Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Garden Gnomes and Gnome Homes!

The last time I made garden gnomes with my students was with 3rd graders during my final year teaching, before I retired in June 2012.  Now, with my DragonWing Arts program, I have way less students, so their projects can be bigger and more elaborate.  So each student built a papier-mache garden gnome, and also created a unique "gnome home" in a tree stump or mushroom.
I can't separate the projects into two separate posts, since they go together so well, so I'll try to explain how we made both, all in this one post!
The gnome armatures are simple.  We started with Gatorade bottles. Some kids chose 20 oz. bottles, but most wanted the smaller 16 oz.  On the bottoms, I hot glued a cardboard circle for a flat surface, and then two easter egg halves for shoes.  Inside the bottles we put a scoop of playground sand, to weight them down and keep them from tipping over.  We closed the caps and added cones of heavy paper for hats, taped and hot glued.  Arms were made with newspaper-covered wire.  The whole assembly was covered with overlapping layers of papier-mache, and when dry, finished with a layer of gesso for a bright white painting surface. 

Meanwhile, we began also building the gnome homes, using cardboard from cut up shipping cartons, bent along to corrugations to make them curve, and then hot glued and taped.  Tops were either made from paper bowls or more cardboard, for mushrooms or tree stumps, depending on what the student wanted.  Branches were added with cereal box cardboard as desired, and they were glued to a cardboard base.  The students wanted windows and doors, so they drew them where desired and I cut them with a utility knife.  The entire assemblies were covered with plaster bandage to make them solid.  Some students used the plaster bandage to make tree roots, and/or to add texture to their trunks.  As you can see, the sizes of the houses varied widely.

Next, the kids mushed together some polyester fiberfill and acrylic paint, to make green "moss" to use on their gnome homes.  We started out wearing rubber gloves, but that didn't last too long....  It was too much fun to have green hands!

We used Nasco Bulk-Krylic paints on both the gnomes and the gnome homes, and  then, we embellished.  The gnomes were given hair and/or beards as desired, wiggle eyes, and more.  A couple of gnomes became archers, and one (pictured below left) even had a quiver of arrows on his back, that, and his long blonde pony tail, unfortunately are not visible in the photo.  The quiver was made from felt that was cut and glued.  A disco ball was made for one "disco gnome", and other embellishments included belts, aprons,and as you can see on the right below, a backpack filled with colorful feathers!
This gnome below has a desk with an iMac and an iPhone on it, on his rooftop patio.  Plus he has really cute ears, I think!

The gnome homes were loaded with leaves, flowers, pine cones, bark, and so much more.  An old stash of sample ceramic tiles were used to make sidewalks and patios.  Some laminate samples were made into door signs.  Colored sheet foam and wire were used to make things like the swing shown below.  (She also has a rooftop garden on her gnome home.)  We were going to make flowers, but running out of time, I got fake flowers at the dollar store and we hot glued them all over the place!  The gnome is wearing a really cute apron, but  unfortunately you can't see it all in this pic. 
I love this sign I discovered on the rooftop garden.  It says "Express Yourself With Art!"

The gnome home below has a large piece of birch bark for a roof, with some tile on it for relaxing, and a bark chimney, too. And lots of tree roots, and moss and vines, and such. 

The gnome home below is for an archer gnome, and has a secret doorway hidden by the flower on the top, and a staircase and ladder to access the secret door.  And on the yellow square, the gnome is selling magic potions, or something of the sort. 

What can I say?  I just plain love this mushroom-top gnome home below, laden with flowers, glittery pine cones and a bark glider-swing, and moss.  So pretty!  The gnome previously pictured, with the basket of feathers on her back lives here!

The girl who made this gnome home / disco dance club below is a quiet shy third grader with a wonderfully sly sense of humor.  The GDC on her gnome's chest stands for Gnome Disco Club, which is a tall mushroom.  Her gnome is actually able to fit inside the mushroom.

This below is the tallest gnome home, for one of the archer g nomes.  Sorry the picture is so poor.  Totally the fault of the photographer (me). 

With the room filled with open containers of wiggle eyes, fiberfill, fabric scraps, pipe cleaners, pompoms, fake flowers, feathers, craft foam, felt, toothpicks, wire, and more, everyone started to get a wee bit goofy.  Here's what happened:

 I hope you enjoyed our colorful gnomes and gnome homes!  I know we all enjoyed making them! Here's a link to another old post of charming student garden gnomes.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Birdhouse Assemblages

 Do you have a local picture framer that you go to, when you want a piece of artwork framed?  Your framer will almost always have scraps of mat board ready to be given away to art teachers.  When they cut mats, they rarely are able to use the odd-sized leftovers.  I recently learned that the framers also often discard their framing samples when an old sample is discontinued.  I asked my framer, and she had a full carton ready to take to the dumpster!  I asked for a few, and she told me if I wanted any of them, I had to take the entire box.  So I did, and my DragonWing Arts students recently used both mat board samples and frame samples to create these adorable birdhouse assemblages! 
 We started by painting a background (we used dollar-store foam core), using small sponges to dab and spread tempera paint as desired. 

Then we  used a colorful air dry clay and some feathers to make these sweet birds.  This is NOT Model Magic; I am not a fan.  I purchased this clay online and it was much moister than Model Magic, really stuck together well, and didn't crack when dry.  The brand: Sago Brothers Magic Clay.  The kids absolutely were smitten with it. 

My students then selected their mat board and frame samples, and began assembling their birdhouses.  The mat board could be decorated with Colorsticks and/or Sharpie markers and metallic markers.  Some kids chose to make two birdhouses, and others only wanted to make one.

