity to see and talk about representational abstract art, and to become comfortable with the idea that a face drawing does not need to be absolutely realistic to be successful.

This art-making session ended with students writing about their art work. I gave them the choice of simply telling about their own process, describing how to create a "mystery painting," writing about the difference between Picasso's and Klee's faces, or comparing their own art work to either Picasso's or Klee's. Most students chose to just write about their own process, but two students did write comparisons... one compared his art work to Paul Klee's, and one compared the Picasso and Klee faces.

All in all, a successful lesson, during which a good time was had by all!

Friday, January 31, 2014

what can you do with a heart?

What can you do with any shape, really? One would think it's pretty easy to just decorate a shape... any shape... with lines, patterns, color.... but what I've found lately when substituting is that kids seem to be getting less and less creative at a frighteningly increasing pace. Giving them free reign with a blank piece of paper seems like such a good idea on paper, but I've found that many need a little push of some sort... some examples, some modeling, sometimes even a whole lesson, or at least a mini-lesson, on drawing patterns or borders.

One day in a second grade class, with a little free time to kill, I just thought I'd have students draw a large heart and make it beautiful. The word "decorate" just didn't seem right to me, but it was precisely that word that finally made the difference. I did do a little modeling to begin with, just to give them some ideas, and invited them to use as many colors as they wanted, as many designs as they wanted, and to fill the paper completely.

One of the only requirements was that they had to draw the heart freehand, so we would have a variety of heart shapes, not a set of cookie cutter hearts all the same. I wandered around as they were working, suggesting that they think of patterns they could use, and giving a hint now and then about using bolder colors or perhaps outlining the heart for emphasis.

It was interesting watching them work. While most of the students really got into it and showed some thought in their designs, a few seemed at a complete loss as to what they could do with their heart. When I teach art lessons to kids, I always emphasize how artists usually create a plan, think about what they want to do and choose colors carefully. There are so many times that I see students just slap something together, or don't really look at the space they have to work with. It's very intriguing.

In the end, the results of this activity were interesting. We only worked with crayon on this particular day, but if I had planned it out beforehand I might have had some watercolors available, or some scraps of paper, especially decorative paper, for them to use to enhance their hearts even more. I might have done more modeling (as much as I hate to!) or a short lesson on patterning, or bordering, or ways to combine different types of lines. I guess I just really believed they would do all that all by themselves. They did produce some fun designs, and they had a good time, and maybe that's the best thing.

The most interesting thing of all to me in this whole lesson is that this is the same class that created some beautiful Zentangles just a few weeks before. I fully expected that would carry over to this activity, and it did not, but maybe that's ok too!

Friday, October 25, 2013

drawing on halloween

One day while looking through some images looking for something (I don't remember what), I saw a little orange and black witch profile art piece that got me to thinking. I had a subbing day scheduled the week before Halloween in a second grade class in which the students are particular adventurous, so I figured they would be a good group to try out a new lesson that would require them to use a viewfinder, make preliminary sketches, draw a large version of one of their small sketches, then crop their design, paint it, and frame it. I had visions of bold, black contour drawings with bright orange textured background, and lots of options for cropping.

It's hard to get some kids to draw something bigger than their pinkie, and I wanted them to draw large, and boldly, giving some attention to placement, scale, background, and detail. That's a lot for a second grader, but we went slowly and used pretty much the whole day for the lesson.

We started with a picture walk through the book Look! Look! Look! by Tana Hoban, then I taught them how to make a small viewfinder. I had them look at my face, move the viewfinder closer and further away, look at their own hand, and look around the room in general. This was to give them an opportunity to look at the environment the way an artist does, blocking out unneeded parts and just experimenting with placement in the viewing window.

The next step was generating a list of Halloween nouns, for them to use for ideas for drawing. This was followed by having them fold a piece of scratch paper into fourths and do four different small drawings. They chose one of these to draw bigger on a white paper, using only a black crayon, with instructions not to color anything in because these were contour drawings. I let them know that we would be painting them later.

Next, they made a cropping window and placed it over their drawing to help them choose how to crop their composition. This was kind of like using a giant viewfinder. They drew a pencil line for the cropping lines, then sponge painted inside that square with orange watercolor.

By now it was about one hour before the end of the day. There was just enough time left to cut on the pencil lines to trim the excess off their drawings and mount their "close up" compositions on black paper. And to show off.

After we had a chance to look at everyone's work, I had a few students choose someone else's picture and tell what they liked about it. They were remarkably articulate! "I like the collar." "I like the pattern in the background." "I like the spider web." "I like that it looks scary."

This turned out to be a pretty successful lesson with a lot going for it. The students were intrigued by the viewfinders, and I was thrilled to see that hardly anyone drew tiny pictures. I think making the preliminary sketches (and modeling that process) helped a lot. If I had wanted to stretch this lesson out even further, I could have had the students do all the measuring for their cropping window mats; I would definitely do that if I were teaching this to an older group. And just to show how great this class is, they put all the painting sponges back into color-coded baggies with no mistakes!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

just plain fun... and a little geometry!

