Sunday, December 29, 2013

Say Yes to the Mess: my state conference, part 3

me at the NYSATA conference TASK party!
So even though my state conference was back in November, I still have more to tell you.  So this post is NYSATA conference Part Three!  (There is still a Part 4 to come, and I'll certainly mention the TASK party then.)

I taught three workshops at the conference: one on Sheetrock carving, one on tooling foil relief, and the third one, called "Say Yes to the Mess", is the one that I want to tell you about today. This was the workshop that I was most fearful of presenting.  The other two were both hands-on, and we all know how much we art teachers LOVE attending hands-on workshops!
But "Say Yes to the Mess" consisted of a PowerPoint presentation, that was pretty much just images and bullet points, a handout with some more details, and the rest was, well, just me, doing my thing. So I did a dry-run of the presentation to my husband, and he promptly fell asleep.  Needless to say, I was worried.  Turns out, however, my worry was unnecessary.  I had many attendees tell me how much they learned from the workshop, and that it was the best one they attended all weekend.  They hung on every word I said!  Hurray!!  So here are my bullet points and some associated details -

The premise (my rationale for the workshop):   
We have a responsibility as art educators to engage our students in messy, hands-on activities on a regular basis.  In today's world, in particular, where kids type on a keyboard or portable device rather than writing by hand, where so much of what kids do is using electronic media, they have less opportunities for engaging in tactile, kinesthetic experience.  And this is what we were trained to do.  We need to give our students regular opportunities to squeeze wet clay or papier-mache between their fingers, to hold brushes dripping with creamy thick paint, to cut, to glue, to make messes, and to clean them up.
No Complaints/No Excuses: 
There are so many possible excuses for not using messy materials - inadequate (or no) proper facilities, no proper storage, shared workspaces, not enough money for materials, crazy schedules, no time to clean up properly, and on... and on....  But I come back to this: being an art teacher is what you were hired to do.  If you are not engaging your students in hands-on activities on a regular basis, you are not doing what you were hired to do.  Use your creativity to find a way to solve the problems of schedules, supplies, and workspaces.  It can be done.  Make this quote from Maya Angelou an integral part of your program:  "If you don't like something, change it.  If you can't change it, change your attitude.  Don't complain."   (Look closely at bulletin board pictures from my former classroom, and you'll see the #1 rule posted is NO WHINING.  I take this very seriously!  A positive attitude goes a long way!)

  • Positive attitude, as I've mentioned above.
  • Art room 'choreography' - how you plan and schedule your curriculum for optimization of storage and ease of cleanup.
  • Advocate for yourself and your program in the design of the school schedule
  • Organize and improve cleaning procedures
  • Training/enabling the kids - instead of doing all the cleanup yourself, train the students to take ownership over caring for the room and materials.
  • Make effective use of prep time
Making Cleanup Easy:
We discussed painting, papier-mache, plaster bandage, oil pastel, and collage procedures to help with cleanup.   I'll share a few of my favorite tips here.  
  • Paint distribution tricks -  Use limited colors instead of everything at once - warm colors one day, cool the next, for example.  Or a different color at each table and have the kids rotate tables to use a different color.  Or, prepare a large variety of colors of paint and place in a central location.  Students get one color at a time, and return it for a new color.  Put paints in plastic lidded 'solo' cups on trays and stack trays to use another time. 
  •  Best painting trick ever: the frame.  Draw a frame (or have students draw a frame) of about 1/2" inside the edge of the paper.  All painting is done inside the frame.  This way, you will have clean paper edges for carrying, you can lay them on the floor for drying if you don't have a drying rack, the tables will stay cleaner since no painting is done at the edges, and the paper won't curl as much as when it is painting to the edge!  Plus, when you hang them up to display, the artwork has built in picture frames! 
  • The Ugly Sponge and the Three W's - clean paintbrushes mean clean water and clean paint colors.  We use a designated set of old sponges for wiping paintbrushes after finishing with a color, and before washing.  This way, less paint goes into the water when the brush is washed.  Then, the brush is wiped again after washing and before dipping in a new color.  Any leftover paint and water is left on the sponge instead of in the new color!  Hence, the three W's are Wipe, Wash, Wipe.  While I don't have a photo to share here, let me tell you, this works!!
  • Baby Wipes/ Baby Oil!  Did you know oil pastels come off hands and tables with baby wipes, or a paper towel dipped in baby oil?  This can save on traffic jams at the sink at cleanup time! 
  • The Ziploc bag:  Use individual zipper bags for unglued collage materials, and weaving projects.  The kids don't lose parts of their work, and it makes everything so much easier!
And sometimes - just 'let it go' and make a mess!  
  • Try marbling with shaving cream, and use the shaving cream to clean the tables afterward.
  • 'Paint' by drawing with pastel chalks on wet bogus paper.
  • Add papier-mache goo to a bag of shredded paper from the office shredder to make a strong clay.  Want to see pictures of this stuff and what we've done with it?  Click here to see one of many posts using this amazing substance!
  • Jackson Pollock paintings?  Plan ahead for mess management!  It's worth it!  I've blogged about this project more than once; you can see one of the posts by clicking here.
Obviously, there were many more specifics in my workshop, regarding cleanup methods, paintbrush care, project storage, and more, but I think I've given you enough to read about today!  I hope you've found some of this worthwhile.  Please let me know if you have any questions.  


