Thursday, January 20, 2011

The First Art Museum

I had the fortunate opportunity to work with Mrs. Debbie Downie at Clough Pike Elementary. Because Debbie is an expert at creating art environments, I wanted to learn all I could from her. I decided on a prehistoric theme for my unit.

The first graders made cave paintings.

We talked about Native Americans and cave dwellers and what kind of tools they would use. I brought in a burnt stick and showed the kids how it worked just like the charcoal we used on our paintings. Since the alphabet hadn't been invented yet, we told stories with Native American Symbols. We pretended the red paint was squished berries and the brown paint was mud. The kids had fun trying to "decode" each other's stories.

The second graders created 3D complimentary color dinosaurs.

I made large stencils of three different dinosaurs out of poster board for the students to choose and trace. After their dinosaurs were cut out, they then could choose a primary color piece of bulletin board paper to glue their dinosaur to, leaving a "pocket" big enough for their hand to fit through. Next, we talked about complimentary colors. The students had to come to me one at a time and tell me what color paint they needed. After the dinosaurs were dry, we added concentric shapes to them, again in the complimentary color. (Students learned about Kandinsky's concentric circles in a previous lesson, so this was review) We gave our dinosaurs imaginary names by adding "o-saurus" to the children's 1st name, (Mine was MissNewman-o-saurus) and we wrote them across the back of our dinosaurs. We used expert dinosaur stuffing tools, (the handle end of large paint brushes) and stuffed them with newspaper. After they were glued shut, we added google eyes for an extra touch of cuteness. The kids loved them hanging from the ceiling of the cave.

The third graders made pinch pot dinosaurs.

This was my favorite project. I underestimated how much ALL kids love dinosaurs. And look how much personality they all have! We started off with our dinosaur bodies. We revisited how to make pinch pots and learned how to slip and score. We put together two pinch pots to make the bodies and then we talked about what else our dinosaurs might need. A long neck to eat leaves? Spikes, clubs, or plates for defense? They were very creative. Their dinosaurs also had to have some kind of texture. Many kiln firings and dinosaur explosions later, we learned about monochromatic color schemes. The students had to choose one hue and create several shades or tints of that hue to paint their dinosaur with. We topped them off with google eyes and glitter gel gloss medium. Every age student who saw these little guys asked, "When are we making clay dinosaurs?"

The fourth graders made weavings and petroglyphs.

These took FOREVER to make. I couldn't believe how long it took the kids to weave, and neither could they. We learned about petroglyphs (rock art) and symbols. First, we made our weavings on cardboard looms. To make the petroglyphs, we carved our designs into styrofoam trays with pencils and then pressed the clay into the trays. We made holes in the top and bottom of our rock art, so that they could be hung later. We added some black paint in the cracks to make them look old and then we were ready to put them all together. We used raffia to tie the petroglyphs to real sticks, and then tied the weavings to the bottom of the petroglyphs. The students had the option to add beads and feathers to their piece. They may have taken longer than we expected, but the kids were very proud of them when they were finished.

The fifth graders made Navajo sand paintings.

We learned about Navajo sand paintings and ephemeral art. I gave the students a handout with their Native American zodiac signs. We used colored rice (white rice soaked in food coloring and rubbing alcohol) and birdseed instead of sand. (sand can scratch the floors and make for unpleasant conversations with the custodians) We used one color at a time, putting glue down, sprinkling the rice on, and shaking it off. Just like a glitter process. Even as fifth graders, the kids were amazed when their new shape was revealed.

To create the cave, we crinkled brown paper and covered the walls with it, using only tape. Lots and lots and lots of tape. We made a small fire using tissue paper and christmas lights, along with some leftover plaster bones and rocks from a previous project. We hung a class worth of 3D dinosaurs from the ceiling. Other projects hung on the wall, in the hallway, or set on the "rock" benches.

To have the big reveal of "The First Art Museum," we teamed up with the music teacher for a fine art night. The fourth graders had a holiday concert, so we had the cave opening the same night. The kids loved trying to find their work to show their friends and family as they were greeted by the cave women, Mrs. Downie and I.

Creating an art environment is a lot of work, but it was so worth it. The kids were astounded at the transformation of the foyer, and the principal insisted it be left up for the remainder of the week. I was so lucky to be working with such a great teacher for student teaching. I can't wait to have a school of my own to transform!

Monday, January 17, 2011

John Ruthven

I recently had the incredible opportunity to meet wildlife artist John Ruthven. He is often referred to as the 20th century Audubon, and if you've ever seen work by Audubon, you know what a compliment that is. Thanks to my wonderful mother, I accompanied the great teachers of Delta Kappa Gamma in touring his studio and gallery while talking to him personally.

Ruthven Audubon

As he spoke, I was mesmerized. I think we all were. He spoke with such eloquence and sincerity. We learned about his adventures as a young boy living in the country. How he developed his love of art and nature. How he went on great journeys for new species. How he was commissioned to paint works for the white house, three times. Here stood this 86 year-old man, so vibrant and filled with passion for life. It was impossible not to be completely captivated by his every word.

As an art teacher, this was a special experience for me. And I took full advantage it, soaking in all I could. First, I had to have a photograph with Mr. Ruthven in his studio.

Check. Next, I asked him about his process. He proceeded to sift
through books and photographs, and pull thumbnail sketches from
a beautiful antique chest to explain his methods in detail. He talked
about how much research he still does for every piece. (And he still
does 12 commissions a year) He studies the anatomy of the animal, the landscape, and photographs all before he begins.

I can't wait to get the opportunity to teach my students about John Ruthven; his beautiful work, his charming personality, and his passion for art and nature.

The "Self" in Self-Portraits

During my student teaching assignment I created a lesson plan titled, "The Self in Self-Portraits" for my 8th grade students. I wanted them to understand that every color, object, design, expression, everything in a self-portrait is a conscious decision made by the artist. It is a clue they are giving us to learn more about them.
We started out with a slideshow of portraits (some were self-portraits, some just portraits.) We discussed portraits by Pablo Picasso, Edvard Munch, Vincent van Gogh, Frida Khalo, and Chuck Close. I tried to get the students to see that they can already read these paintings, even if they didn't realize it.
I asked them how this painting, "The Old Guitarist," made them feel. They all of course said sad or depressing. When I asked them why it made them feel this way they found many clues: color, posture, facial expression, simplicity, background, etc. With this knowledge, I asked them to create their own self-portraits.
They had to choose two media, one for the background and one for the foreground, and I wanted to know at least 3 things about them by looking at their self-portrait.
I was so impressed with the outcome of this lesson! Students used new media they had never used before. They got to express themselves in a new way. And most importantly, they will never look at art the same way again.

I hope you enjoy their beautiful work!