 On a day when I was subbing in a second grade classroom, wanting to do an art activity but not in the mood to bother with a full-blown lesson, I decided to focus on shapes and patterns. Usually when I do a patterning lesson, I get into a whole "math chat" mode and ask a lot of questions about what patterns are, how we know, and other identifying information. This time, I just put up a sheet of butcher paper, labeled it "Patterns in the Classroom" and asked students to describe, with words, patterns they could see around them. The key here was describing with words. I specifically asked them not to indicate what they were looking at, but simply to describe a pattern they found. As they described what they saw, I drew the patterns, as I understood them, on the paper.

Once we had several examples, I talked about how even if what I drew wasn't exactly what students saw, we still ended up with some interesting patterns. U explained that is called "getting an idea" or "getting inspiration" -- that the patterns they saw could be changed to create new patterns.

The actual art-making part of this activity was very simple:  Trace some shapes onto white paper (I had brought my collection of cardboard and plastic shapes with me) and then color in the resulting spaces.

I introduced the words overlap and intersect and modeled tracing a few shapes to demonstrate the meanings of the words. I made sure students understood that each shape needed to overlap at least one other shape, so that all the lines would intersect. I then explained that each resulting shape/section would need to be filled with a pattern, and that no pattern could be repeated. And just to throw in another math concept, I asked them to trace an odd number of shapes, more than two and less than ten. They traced the shapes with a pencil first, then colored the spaces in, and then went back and outlined each original shape with a black crayon.

Students had cleared off their tables, so I just tossed a lot of assorted shapes in the middles of their tables and they went to work. As they got down to it, the classroom became quieter and quieter. There was some real concentration going on! A few students were not working real carefully, so I reminded them to be sure to think about what they were doing, and to slow down. I always tell students who rush that I am going to want their work to look like they were thinking about it. That generally works.

This was an easy, easy lesson that needed no prep at all. It would be great for a substitute (well, I was substituting!). I happened to have shapes with me, but I would bet that in most primary classrooms one would be able to find some shapes to trace. If not, students could make their own, with each student making one shape and then all students at that table sharing each others'. And there's no rule that says they have to use geometric shapes, but I do think the resulting shapes from overlapping are very interesting and it would be a great math extension to have them name all the resulting shapes, or some additional art concepts could be included by having students use all warm or all cool colors, or some other defined color combination.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

learning to cut

Third day of school.
Choose a color.
Cut into strips.
Glue onto black paper.

I can't begin to count the number of second and third grade students I've seen in the past few years who could not efficiently use a pair of scissors. So when working as a support helper for the first three days of school in Kindergarten, I manned a center where the kids only needed to cut. Not on lines, not on shapes, just cut.  I showed them how to use the scissors -- thumb in the small hole, fingers in the big hole -- and how to hold the paper -- vertically, with the scissors pointing to the sky -- and asked them to cut their paper into strips.

Each student was able to choose a color, and in a group of six, everyone had a different color (there were about nine bright colors to choose from) so nobody's strips got mixed up on the table. Everyone also got a sheet of black paper to glue their strips on, and to make things easy, I brushed watered-down white glue all over the black paper and they just needed to lay their cuttings down onto the wet glue. This job was all about cutting and nothing else.

I always encourage / teach kids to hold their paper vertically, cut pointing to the sky, and to turn the paper instead of the scissors. This helps them be able to see exactly what they are cutting, because the paper and scissors are at eye level. This is particularly important if they are cutting on a line, or cutting out a shape, but for this activity, there were no lines to follow at all, so each child was able to just cut their strips the best they could. I gave no directions on how to glue them on the paper, and it was interesting to see how the children had different methods for gluing, some being very meticulous and orderly, others gluing the strips in a more haphazard manner.

When they were all finished, we had a beautiful assortment of line art, all ready to go on the wall. Even though each child had the same directions, no two of these were alike. I think they made a perfect first art activity!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

about art materials

When I taught art in Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades for two years, I had the luxury of a generous budget and was able to buy all the art materials I needed for a basic art curriculum. I didn't wander off into anything fancy; I stuck to the basics and the process of creative art-making. These days, I am retired and subbing in other peoples' classrooms, and I am intrigued (and sorry to say, not in a very good way) about the lack of quality art materials out there for kids to use. When it comes to buying art materials, my philosophy is to always buy the best quality possible. The cost may be initially higher, but the returns are greater: they generally last longer, work better, and produce much better results. I stick pretty much to the basics and stay away from most "specialty" items like glittery watercolor or tapping glue bottles. I follow this philosophy both for classroom art materials and for my own art-making process, because I want kids to feel like artists when they are making art, not to struggle with the materials they are using.

