Saturday, March 30, 2013

Seems weird not to be doing these...

I get bored easily, so in my years as an elementary art teacher, I would continually try out new ideas with my students, and I liked to introduce the kids to different artists each year. When I repeated a project or idea, I tried to give it a new 'spin'. But there were certain projects I did every year without fail, and never tired of them (I suppose that's like a singer singing the same favorite song in concert after concert, year after year).  They were the projects everyone expected to see, no matter what.

But this year, I am retired, and this time of year, four particular annual projects are on my mind, and are not likely to be in my replacement's repertoire.

Thumbprint Pussywillows!
 *Note: the pussywillow pic at the top of this post was found on facebook, and I apologize that I do not know the source.  But it's so cute I wanted to share it with you!  
Before everything starts to blossom and bloom in the spring, there are the pussywillows! Year after year, in early March, I have slogged around in melting snow to find pussywillows and bring them to school for my kindergartners to see and touch. In years where I couldn't find them outside, I resorted to purchasing them in the floral department of my local supermarkets.  I'd put some on each table, and we would examine how the black seed pods would open and let the little soft silvery pussywillows out.  The kids would color a vase, and maybe a table, on colored construction paper, and draw the stems and seed pods.  Then, with tempera paint (a mix of white with a dab of black and a hint of silver) they would use their little thumbs to stamp the soft fluffs.

Spring Hats!
You may call them Easter bonnets, but this little Jewish art teacher (me) simply called them spring hats, and my kindergartners made them every year before spring break. The materials were paper plates with a hole punched on each side and a ribbon or hunk of fat yarn strung through, colored paper tape, scissors, and moist sponges to activate the glue on the paper tape.  The kids learned how to fold, cut, bend, twist, and curl the tape, and the hats became as crazy as they wanted.  Here's a group of happy kindergartners!

Teddy Bear Chairs! 
The 2nd graders in my school district take an annual springtime field trip to tour the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory,  traveling by ferry across Lake Champlain to get there.  Many of the students purchase a Build-a-Bear while at the factory, plus they all have some sort of stuffed animal friend at home.  So each year, my 2nd grade students built teddy bear chairs, out of 4 toilet paper cores (the legs), 2 paper towel cores (the back supports),  two 7" squares of cardboard from shipping cartons (the seat and the back), and Elmer's Glue-All.  We painted them either with acrylic paints, or tempera covered with a tempera varnish or Mod Podge to seal the paint.  I think my replacement has chosen to make bear beds instead, and I'm sure they will be adorable.  But they won't be the chairs!

Q-Tip Lilacs! 
I have some lilac trees in my backyard.  Every year when they bloomed, I would cut big bunches of them and bring them to my art room, putting a vase full of fragrant flowers on every table.  Ahhh!! Every year, one first grade teacher, upon smelling the flowers, would say this to her little ones: "Do your very best today!  This is my favorite project!  I will hang them all up for Author's Day!"  Then the students would create a vase, a table, stems, and leaves, and finally paint the flowers using Q-Tips with with various tints of violet, lilac, blue, pink, and white.  Over the years, the vase, table, stems and laves were done with various materials: crayon, oil pastel, collage, etc., but the flowers always were exuberantly painted with cotton swabs. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A busy couple of days!! Papier-mache, and a childhood crush!

I have been crazy busy these last two days.  How in the world did I ever have time to teach full time?  Yikes!

I am a night-owl, in my retirement now staying up late and rising about 8am, when you are all already hard at work.  But not this Friday!  On Friday, I spent the day in my former art room, getting up really early for the first time in ages. My replacement was beginning papier-mache projects in grades 3 &5, and with no prior papier-mache experience other than attending a workshop I taught, she was nervous and wanted guidance/assistance and I was happy to volunteer.  I consider myself a huge papier-mache aficionado!  So we worked on building internal structures, and I also demo-ed some of my technique for applying the papier-mache to the armature.  The kids were excited to see me and I had a fabulous time with them. As you can see in the photos, the 5th graders were using stuffed paper bags and assorted other materials to create silly monsters.  The last three of these armature images are samples I built while demonstrating.

