Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wild animals in the art room!

This is a gray fox and a fisher, and below are pheasants.
Why am I posting photos of animals? Because earlier this year, my students had a special opportunity for a very authentic drawing experience, drawing from observation.

The students were learning about wildlife/bird artist John James Audubon in art class, and about how he was able to draw such accurate representations of birds and other animals. I explained that he practiced taxidermy in order to have real models to draw from. Our school district is in the Adirondack foothills, and hunting is common in my students' families. The father of one of my students owns a taxidermy shop, and he offered to loan us some mounted/stuffed animals as models. So, in my room we had a vicious-looking fisher, a beautiful gray fox, and two pheasants. These are all local animals and the kids already knew a lot about them (such as "don't mess with a fischer!") and were very excited to draw them.

Unfortunately, somehow I forgot to take pictures of the student work :-(
Their drawings from observation were spectacular. The kids (mostly in grades 2-4) used drawing boards and pulled up very close to the animals. I gave them a choice of oil pastels, crayons, or colored pencils, and various sizes of white or gray paper, depending on the selected medium. Some used watercolor washes to create an environment.
The kids noticed details and characteristics that they NEVER would have seen by copying photos or doing a directed drawing. The drawings were unique and detailed, from every possible angle, and it was great watching the kids look closely and discuss what they noticed. I was very impressed with the quality of work the kids were able to do.
I am a big fan of observational drawing, and therefore often set up crazy still lifes or have the kids pose for portraits, gestures, or contour line drawing (but this was the first time I had real animals). Do you do this? Many of you post lessons that are primarily directed drawing, so I wonder if I am alone out here giving my students the experience of drawing from observation.
(Please note, I am not opposed to directed drawing or drawing from photos, so don't be offended! I do both, but find the kids really take ownership and pride over drawings that required them to really tune in and LOOK. And by the way, I also do a lot of drawing from IMAGINATION, but it helps to have the drawing experience and skills acquired from life drawing when working imaginatively.)

Do you favor one process over another for teaching drawing? I'm interested to hear your perspective.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Isn't it amazing what you can do with a zipper and a hot glue gun?

My first try! I love it!!!!!

I got the idea from brooches I saw at a craft fair, and they were $25!!!! The zipper was under $5 and it didn't take long to make. Now I just need to find more colorful zippers. Perhaps I have to hit 2nd hand stores?

Friday, June 25, 2010

No rest homes for elderly library books

Another year done. Our school has a fabulous ritual: as the buses pull away for their final trip of the year, everyone heads outside to wave, the kids wave out the bus windows, and the drivers honk like crazy (kind of like the sound of the vuvuzelas at World Cup Soccer we've heard so much about!).

But that's not what this post is about. This post is about books. After the waving and honking, I made a shortcut back to my classroom by cutting through the school library. I noted piles of books on top of the stacks, and, of course, I wondered if any were possible candidates for my "altered books" project. Some looked old, but others not so much. I noted in particular a gorgeous copy of The Ocean World by Jacques Cousteau that I wanted to keep myself.

Turns out, these books were all being DISCARDED. Some were published before a certain date and therefore possibly contained lead. I understand that these need to be trashed. Other books contained outdated or obsolete information. But many were just books that had been republished with an updated look or format, or books that had too many duplicates in the library, or books that were rarely signed out and therefore were being removed for space reasons. There was nothing WRONG with these books.

So I asked - if these are being removed from the library, can't they be either :
*given away to students who have little resources,
*donated to a rummage sale or used book sale, or
*sent to a part of the world that can use any books
(Haiti, parts of Africa, Afghanistan, etc)
But I was told no. The auditor was watching them and these books had to be DESTROYED. NO CHOICE. (New York State Laws and Regulations and all that jazz.) As an avid reader, it broke my heart.

My question to you: what happens to old books in your school/library/state? Do they get handed down to folks in need? Or trashed as miserably as these? Why is there no sweet place to send old books out to pasture? I'm so sad...
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An aside: A really sweet quirky old book about a very unusual library : The Abortion by Richard Brautigan. And a much newer but also sweet, charming book I just finished last week: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. What's on your summer reading list?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The story of Lucy the Dragon