What do I consider basic? And are some brands better than others? Does it really matter what brand you buy?  You bet!  My favorites...

CRAYONS.   Good quality crayons have better color, probably due to the ratio of pigment to wax (I'm not a crayon scientist, so I'm guessing here). Poor quality crayons have more wax and the colors are not as bright, no matter how hard you press. I won't buy anything but Crayola. The reds are bright. The yellows are strong. Many teachers buy cheaper brands and my experience is that the colors are just very bland. And by the way, I want the colors to be named what they are. I came across some crayons in a friend's classroom that had color names like Blueberry Swirl or Grape Soda (I am making those up, but you get the gist), which are very cute and all, but were not even that accurate. Colors have names and don't need to be cutified. I like that Crayola names their blues Indigo, Blue, Cerulean. These are real names that artists use.

CONSTRUCTION PAPER CRAYONS are great to have on hand. They are made for drawing on dark colored construction paper. They have some kind of reflective material in them. Kids love using them! They are made by Crayola, and are wrapped with black paper so they are easily distinguished if they get mixed with regular crayons. For general storage, I like to keep crayons in zip baggies instead of in their boxes. It's easy for kids to find the color they need, and a whole class set will fit in one shoebox-sized plastic tub.

MARKERS:  I like Crayola markers for kids' use. They seem to last a pretty long time and the colors are pretty bright. I always store them with the tips facing down. This way, the ink is always saturating the tip and they stay nice and "juicy" instead of drying out. Laying them down in a tub works, also. For my own use, on charts and for art lessons where I do demonstrations, I use Mr. Sketch. The colors are very vibrant and the chisel point lets me make bolder lines so that the charts are easy to read. I like the smelly ones.

COLORED PENCILS:  Crayola again, although there are other brands that are pretty good, too. I like having a good supply of multiple, basic colors. I generally buy boxes of 12 colors and then dump them all in a plastic tub. They are great for still-life and other observation drawing.

GLUE STICKS:   I only buy UHU. It's firmer than cheaper glue sticks, doesn't clump or squish into a mess, and lasts a lot longer than any other brand I've used. I once put in an order for UHU glue sticks when I was teaching art, and the school secretary substituted a cheaper brand. I was working in three schools at the time, and guess at which school the glue sticks got used up first? These are definitely noticeably more expensive than other brands, but very well worth it in the long run. They have a "screw" top which I like. For some reason, kids seem to smoosh them less. Maybe because they are less smooshable.

WHITE GLUE:  Elmers.  The regular kind. Not the washable kind, the school glue kind, the clear gel kind (oh, that's the worst). Just the regular "Glue-All" kind. What I really really hate is those tapping bottles that drive me crazy when kids are doing collages. I think teachers buy them because they are tired of kids wasting glue, but it's not that hard to teach kids how to use small dots of glue. As for longevity, I always made sure to remind kids to close the stopper and wipe the glue off the tip, and then store the bottles standing up. It's that easy. The bottles will last practically forever.

SCISSORS:  I like "pointy" scissors, even for Kindergartners. They just seem to cut better. They seem more serious.  Fiskars makes a pretty nice pair of scissors for little hands, and they seem to work fine for either hand, so you don't need any special left-handed ones. 

PENCILS:  Dixon Ticonderoga. Nothing else will do. They are great for drawing. They have good, soft erasers. They sharpen well without breaking. They are worth the extra few cents per dozen. They last longer, write smoother, sharpen easier, and erase without smudging. I could write a whole blog post just about pencils. Another time. When the erasers go, as they will, I offer Pink Pearl erasers, not one for each student, but several stored near the pencil sharpener. (Which is a whole other post, but I swear by a good pencil sharpener.)

And last, but definitely not least .....  PAPER!  
I like good quality CONSTRUCTION PAPER, like Tru-Ray, because the paper is smoother and the colors are nice and bright. And by all means.... save all the scraps for collage-making!  It's a good idea to invest in some white DRAWING PAPER.  It comes in reams and is not too expensive. I like having both 9x12 and 12x18 on hand. It can be used when construction paper is not really needed but copy paper or newsprint is too thin. Regular, ordinary COPY PAPER is great for pencil drawing. It's nice and white, relatively inexpensive, and looks great on the wall in a gallery. Under no circumstances would I ever use any kind of newsprint for art lessons. Ever. Not even for sketching. It's just too ugly.


If you buy the best you can afford, or even go a little over your budget, it will pay in the long run. When the budget is limited (and when isn't it, but I mean seriously limited) and you're tempted to buy cheaper materials, consider buying less units and get higher quality instead. Maybe it's better to have 10 boxes of high quality crayons and have kids share, than to have 20 boxes of poor quality crayons with drab color. Maybe it's better for three students to share a good stick of UHU glue stick than to have each student have their own stick of gooey, messy substandard glue stick. Every student does not always need their own everything.

Treat students like artists, and maybe they will make great art!

Enjoy! Create!