Monday, July 23, 2018

Let's see if I remember how this works...


I'm just starting my blog back up after six years of absence, four and a half of which I did not have a permanent teaching position. In January 2013, I moved from the South to the Northeast, got married, became a (step)parent, did a little freelancing, and even took a stab at having a studio (not structured enough for me). But I missed teaching, which was actually a bit of a surprise to me. I'd left a very stressful teaching position when I moved and had just about convinced myself that full-time teaching just wasn't for me.

During those four and a half years, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to teach part time at an art college in my city, which allowed me to keep my feet in the water, as it were. I substituted, as well, for four school years. (I covered FOUR long-term sub maternity leave stints.) And I suppose that all of that temporary work, and the uncertainty of not really having a "home," left me feeling far less like the professional I wanted to be, but it also brought me to the realization that I truly missed having my own classroom.

Self-Portrait: Dances with Ice Cream (2012)
Anyway...the blog fell by the wayside, and now that I have a permanent position again, I realize that I truly enjoyed writing about my students and sharing their work. And honestly, I need to see proof of the progress my students and I are making. I teach at an International Baccalaureate school, and jumping back into full-time teaching, while also learning about IB methods and practices, has proven to be both exhilarating and extremely challenging. In some ways, I feel like a first year teacher all over again. My school is opening a new upper school this year, so I'll be teaching 6-9th for certain, and probably 5th, as well. There's still some question as to who will be teaching K-4 (or what part of those grades I'll be teaching), as there just isn't enough room in the schedule or the day (or my head) for me to teach all 10 grade levels. I'll let you know as soon as I do! :)

Returning to the classroom after a four and a half year absence has definitely been a humbling reminder that I have much to learn. But I'm committed to doing my best, and so, here I am, sharing the best part of my job: my kids. I hope their creativity is as inspiring to others as it is to me.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Chris Hagan Owl Collages (2nd Grade)

I'm a Pinterest'in fool, just like every other Art teacher out there. I love seeing all of the wildly diverse and inspiring projects, and I'm not afraid to admit that I beg, borrow, and steal from both the internet and from teachers for whom I've covered. (Long-term sub positions are a great opportunity to see how other teachers organize their classrooms and to pick up a few new project ideas!)

All that being said, on occasion I do manage to come up with a lesson of my own that I end up loving. These colorful 2nd grade owls are one of those projects.

I was looking for a collage project for my kiddos when I came across the work of Brighton, UK artist Chris Hagan. Y'all, I absolutely LOVE his work: bright, colorful, magical, textural, and very reminiscent of both Henri Rousseau and Marc Chagall. His illustrations are wordless folktales. They truly speak volumes. In fact, I was so enamored of his work that I skipped right over to his Etsy shop and bought the print below. (I've felt a connection to Tennyson's lily maid since my Victorian Lit class in undergrad. I can recite all 171 lines, people.)

Chris Hagan, The Lady of Shalott (c. 2015), mixed media collage

So anyway, after spending a good half hour drooling over his gorgeous textured paper and whimsical colors, I decided he would be a terrific contemporary artist to whom to introduce my second graders. We started by talking about artist inspiration and compared Hagan's "Tyger, Tyger" to Henri Rousseau's "Tiger in a Tropical Storm."

The kids were quick to pick up on the similarities in style: both artists are inspired by nature, use bold shapes and patterns/repetition, and stylize their subjects. They also noticed the differences: Rousseau chose a more natural color palette, while Hagan uses bright, intense colors; Rousseau painted in oils, while Hagan often textures his own paper for his collages. (He also paints in gouache and watercolor.) We ended our discussion by talking about the difference between being inspired and simply reproducing another artist's work. After all, even at 8 years old, I want my young artists to begin making their own decisions about their art and how they will express themselves visually.

Chris Hagan - Tyger, Tyger (2014), mixed media collage
(Seriously...beautifully intense color and references to my favorite poets?)

Henri Rousseau - Tiger in a Tropical Storm (1891), oil on canvas

After our artist discussion, we looked at more of Chris Hagan's work and drew inspiration from his "An Owl in the Jungle," thinking about how we could create our own whimsical, brightly-illustrated collages.