And then I made a visit to the library in the town of my former school, where my replacement had hung an annual student art display for the month of March.  Great display!  But I had slept poorly, practically not at all, the night before, and I was exhausted.  I was planning a pit stop at the gym on my way home, but my head was pounding and I just wanted to put on my ratty sweats, curl up on the couch with brainless TV and order take-out!  Which is what I did.

Then, I was up early again Saturday morning, to attend a board meeting of NYSATA, my state art teachers association (I serve as a region rep).  The meeting was in Albany, an hour from home.  Luckily, I worked out an arrangement with my sweet hubby to drop me off while he did something else in Albany, and he picked me up after the meeting ended in the afternoon for the 1/2 hour drive to another location where we had concert tickets, stopping along the way for some dinner.  Then, at almost 11pm, the concert was over and we were back in the car driving 1-1/2 hours home again, tired but happy.

After more than 45 years, I had finally seen my teenybopper idol live and up close, and he was as adorable now as he was then.  Move over Paul McCartney; Peter Blair Denis Bernard Noone, you still have my heart!  For those of you 'youngsters' out there, you probably don't have a clue who I am referring to.  But any female near my age (60) will know!  Peter was the lead singer of Herman's Hermits, a British invasion (musical invasion, that is!) band of the 60's that had a string of hits in the US. He was still a teenager himself (only 5 years older than me!) when I fell in love with him around 1965, with his cheeky wit, adorable toothy smile, twinkling blue eyes, shaggy blond hair, and catchy tunes.  And now, at the ripe old age of 65, he still maintains all of those characteristics that made me and my girlfriends swoon.  And, amazingly, he still sounds the same!  Mrs Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter; There's a Kind of a Hush; Silhouettes; Can't You Hear My Heartbeat;  I could keep going; he sang them all, and the audience went nuts. My teenage dream, fulfilled after 48 years!

Meanwhile, below the photos of Peter, which I shot with the amazing digital zoom of my trusty old Canon PowerShot, are photos of student art done under the tutelage of my replacement.  She started a blog a while back, but has just been too busy to even think about posting, so she's OK that I'm showing the work to you, I'm sure.    A word about those photos - they were shot with my still relatively new Nikon, which I am having trouble loving right now.  I do not feel that it is autofocusing sharply, and I don't understand why not.  These pictures lack the crispness I expect and I'm frustrated.  If anyone can offer any advice, it is appreciated!  Here are the photos. (By the way, as usual I am  having weird formatting issues, so forgive me for any strange layout and spacing of this post.)

I love these 3rd grade painted paper birds.  The nests were made with strings pulled from burlap, when the same students were doing burlap weaving!  Clever re-use of material!
 Tooling foil, Sharpies, construction paper and construction paper crayons were used for the Mexican mirrors below; next to them are burlap weavings.
 How cute are these triple-view snowmen below?  I'm not sure what grade they were made by; 2nd, maybe?  And then are pics of some 4th grade wampum belts, and 5th grade woven pouches, both using processes that I had done with the kids in past years.  My replacement, however, had the kids make the pouches a slightly larger size, so they could be used for iPods or cell phones!  Cool idea.  The macrame owls were made by 6th graders.
 And somehow this sideways photo ended up here, so I'll leave him.  He's a papier-mache 'monster' I made several years back, that now resides with my friend 'C' in the middle school math room.  We borrowed him to show the 5th graders a finished monster, and so they could get an idea of what kind of embellishments might be added for the final step.