This is Lucy, minus her wings. How do I happen to have a dragon residing in my art room? Here's the whole story: I've been a freak for dragons for as long as I can remember - I began drawing my version of a dragon when I was a kid. (I think it's cool to know I was born in the Chinese Year of the Dragon.)
Anyhow, about 1/2 dozen years ago I decided it was time to build my very own dragon. I do a lot of papier-mache with kids at school, but I wanted to build BIG so it needed to be stronger than newspaper and goo. I recalled a really cool book, "The Simple Screamer", by Dan Reeder that I had bought in the '80's. He does what he calls "cloth-mache" using old sheeting torn up and then dipped in a thinned-down Elmer's Glue-All for the outer shell of his creatures. Here's what that book looks like, plus another of his that looks really great.
So during a summer vacation, I set up shop on a bridge table in the backyard. I built the basic dragon structure using chicken wire, duct tape, and whatever else seemed appropriate. I used sheeting for the first layer of cloth-mache, and then used a heavier cotton duck cut into the shape of scales, which I individually dipped in the glue and applied to the dragon. It was a laborious and time-consuming process but I loved it. When it rained, I covered her, and each winter I brought her to stay in my classroom as she is too big to go in my home. Here she is as a work-in-progress:
It took me a long time to figure out how to make her wings - I knew how they should look, but I didn't have a clue how to start. Once I completed the wings, I realized they had to be removeable or the dragon would not be able to be transported. Her body is about 5' long, and her wingspan was about 5' wide. Not easy to fit in the back of the car. (I considered putting her on the roof rack, but she's not particularly built to withstand the 30 mile commute at 70mph. Though she would have looked great going down the highway!)
So - I made wings without a plan to attach them, and then painted everything. From start to finish I spent almost three years constructing and painting Lucy, who is named after the Beatles song: Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
However, I still had a BIG problem. I had wings but still no plan; but I had an opportunity to exhibit Lucy and her baby (yes, there's a baby, forever newly 'hatched' - the students have named her Sparkle - that's her below) in an art show. They had to be ready to deliver the next day.
In a panic I consulted the very creative technology teacher (formerly known as the 'shop' teacher - he's the guy with all the power tools) for an idea. He borrowed Lucy to devise a plan, and returned her a couple hours later with her wings on, without first checking to see that I approved of his solution. Big problem - I had designed her wings to curve forward and downward to envelop and protect the baby, but he had put them on upside down and backwards so they curl up and back. Even though the wings are removeable, they unfortunately are not interchangeable due to the way they are attached, and therefore could not be fixed. To this day, Lucy's wings are sadly wrong. :-(
Here is Lucy resting without her wings.

More 6th grade Altered Book pics

This book was taken home for the summer as a work-in-progress. I hear there will be a monkey in there somewhere...
And below are more views of the Alice in Wonderland book I've shown before.

(Look at older posts to see the Cheshire Cat and Alice falling down the rabbit hole.) I don't know why blogger rotated my 2nd image sideways. sigh... I guess you have to turn your head sideways? Anyhow, that's the back of the book with the Red Queen in the center. This book has also become a summer project to continue. Maybe when I see it in the fall it will have TweedleDum & TweedleDee or the White Rabbit.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Dots and Doodles and 4 more days to go...

I love to doodle. I'll doodle on ANYTHING, and a little mark somewhere that wasn't meant to be there is a great excuse to turn it into a work of art.

So - I bought this white leather purse at a craft fair and then found there was a small cut in the leather. I showed the person who sold it to me, and she nicely gave me another, but told me because the first one was damaged, she didn't want it back and therefore I should keep it! AHA!! To me, it was an excuse to break out the Sharpies! Got a mark on your sneakers? DECORATE! Is there a paint blob on your favorite shirt? DOODLE!

Anyhow, with only 4 days left for school and still lots to do, I find myself irrationally thinking about next September and how I want to start the school year. I'd like to use the book The Dot by Peter Reynolds.
Maybe I'll give each child a piece of paper with a random mark on it (or better yet, maybe they'll each make a little mark on a paper that will then be give to someone else). Perhaps the mark will be a fingerprint, a smudge, a paint drip, or a smear of some sort. What will that dot or mark become? The eye of a dragon perhaps? (a dragon is always a good possibility in my world...) A bug landing on a flower? A part of an alien spacecraft? A bubble floating out of a fish's mouth? Someone's smile? A stone in the wall of a castle? The possibilities are endless.
By the way - please tell me - Am I the only kook thinking about next year already, when I'm not even packed away and cleaned up from this one? Sigh.........

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Changing seasons and more work avoidance...