Corks were used for perches for the birds, and black circles cut from construction paper became the entrances to the bird house.  I hot glued the birds (when the clay was dry) onto the perches. 

I felt that they still needed a little jazzing up, so I had planned for us to cut out leaves and flowers from felt and/or sheet foam, but with the class ending this week, I knew we wouldn't have time.  So I stopped at the dollar store and bought a big pile of fake flowers, and cut them off their stems.  Those were hot glued on the artwork as desired.  Some kids also chose to add fluffy clouds.   The girl who made the assemblage below is a bit of a minimalist.  She did not want any more flowers beyond her three foam tulips!  I love her bird house.  It says "All Birds Welcome (at the) Birdy Nesters Hotel.  Even toucans". 
 Oh my gosh, I have to admit I was smitten by the felt bee hive made for the assemblage below.  (And the bluebird is adorable too!) The bees are just little knots of striped pipe cleaner pieces.  So fabulous! 
 I love the rainbow birdhouse below.  It's hard to tell, but the bird is a "French bird" wearing a beret.  My young artists have great senses of humor!
 Another minimalist.  No flowers on the piece below!  But I love that perfect robin, and the windows in the red birdhouse.  The right-hand birdhouse is evidently a castle.

I've had a former student, now a 19 year-old attending the local community college, joining me as my "helper" this winter and spring.  She loves working along with the kids, and made this delightful birdhouse with a little owl.  She took some extra frame samples home with her, to invent some sort of crafty project over the summer. 

And here's one last student assemblage.  This was such a fun and easy project, and I would love to repeat it again some day!   Meanwhile, I still have a carton full of frame samples, and welcome your ideas for other ways to use them.  Maybe a big city, perhaps?  Let me know if you have a suggestion!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

For Art's Sake!!

It seems like everywhere I turn these days, in my art education literature, and online groups, everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math), Design Integration, Maker Spaces, Media Arts, and so on.  And I'm here to flat-out tell you, I am so sick and tired of hearing about it. 

It makes me wonder why we art educators chose the career we are in.  Did we become art educators to train kids for careers in design? (Not that there's anything wrong with that).  Or did we become art educators to help children explore their creativity, to express themselves through the wonder of that creation?  And, if we consider ourselves artists (which I think most of us do, in one way or another), what, if any, is the relationship of our personal art and STEAM? 

I know for me, making art is a part of who I am, whether it is manipulating with 3-dimensional materials, or painting with a loaded brush, doodling elaborate designs with Flair pens, or even photographing nature.  The art I most care about making is simply "for art's sake".  Sure, I might design and create an article of clothing, or decorate a pair of shoes or purse.  Yes, I might create a whimsical trophy for  an event, and yes, I might enjoy doing these things, but ultimately, the art I care most about creating is that which I create simply because THAT'S WHAT I DO.  I am an artist, and I express myself visually, like a musician uses music for their expression.  My art is simply meant to be seen, to hopefully evoke something in a viewer.  It is not about STEAM. 

And as an educator, I most care about imparting my young students with that love of creating;  I want them to feel joy every time they dip a brush into creamy wet paint, enthusiasm when they put their hands into a bucket of papier-mache goo, surprise when they pull a vibrant print out of a tub of shaving cream, magic when they pull paint over a drawing done with white crayon and the image becomes visible.  I don't want them to feel that every time they make something in art, it automatically has to teach them a science or math or history lesson (Not that there's anything wrong with that).  I don't want them to feel that every piece of art they create has to serve some sort of design purpose beyond simply BEING ART.  Honestly?  I don't think I was originally hired with the intent that I was preparing kids for a design career.  I think the arts are included in a well-rounded education because they address the needs of the soul.  The arts make us human. 

 Let's face it, most of the artists we teach kids about in class did not create art for any reason other than something in their soul said that it was what they 'had' to do.  We know that Van Gogh painted because of a deep need inside, despite the hardships he endured because of this need.  Think of the lives of other artists we learn about.  How many of them were making art to serve any other purpose beyond that of creating beauty or provoking thought?  I mean, why else would my family and I build these ridiculous sand sculptures year after year, laboring in the hot sun, knowing that by the next day, the tide will wash it away?

Even now, why do so many people flock to art museums?   Often, to view a certain exhibition in a museum, you need to buy tickets in advance, that are timed, to handle the crowds.  We don't stand on line to see a Matisse cutout or a Chihuly glass sculpture or a because of how it will enhance a new technological discovery.  We choose to view the artwork for how it makes us FEEL.  People go to concerts to hear music, or to watch dancers simply to see them move, because, again, of how it makes them FEEL.  The most  important purpose of the arts, in my opinion, is not what it  does technologically, but how it makes us feel.  Why else, many years ago, did my family and I, and thousands of other people, stroll through Central Park in single-digit temperatures and an icy wind, to see Christo's "Gates" - billowing curtains of golden-orange fabric?   It evoked joy, on some level I can't even explain.  That's what the arts do.  (I wish I could find my photos of it; it was a "pre-digitial" event.  But since I can't, here's a photo from a Chihuly exhibit in Boston a few years ago, where people stood on line for HOURS to get in, simply to view art!) 

So, excuse me, when you talk about Design education and Maker Spaces and all the other buzz words of the moment, if you see me zoning out.  My students and I will be happily exploring the tactile world of making art with hands-on materials, just because, simply, we are artists, and that's what brings us joy.  And now, I will close this post with a photo of a moose on a roof.