Monday, March 18, 2013

My kitchen wall

my new kitchen photo wall
About a month ago, I showed you the new kitchen curtains I sewed for our newly painted kitchen, and I showed you some of my tin collection on display in the kitchen. For the final step in our kitchen renovation, I re-did the 'photo wall'. This wall used to display 8 underwater photos, shot by me while scuba diving in the Caribbean in the mid 1980's. That means the photos were 25-30 years old. They were faded, discolored, with blah beige mats, and I was sick and tired of them. So I went through my photos and eventually narrowed it down to a new selection of 8 Adirondack photos. I repainted the plain wooden frames with a nice shade of cranberry, got new mats cut for the new photos in a rich gray, and today I put them all together.

I love the way my new kitchen photo wall looks! But it's hard to get a good photo of the wall, because of all the glare. Anyhow, here it is, above, and below is a closer look at 6 of the 8 photos.
my kitchen wall

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Paintbrush care, and practical tips for easy painting cleanup

A conversation last night in a Facebook Art Teachers group has sparked this post, which I have intended to write for, like, at least a year.  So now is the time!  I've actually addressed the topic of cleanup before, but some of you may not have ever seen the older posts, and I'll give more detail here anyhow.

I'll start with some of my procedures for practical paintbrush use and care.  After spending 36 years teaching art, I feel well-qualified to address this topic, and hopefully offer you some helpful tips.  But like with a lot of other things, you will find that my procedures are often different from what is typical.  Over the years I have learned from others, and from trial and error, but in the end, I march to my own drummer and have trusted my instincts to figure out what works best, at least for me.  And lest you say "I think I've seen these images before", let me tell you that they all have appeared in prior blog posts over the almost three years I've had this blog. 

So the original question on Facebook had to do with painting procedures and water at the table.  I have seen a lot of blog posts where teachers are left with a sinkful of dirty, loaded paintbrushes at the end of the day.  Eek!!   Hopefully my suggestions will help prevent that situation.

If you look at the 4th grade paintings to the left (painted on 18"x24" white paper) from a still life setup, while studying Matisse), I think you will agree the colors are clear, not muddy. You'll notice the edges of the papers are unpainted.  More about that later.

The students set themselves up with water bowls between them, or sometimes had their own.  For my Royal Big Kid paintbrushes (which I love, but have short handles), I favor water bowls that have a wide bottom so they don't easily tip, and that are not too tall.  I don't want the brushes to fall into the water.  Also between the kids were what we fondly called our "ugly sponges".  These were shaped differently from the sponges we cleaned the tables with, so there's no confusion.  The ugly sponges have one purpose - removing extra paint from a brush.  From kindergarten up, the students were taught to "wipe, wash, wipe".  In other words, after using one color, the brush is wiped on the ugly sponge (or newspaper, or paper towel, depending on the circumstance) to remove excess paint, then washed with an up and down motion in the water bowl, touching the bottom.  We called this the washing machine.  It prevents the stirring that knocks water bowls over or causes splashing, and gets the paint off really well.  Then the brush was wiped again, to remove excess water before dipping in another color.  This really helps to prevent color contamination when painting with a new color, and helps to keep those yellow and whites pure and clean!

For this particular project, the students also each had one of those black dishes from diet TV dinners to use as a mixing palette.  A staff member donated hundreds of them to me!  A selection of paint colors (red, yellow, blue, turquoise, magenta,  and white) were placed in solo cups, on a large tray on my circular center table.  Each color had a pop stick in it.  Students would take their palettes to the paint table, use the pop stick to scoop some color, and then use their brush to mix.  Letting the students mix this way gave them a broad range of lively color choices, rather than colors straight from the bottle, and they had to figure out how to get what they needed, based, of course, on past learning.  Note that depending on the project, sometimes paints were placed at every table, but the central table was often used when students were making a lot of individual choices and I didn't want a dish of every color at every table. 

At the end of the class, students gave their brushes a final wipe/wash/wipe and they were collected in a bucket that had a couple of inches of soapy water.  Two kids took that bucket to the sink and gave the brushes a final wash (they usually were very clean at this point anyhow).