I have a lot of work to do; all my averages need to be completed for my 6th graders, my classroom is a mess, and I am in a funk this afternoon. So I'm taking a brief break to do this posting and then it's back to getting the job done.
I don't have any beautiful artwork to post today, but I thought I'd show you my school, which I think is pretty nice, especially this green time of year.
The views above are the front of my school, after all the kids had gone home yesterday. (I was here LATE, as I seem to be a lot lately.) Isn't it pretty? The grounds are very well cared for.

But below are some views of my school at a different time of the year that I thought I'd post for those of you who are in the south. The first two are views of the back of the school, the next photo is taken in the same location looking in the other direction (there's a hill beyond the stand of trees and then a road), and the last photo, of the playground and the woods beyond, was taken out my 2nd floor classroom window, all on the same very snowy day. Seems like a million years ago!

Now it's back to the gradebook..... I'm ready to work!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

How I wasted my afternoon when I was supposed to be somewhere else...

It all started yesterday, when I went to a local craft fair. I don't like to spend money on things I can make myself, but instead I love to shop craft fairs for ideas. I saw some lovely pictures of flowers that at first I thought were photos (no) and then I thought were paintings (no) and then I considered that maybe they were actual pressed pansies (no), and finally I asked. The exhibitor explained that he grows his own flowers, and scans them while fresh, and then prints on high-quality photo paper. Cool, huh?!
So today, I noticed that the pansies (my favorite flower) on my path were wet from the rain and looking rather spectacular. So I ditched my plan to clean the bathtub and vacuum the cat hair off the rug and instead played on my scanner/computer all afternoon. I haven't done much editing yet, and these pics above are what I've got so far, but I do see lots of possibilities. Below are two more, the first with a fancy wrapping paper background, and the other which was me playing with an image, inverting colors and solarizing and otherwise altering it for fun. Just what I needed... another hobby...

And if that all wasn't enough, then there was the gal who made really gorgeous floral brooches by rolling and looping zippers. She was charging $25 per pin (yikes), so I made a pit stop at Joanne's Fabrics to buy my own zipper, and my hot glue gun is warming up. I'll let you know how it turns out. :-)

Sigh... I planned to post a heavily philosophical art teacher-y musing today, but I guess this distraction was way more fun. I should get to it in a day or two.
And one last thing -
For those of you who are interested in the lives of people you've never met - my son has been in South Africa now almost a week, has been bitten by a penguin (he's fine), climbed a mountain behind Stellenbosch University (Stellenbosch Mountain perhaps?), and is having a fine time. He's enjoying the enthusiasm surrounding the World Cup, though those crazy horns (vuvuzela?) are loud and traffic is rather heavy.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

HodgePodge, ModPodge, whatever....

It's been a crazy few days in the art room. While Alice is now falling down her rabbit hole, there's still the Queen of Hearts and Tweedledee and Tweedledum to add, and some kids are barely done cutting and gluing their books, as with the music-themed book center above.
Meanwhile the 4th graders tried out an awesome lesson courtesy of "Art With Mr. E", and first graders did adorable collages (more of both of these further below).
In their rush to finish their altered books, the 6th graders keep mistaking the name of ModPodge for the word hodgepodge (as in "Mrs. Brown, can you re-fill my hodgepodge?") which is so funny, because so many of their books ARE a hodgepodge at this point.
So the rest of this post is also a hodgepodge.
First, another altered book-in-progress... Yesterday, Hannah brought in a bag of roots and leaves to add to her altered book (above). Today, I think I had over 30 of my 6th graders in my room during their "study hall" trying to scramble to finish their books. The folded ones got done more quickly, but the painted and collaged books need time to dry in between pages, and we're rapidly running out of school year. (This is definitely a fall project next time, not spring.)

And now, first grade collages. Kiddos cut up folded-paper prints that they made in a prior art class, and also added various scraps found in "mystery bags" to make these adorable collages of bugs and critters. Lots of fun and enthusiasm!

Meanwhile, a few days ago I promised to post these paintings, done by my 5th graders while being taught by my super student teacher. It was a challenging project, mixing pointilism and an introduction to the concept of linear perspective to create these city and country scenes. The kids were VERY proud of their completed paintings.

And finally, this project (above) that was posted a couple of weeks ago Mr. E, and subsequently posted on a few other blogs, has been a real hit with my 4th graders. So easy, but teaching lots of concepts:
The kids used line to create a rhythmic design. I then had the kids use a different analagous color combination (or family) for each "tunnel" or "tornado". The kids loved looking at the color wheel and their colored pencils to find families that were related. Finally, they had to use value to create a sense of volume or space. So many concepts all at once!