  1. Wipe, Wash, Wipe...get out some sponges, I have a new mantra! : ) Thanks for sharing an organizational tidbit. I just found dish basins at WalMart marked down to 10 cents each and promptly purchased 12 not knowing why but was sure I'd find a use. It only took about five minutes on the way home in the car to come up with a mother load of uses...wish I'd bought more!!!

    1. Haha! I'm like that with containers of any sort! I think I have every size and shape imaginable. So now I'm curious what ideas you've come up with for those dish basins!

  2. Here's to "Say Yes to the Mess! " great post Phyl ! Thanks for the tips and the quote from Maya Angelou! I am going to make a poster for my 3-5 grade room with it! It also rings true for myself because of all the changes in education this year! There are things i don't like that I changed, there are things i can't change so i am making the best of it and changing my attitude and i am pushing through with out (too much) complaining because it doesn't help me, it only brings me down... Positive attitude!!! Thanks! :) Have a Happy New Year!!

    1. Thank you. There was a time when I was complaining about everything, and then I found and it changed my life. One small change in myself had an impact that multiplied astronomically and the positive attitude was contagious! Have a great new year!

  3. I would love to hear about your perspective on preparing for retirement….what you did right….what you wish you knew. Okay, so this is all for selfish reasons, as I am preparing to do the same.

    1. Good for you, Jan, I'm happy to oblige! I believe I have your email address; give me a day or two, and I'll send you an email, rather than writing here on the blog. Been battling a headache; as soon as my brain clears, an email will be on it's way!

    2. Amen to Art Room MESS! Thanks for a great reminder for all of us!! I just got back from a week vacation in Carmel, CA -- a great artist's haven and have to get my mind back in "mess mode" before Wednesday!!

    3. Ah Christie, lucky you! I rode through Carmel once, in I think 1971 while traveling between San Francisco and LA with a cousin. I would love to go back and spend some time. I was just a passenger.

      Anyhow, welcome back to school. It could be that California is the only place in the country where the weather isn't hideous this week!!

  4. I love this so much!! I've already shared with you how much I am opposed to all the technology in the art room...our poor kids get that EVERYWHERE they go! I love that you are promoting MESS, you my friend are the best! Love love love!!

    1. Cassie my dear, you and I are kindred spirits (though I do not wear bows, and I think I may be about a foot shorter than you). I promise I'll be sharing my crazy sewing project here very soon (I just need to hem it!) and hope you'll be proud of me!