 My classes were 40 minutes long.  But  maybe yours are only a 1/2 hour.  If you use  the method I've described, I doubt you'll have time to have kids give the brushes the final wash at the end of class.  But that's OK.  With this system you are left with a bucket of almost clean brushes, rather than a sinkful of dirty ones, and that final wash will just take a few minutes at the end of your day.  Give it a try.

Now here's where I did something really different.  I'll bet you, at this point, now return the brushes to a container, with their brushes pointing up.  Of course you don't want them brush down, because we know they get a terrible case of "bed-head"!  But you don't really want them brush up, either, because the water seeps into the ferrule of the brush and eventually causes the glue to loosen and the brush to fall apart.  This has happened to you, right?  In an ideal world, you would hang the brushes so the tips dripped downward, but who has a way to do that??!  So, I covered an old cafeteria tray with a padding of newspapers, and the cleaned brushes, with their brush tips nicely shaped and smoothed, were placed on the newspaper padding to dry.  This way the tips stay nicely shaped, and the water does not seep into the ferrule.  The brushes will last longer.  If the next class is also painting, they can select brushes right off the newspaper to use.  The next day there is always a kid who wants to sort the dry brushes and put them back in the container.  Works like a charm!!

Meanwhile, those dirty palettes...  My room had a 'sloppy sink', and we collected them all in there and filled it with soapy water.  But this could also be done in a big basin, if no sink is available.  Later, there is usually a bored kid who loves to rinse them off and put them on the dish drainer (thank you, dollar store) to dry.  If we are using acrylic paints and not tempera, we simply let the paint dry in the palettes, and do NOT wash them.  The dry paint can be peeled off!  The kids fight for the chance to peel them! 

Now lets say the kids were painting with bigger bristle brushes.  My favorite water containers for these longer handled brushes, again to share with two kids, were empty Kool-Aid containers, which are pretty stable and curve inward at the top, which means drips go inside and not outside!   
The paintings above had no black in them, but I do love black paint, especially for outlining.  But one dip in a dish of black can contaminate the rest of the colors at the table.  So I taught kids that if they chose to use black, they needed to wipe the brush, then take it to the sink and give it a good shampoo before dipping in another color!  Unless, of course, everyone is using black.  Then there is a bucket for collecting just paintbrushes used for black.  Believe me, this really helps!  By the way, if we used black tempera for outlining, I usually premixed it with a little water to get it just the right consistency to outline smoothly but still maintain its blackness. 

 Sometimes, an 'alternative paintbrush' will make your life so much easier, and give the kids a fun tactile experience.  The kindergarten rainbow and pussywillow paintings above were done with fingerprints.  No brushes to wash, just hands!  The first grade lilacs were painted with long-handled Q-tips.  Disposable!

Sometimes, you can make your life easier by painting with just one, or a few colors at a time.  In the pop art paintings below, each table had only variations of one color.  No wiping and washing was needed at all!  One water bucket was placed on each table, and all the brushes started and finished class in that bucket.  The next class came in and used the same brushes, and the final wash didn't need to happen until the last class left the room.  Big time saver!!!  In the paintings below, students selected their table to paint their checkerboard and and circle (on a different piece of paper, which was cut out and glued on when dry) depending on their color preference.  The black paint was done on a different day, where everyone used just black. 

 Same thing here.  One day only warm colors were available, one color at each table, and the next class was just cool colors.  The black again was done last. 
 In the buildings below, an assortment of warm colors were placed at each table on the first painting day (students chose to paint either the sky or buildings) and the cool colors were done in another class period.  Yet again, black was added last.  In both the Andy Warhol cat painting and the Lichtenstein paintings below, all yellow was painted first, then reds, then blues.  Once a student left the yellow paint, they were not allowed to return to it!  As a result, the yellow paint remained clean.  Yeah!!  The dots on the Lichtensteins were done with those Q-tips again, and of course, the black outline was done last, and was also painted with Q-tips. 