Chris Hagan - An Owl in the Jungle (c. 2015), mixed media collage

You know how you always wonder if a project will turn out in real life as well as it's come together in your head? This was one of those. But my young artists and I were not disappointed. I absolutely adore the vivid contrast between the bright, colorful owls and the monochromatic winter sky and birches!

Here they are - a few of our "Owls Among the Birches." (We live in Pennsylvania, after all, haha. I should confess that when we began these in mid-autumn, I was planning to have students cut leaves and tree branches from painted paper we'd made earlier in the year, but holidays, field trips, and a six-day Specials cycle proved more powerful than my ability to plan seasonally, so our owls became winter owls. It's all good. The kids loved the idea that their owls were enjoying the snow as much as we all were!)

Saturday, January 13, 2018

4th Grade Self-Portraits: Positively Me

NOTE: After nearly six years (SIX YEARS?!) of being absent from the blogosphere (is it even still called that??), I logged back into The Elemental Art Room with the intention of starting the blog back up. When I did, I saw a (3) next to the word "Drafts" on my design panel and, curious as to what I'd left hanging around in limbo, I clicked to see what was there. Low and behold, there sat this post, patiently waiting, that I wrote sometime in the spring of 2012 while I was still living and teaching in Fort Lauderdale. I'm actually really happy to have found these images. What fun!


I'll be honest, this project was born of near desperation. Fourth grade can be such a transitional year personally for children, as they begin to become more independent and are expected to take more responsibility for their learning and behavior. This can result in an identity crisis that frustrates and baffles students at this age. Who are they? Who do their teachers and parents expect them to be? What do they expect of themselves? How can meet these expectations without giving up their newly-discovered independence? Keeping all of this fourth grade turmoil in mind, I wanted a self-portrait project that would help my young artists decide who they are and who they want to be. This project also taught students about symmetry, balance, and proportion and allowed me to integrate a tiny bit of language arts as we focused on positive character trait adjectives. 
Here's what we did:

Prior to class:
  1. I took head-shots of each student, printed them out, then used the paper cutter to cut them down the middle.
  2. I decided that this project would use only colored pencils. My fourth graders need practice taking their time and not just slapping color on. They also needed practice taking care of our materials. I figured keeping the medium simple would help with this, and it did. They made great strides in clean-up procedures and became more responsible with care of materials since there was only one medium and no mess to worry about.
Class 1:
  • Students cut away the background with scissors, leaving only their head and shoulders. They pasted this to a piece of drawing paper, making sure to line up the bottom of the picture with the bottom of their paper and leave room to one side for drawing the other half of their face/shoulders. (I know this seems like a given, but really had to keep an eye on this. Kids love gluing things to the middle of their paper.) 
  • I then discussed symmetry with them and showed them how to use their pencil to measure features and distances from the center of their faces to various points such as corners of eyes, jaw line, ears, etc. Students with rulers used them if they chose, but I explained that they won't always have a ruler on hand, so being able to use the tools at hand is a useful skill.
  • Students then began drawing the other half of their face in pencil in order to complete their image. I encouraged them to draw lightly (as always) so that erasing didn't leave unwanted scars and marks on the paper.
Class 2:
Students completed their drawing if needed and began using colored pencils to add color. We discovered that our drawings often looked like cartoon versions of ourselves, which was a lot of fun for these fourth graders.

Class 3:
Students began adding their positive character traits to the background of their drawing. I gave them a lot of freedom with this while making sure to talk about effective design, contrast, and use of color, lines, and shapes to make their words stand out. They could write "I am..." statements, or they could write the traits only.

Class 4:
Students completed their drawings.

I'm really please with how well so many of these turned out. I may do it at the start of the next school year, because this focus on the positive was really good for some of these kids. Rather than constantly hearing how they need to do this or that differently, they had a chance to really think about what they're doing well. I learned a lot about the students, too, during this process. Here are more of our results (parent permission has been given for the images shown here):

I talked about closure, and some students, like this one, let their text appear to continue behind their self-portrait.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Moving digitally...