Regarding table cleaning - to the left is a tower of my favorite water bowls.  I'm not sure what they were originally from, but you can see a Kool-Aid container and a couple of  other random containers that were found in my room.  Kids cleaning the sink area loved to create a tower at the end of class, and it helped the bowls drain and stay dry.
  •  Sponges - Kids like to clean up, and can be taught to do it well.  I'm not saying I never had to do any cleaning, but I tried to have the bulk of it completed by the kids, not me.  Starting in kindergarten, teach them how to use sponges!  Teach them that sponges must be moist, but not wet.  Show them how to use two hands to squeeze excess water in the sink before washing tables.  In case of spills on the floor, teach them to use the sponge to scoop the spill in one scoop-up stroke, and then rinse the sponge well and squeeze it out well before wiping up any leftover mess on the floor.  Repeat as needed.  I made sure kids knew that I wouldn't get angry if there was a spill, but they had to tell me and clean it up immediately, before everyone steps in it and spreads the mess!  I always had lots of sponges, so that kids could all participate in table cleanup. 
  • Placemats?  There were times we used newspapers under our work to keep tables clean, but generally, no.  I know many of you use 'placemats' but not me.  I found that paper under the artwork made spills more frequent. Plus I like big paper, and if you are painting on 18"x24" paper, you'd need mighty big placemats! I found table cleanup could be done quickly with lots of sponges and a bottle of non-toxic spray cleaner (that was used only by me).
  •  Borders?  So this wonderful, practical hint helps to minimize paint on tables.  Have kids draw a pencil or chalk border approximately 1/2" from the edges of their paper (for younger kids, I sometimes drew the border myself).  They are not to allowed to paint inside the frame.  This has several benefits:  First of all, if your paper isn't painted right to the edges, it will curl less when drying.  Yippee!  Second, it will give the artwork 'handles' - unpainted edges to make it easier to carry to the drying rack and keep hands clean! (Or in the case of big paper, sometimes we lined them up along the wall in the hallway to dry.  Unpainted edges means no paint on the hallway floor and happy custodians!) Finally, the unpainted edge gives the painting a nice white 'frame' for display, or a frame for decorating to give the artwork some pizazz!  I used this process for all large paintings, both tempera and watercolor, and often for smaller works too!  The tree paintings above, originally posted here, were painted on 12"x18" paper by 3rd graders, have an unpainted border, as do the 4th grade sunflower paintings above, and the 3rd grade "fauve fauve" paintings below.  The unpainted borders in this case, on 16"x20" paper, were made wider and were collaged with animal print tissue paper to complete the work.  To see a whole post on these paintings, look here.  
I hope I have been some help.  If you have any questions about specific materials or processes, please feel free to ask in a comment.  It took me a long time to figure out how to make big messy art with kids and keep my sanity and maintain my classroom, so I'm willing to share what worked for me.  And remember, with today's technology filled world, kids have increasingly less tactile experience.  They don't even play in the mud as much as we used to.  So it is our responsibility, as art teachers, to provide this tactile experience!!   Don't take the 'easy way out' with only markers and pencils because you are afraid of the mess.  Find a way to make the mess manageable, especially by teaching the kids to be responsible for cleanup and care of materials.  

Thursday, March 7, 2013

NYC, the Met, and an amazing special exhibit

Here I am, finally, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where I returned a couple of days ago with a friend for just one day, because I wanted to finally see the Matisse exhibit, the one that I missed a month ago due to the big blizzard that send us home early.  Well this time I saw and loved the Matisse exhibit, and also saw another special exhibit that totally blew me away (which I will tell you about later in this post), but unfortunately they wouldn't allow photos in the special exhibitions, and at $50 for one exhibition book and $40 for the other, and a hefty weight and size for a day traveler trying to travel light, I didn't buy and bring home the books, and most of the postcards from the shows were not of the images that I wanted.  But anyhow, I still have a lot to show you, and tell you about.   But if you are in a hurry, scroll to the end of the post, about that special exhibit.