I created grade description panels that were framed and placed at the start of each grade level in our art show last week. I've been exploring various digital art and publication sites recently and decided to toss the panels (a PDF file) into issuu and send the "publication" out to families who weren't able to go to the show so they can read about what we've been doing. (I added a cover and an end page.)

Issuu is an online publication site. It's FREE, and it's really fabulous. Our school will have 6th and 7th grades next year (and 8th the year following), so I'd love to start a student magazine. This would be a great way to publish it!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

End of Year Exhibit!

The Arts & Enrichment Evening was smashing success! What a terrific turnout, in spite of a seemingly endless rainstorm that hit a couple of hours before the event and put us behind setting up the art work. The guys from Artome were fantastic, and I think seeing that truck roll in with all of my young artists' framed work was more exciting than most things I've experienced in quite some time! If you want a gallery experience for your art show, call these folks!

Here are a few pics from our show. Thanks to a co-worker who snapped photos for me!

5th/6th grade aisle

4th grade self-portraits (With 6th grade in background. The only snafu was that
the guys who packed the Artome truck didn't load enough displays. About 1/3 of
6th grade work had to be propped in chairs. I tried not to complain. It could have been much worse.)

5th grade self-portraits and Kandinsky color studies

Another 6th grade display.

Kinder artist with her watercolor painting (3rd grade pastels behind)

2nd grader with his warm/cool landscape (3rd grade behind)

1st grader with her watercolor painting (1st grade prints behind)

1st grader with his self-portrait (K/1st art work behind)

Kinder artist with her classroom teacher.

1st grader with her watercolor painting (2nd grade behind)

Monday, May 21, 2012

K and 1st Spring Watercolors!

I found the inspiration for these lovely spring watercolor paintings on Art Projects for Kids. It's a terrific exercise in simple landscape drawing for Kinders and 1st graders, and the frame around the edges of the drawing really helps students use all of their space rather than drawing tiny flowers in the middle of their paper. So this works as an excellent introduction to composition, as well. I decided to use watercolor paper and liquid watercolors as my youngest artists needed a new paint medium to explore.

Here's what we did:
  1. Class 1: I led the first class, the drawing portion, from the white board while drawing along with the children.

    • We drew the frame first, and I gave 1st grade students and advanced Ks the option of creating a double frame. Some of them added patterns within their frames. 
    • We then drew a horizon line. This could be grass or it could be hills. I left it up to my students.
    • We began adding flowers by drawing the blooms first, positioning them toward the top of the frame. Stems and leaves were added next. Whimsical flowers are a favorite of mine in my own art work, and the kids always make comments when they see my screen saver (seen in this post). This was a great opportunity to show them how I use lines and shapes to come up with fun new flowers to draw, and it allowed them to create their own imaginative flowers.
    • We then discussed the types of insects and bugs one might see in the spring. (We did this project in early April...I've just been late in posting.) Students added a bug or two or three flying through the air or crawling in the grass or on the leaves of the flowers.
    • Students then traced ALL of their pencil lines in Sharpie. This was excellent practice in using fine motor skills. Also, a number of students didn't understand the term "trace," so this was useful for vocabulary, as well.
  2. Class 2: Students painted their drawings with liquid watercolors. I really love these SO much more than pan watercolors. My only complaint is how easily the colors get muddy. Kinders aren't careful about cleaning their brushes, and by the time I got to paint with the last class (of 10), the blues and greens were a bit grayed out, and the yellow...well, the yellow simply was no more. I freshened the yellows for my 1st graders once, and we managed to keep them fairly yellow-ish for at least long enough to finish painting.
And here are more of our colorful spring watercolor paintings:

Saturday, May 12, 2012

5th Grade Self-Portraits: Lichtenstein

So I'm thinking I'll never attempt this project again with 5th grade. Maybe 7th, or even 8th next time. It took much MUCH longer than I'd planned (about 7 classes, which is 7 weeks), but once we started, we couldn't just stop. I try to instill persistence and commitment in my young artists, so we had to see it through to the end. What took so long? All those DOTS! Combine the level of patience required for that task with the precision and attention to detail required to achieve successful results, and I'd have to say that this was not a lesson with a high success rate for all students.