Meanwhile, while I've said it many times before, and probably will again, one more time won't hurt: the Met is simply an astounding museum, unmatched by any other art museum I have been to.  Huge, extensive, impressive, and awe-inspiring, and impossible to get through in one day. But we did what we could, and I will show you a sample of what we saw as we explored the museum.  We spent a bit of time in the galleries for 19th/early 20th century European art, though we didn't get through it all (how did I miss the Picasso rooms?!). Many of these images that follow are from those galleries, but not all.
encaustic painting
 Even though I have no pictures, I want to tell you about that Matisse exhibit.  It was an unusual, interesting, and effective arrangement.  The paintings were arranged in pairs, side-by-side, representing different treatments of the same subject, the same pose.  It was interesting to see him paint and repaint the same exact pose over and over again, treating it differently each time.  Missing from the exhibit were works from his later years, the cutouts, but otherwise it was a well-represented cross-section of work from a brilliant artist!  Now back to the rest of the musuem...

Painting a Vermeer copy!

digitally altered image, sorry it's sideways!

Me in Jackson Pollock camouflage


David Hockney - I love this painting!

 Below are snippets from some Tiffany windows.  Gorgeous, so rich and vibrant.  The window posted sideways  here so I deleted it and left the detail images.
Sideways or not, just lovely.  There's an extensive and fabulous collection of sculpture at the Met.
sideways me and painting by Chuck Close
by Vuilliard, one of my favorite impressionists

and another Vuilliard
Georgia O'Keefe
and another - do you see the leg and eyeball that I see?
a bracelet!!
by Stuart Davis
I'd like this shelf above in my studio (if I HAD a studio ha ha!)
necklace w/opal, my birthstone.  LOVE!
The Met has an extensive Egyptian collection, including a temple and reflecting pool, and rooms and rooms of mummies and artifacts of all shapes and sizes.  The wig below is from the Egyptian wing.  There's also many other extensive collections - Greek, Roman, African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Medieval; arms and armor, decorative arts; Modern and Contemporary, American, European... what have I left out?

And below, views from the train ride to NYC, as we breezed along the Hudson River.  Views 2 and 3 are what is known as "The Palisades". 

 And, drumroll please... below are paintings from the amazing special exhibition titled Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, newly on display at the Met.  These three images below are scans from postcards I purchased.  The actual dress from the first and second paintings below were both on display along with the paintings, as well as several other dresses, corsets, top hats, and more fashion items of the era.  I just love the first painting, by an artist unfamiliar to me.

The second painting by James Tissot, who, I swear, I had never heard of before, but who was prominently featured in this exhibition.  I was in love with basically every one of his paintings in the show.  Wonderful, just wonderful.

But the biggest surprise of the of the show was Monet, the same Monet we all know from waterlilies, Japanese bridges, cathedrals, and gardens.  These magnificent paintings of women, especially his wife Camille, in lovely dresses, were unlike anything I'd ever seen by Monet, absolutely spectacular, and showing a talent and skill that just blew us away.  A pair of paintings on one wall were sections from a massive painting.  One of them was so large it must have been painted  from a scaffolding.  The last painting in this post is a Monet, of his wife Camille.  It was the first painting in the exhibit, and the one featured on the exhibit signage, and the satin of her dress looked so real.  Other paintings showed sheer fabrics that you could see through, and textures that it seemed you could touch.  And the colors.  Oh, I was in awe!
In the Conservatory by Albert Bartholome
July: Specimen of a Portrait by James Tissot
Camille by Claude Monet
I believe this is a traveling exhibit, so maybe it could be coming to a museum in your part of the world!  If it does, go see it!  Many of the paintings are from museums in Europe that perhaps have not been seen in the US before.  I certainly had never seen most of them.  I think I may have to order that exhibition book.