Having said that, some students (those with a hefty dose of patience and excellent fine motor skills) turned out beautiful results. And for all my protesting, when I look at the results overall, they really are impressive. Maybe it's just this age. Some of them are ready for this level of concentration, and some just aren't.

Here's what we did:

Prior to beginning the drawing/painting:

1. We watched "Who is the Artist?: Artists of Pop Art", which takes students through the work of Andy Warhol, Wayne Thiebaud, and Roy Lichtenstein in order to familiarize them with the characteristics of Pop Art and these artists in particular. (They really enjoy the video, by the way. I love this series. It quizzes students as they watch, and they really come away being able to recognize the work of the aritsts discussed.

2. Take individual photos of students and print out as large as possible on 8.5x11 paper. I had students choose a pose/expression that would later become inspiration for their speech/thought bubble. 

Class 1:
Show examples of Lichtenstein's comic panel paintings and discuss lines, colors, etc. (as well as noticing where he used dots and where he used solid color). I gave students their printed photos (oh my, the commotion and giggles), a piece of 9x12 drawing paper, a 9x6 sheet of Seral transfer paper (I cut it down from a roll I've had for a while), and a couple of pieces of tape. We taped their photos to the drawing paper, centered as best they could, and used the transfer paper to trace the contours of their portrait. Hair was the trickiest part for most of them. The girls in particular wanted to draw every tiny strand of hair, so we talked about the shape of their hair, the curls, etc, and how to suggest hair without drawing each single strand (which basically turns into scribbles).

Class 2:
Students continued transferring their photos, then traced the lines in Sharpie. We used rulers to draw a frame around the portrait (so the drawing looks more like a comic panel), following the natural border created by the printed edge of the image.

Classes 3, 4, 5, 137, etc.:
This is what took so long. We used watercolor palettes and pencil erasers to mimic Lichtenstein's dot technique. This is what I told students to do:
  • Create HORIZONTAL lines of dots (don't follow the contours of the lines in your drawing). Start with a clear area across which you can make a straight horizontal line (forehead, for example). Then begin adding additional lines above and below the first one. Stagger the dotted line so that each new dot is between the dots above/below it. (I don't have a photo of this step, but if you look at the first painting in this post, the student did a really nice job with this on her face.)
  • To create lighter skin tones, add more water to the paint. The first dot is always darkest, so make one dot on newspaper or scrap paper first, then move to your painting. Each dip in the paint will make 3 or 4 dots. Some students decided just to be orange or yellow since the only skin tone we had was brown. :) A few of them did try to mix colors and dilute the paint for a fairer peachy complexion.  (See more paintings below.)
  • Apply the dot technique to skin, clothing, and background. Apply a solid wash of color to hair, eyes, and other small detail areas (fingernails, lips, etc.).
  • One of the reasons the painting portion was so tricky was that students had to be careful not to create holes in the watercolor wells. The paint becomes gummy with so much use and water, so it was vital to dip the eraser just in the surface of the paint and not push down into the thicker paint. Some students used way too much paint, so their portraits were sticking to everything, even when "dry." A layer of parchment paper on top of portraits solved this problem. If I ever have a classroom again I'll do this project with acrylic paint and let the students mix their skin colors. This would make this particular issue much easier to handle.
Classes 6 and 7:
After the third class of bringing in and setting up the watercolor paints and handing out (and cleaning up! ugh) all the materials necessary (I'm on a cart), I decided we were DONE with painting.
  • Students who weren't finished, due either to absences, slow progress, or lack of using time wisely finished their "paintings" in watercolor marker. I actually really like the greater contrast of doing the backgrounds in solid color, so maybe I'll go this route automatically next time. We had issues with neon lips, so I also gave students colored pencils if they wanted softer pink/brown lips.
  • Students cut out speech or thought bubbles and glued these to their self-portrait. I created three templates that students could use if they wanted. Some made their own, and some used the ones I copied onto drawing paper. I don't like to use templates as a matter or course, but we really needed the time saver.
  • Students wrote their phrase in pencil, then traced in Sharpie.
Here are a few more of our 5th grade Lichtenstein self-portraits:

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