There are those great moments in teaching art that hit like lightning. They’re usually not on the lesson plan. They rush in like the tide and swamp everything else that you had planned with a sweet crash of excitement. God, I love those moments. They breathe life into your bones. I had one today.
We were drawing detailed eyes in 6th grade art. We had gone through feeling our face for eye sockets and glaring at irises and pupils. I had given each student a mirror. Oh, the hair primping and soulful staring at reflections. It is a riot to watch. We used blending stumps and erased highlights on watery eyes …we hacked our way through a forest of stick eyelashes and caterpillar eyebrows that wiggled over lazy eyelids. But my students were game. This was hard stuff and they were trying….and then….
One student propped his mirror over his drawing and noticed the reflection …he called me over excitedly. “Look at this Mrs. S!” I was blown away by what he had seen and called everyone over to look. It was like a current went through the room. They all ran back to their drawings to create the same optical illusion…”Look, look!” filled the room.
And there it was..the moment they saw their drawings like artists. They went into undiscovered territory. They were excited, they were engaged. I took pictures. What else could I do? It was a moment worth saving.
This second week of school was a great mish-mash. I focused on teaching the art element line with all three grade levels, 4th, 5th and 6th. We got a good start by creating sketchbooks, (5 sheets of paper folded in half and stapled). It is still amazing to me after more than twenty-three years of doing this how the simplest things that are easy for adults (well, most adults) need to be considered and taught slowly to a child. Things like how to fold a piece of paper in half and get the edges to match up. How to use a stapler safely. If you’ve ever stapled a finger you understand the need. Um…it hurts like the devil ( I speak from experience) and when those little tines bend under your skin…trust me, you don’t want that.
Their sketchbooks become a place for students to practice, from a warmup with a five minute drawing exercise each day to a place to write vocabulary words and spell them correctly. We moved from identifying and drawing different types of lines to contour line drawing. I’m a big believer in Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain methods so contour line drawing is big thing for me, teaching them to see that the edge where space and an object touch is a contour. How to see that if you draw the object you are also drawing the space around it. At the same time we are still learning classroom routines, like who opens the door if someone knocks, who passes out supplies and artwork? What happens if I’m absent? What happens if I’m tardy? Where do I go to catch my bus? Can I trust this strange lady teacher who is trying to get me to do all this crazy stuff?
We touched on the first of our safety drills for fire, lockdown, tornado and shelter-in place. I made this into a group project, where each student group presented to the class how they should behave during the drill and then we discussed an changes or problems. They love playing the “what if” game. “What if a big meteor comes down through the ceiling and the door is on fire, what would we do?” What if a gorilla got loose in the school what would we do?” So, I stock up on super hero answers, they laugh and then we practice the real stuff. A big responsibility, teaching them how to be safe. Speaking of heroes, hats off to our valiant Assistant Principal Andy Pool who safely corralled a bat on the front walkway in front of our school. I was walking with our 6th graders to the cafeteria when they saw a bat on the ground through the glass front doors of our school. Immediate chants of ” A bat! A bat!” Have you ever noticed that if there is ANYTHING kids are not supposed to see, that’s the first thing their kid radar zooms in on? I kept them from going out and Mr. Pool took care of the bat. We have an amazing bat sanctuary near Mineral Wells and they very quickly came and took the little guy away. We also had the solar eclipse this week, which we watched safely in our classroom on the NASA website. Amazing universe we live in.
We drew a familiar object, a glue bottle, and discussed how to use hatching to show a light source and shading. They were just great, these kids, little sponges, game to try whatever I asked, for the most part so anxious to please, so critical of their abilities. It is the most delicate of things, maintaining fragile egos while carefully pushing students to improve. I practice a lot of ignoring technique when I hear the dreaded “I can’t draw.” I sometimes play the I’ll draw one line, you draw the next one to get them going. I try to pick the simplest warmups . We drew emoji’s (a big hit) except for the poop emoji that I forgot is all the rage now in that Emoji movie. So if you see poop emojis in your child’s sketchbook, I apologize.
But the thing the kids like the best this week was gesture drawing. That’s where you have one student pose and the other students have one minute to draw them. I have them use marker so that they can’t erase (sneaky art teacher). They LOVED this and the drew happily and laughed at their drawings. I quickly found my extroverts in each class that like to strike a pose. Thanks to Mrs. Sneed for letting me borrow the sports equipment. The final day this week was fun too. We drew contour line self portraits. I wanted a baseline drawing for each student so we can compare that to how they draw themselves after I have a chance to teach them over the next 10 weeks. I’m excited to see the results. So we broke out the mirrors. It is always fun to see how they see themselves. Lots of hair fixing went on at first. And teeth checking. Lots of freckle counting too. And I got asked about scars a lot. “Can I draw my scar?” You find out a lot about kids when they draw. A good week, even with the poop emoji.
It is an awe-inspiring thing, watching a new school year begin; happy, exhausting, hopeful, all at the same time. That is, if you can figure out what time it is…more about that at the end.
So now I sit on the first Saturday of the school year, in the quiet. I have made it through the first week of my 16th year of teaching art to 4th, 5th and 6th graders at Travis Elementary. Here are a few things I noticed about this year’s first week of school.
There is a pleasure in watching students come into the new year, sporting new clothes, packing new school supplies, reacquainting with friends from last year, finding their new classroom, filled with nervous excitement. It is like opening a brand new box of crayons.
I especially enjoy watching the parents that come into the school with their students during the first week. It brings home what a privilege it…
Love, love the first week of school. Everything’s new, kids are fresh and every day is an event.
Best new student comment: “Mrs. Strandberg I’m having a little trouble with finding everything and understanding what to do.” I said “It’s ok, you’re new to Travis, you’ll get the hang of it and I help you.” He said “No you don’t understand, I’m from F-L-O-R-I-D-A.” You can’t make this stuff up. I told him it would be O-K.
Best Teacher Save of the Day: When I came in from recess which was 94 dgrees and 98% humidity I ALMOST wiped my face with a Clorox wipe instead of a face wipe. ALMOST.
I spent four days in late June at a workshop for teachers hosted by the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. If you are an art teacher reading this, you probably are already mentally recoiling from the mention of in-service workshops. But in my summer The Kimbell Summer Teacher’s Institute is an oasis of art-focused learning and fun. Open to educators of all subjects, it is held in the beautiful Renzo Piano Pavilion museum studio.
See these folks? They are happy public school teachers and just people who like art in this beautiful studio space.
I believe this is my fifth time to attend a summer workshop at the Kimbell, which says a lot. You don’t repeat a bad experience. Each year the activities are based on the special exhibition at the museum. This summer it was the Phillips Collection, a rich and varied group of paintings and sculptures from artists like Bonnard, Van Gogh, Degas, Marc, Klee and Picasso. The well-defined structure of the days, access to the special exhibition and incredible museum educators are what makes this workshop so valuable. Each artist and style is first outlined in a lecture by Connie Hatchette Barganier, Education Manager for the Kimbell. Somehow Connie managed to evade my camera this year. While these lectures are necessarily compact, they enrich and inform each gallery experience. Great docents led our little herd of teachers through the galleries. Did you ever try to get teachers to be quiet and focused? Hats off to the Kimbell docents for being friendly and professional while herding twenty teachers (like herding cats) through the exhibitions. Unfortunately photography in the special exhibitions is not allowed, but if you follow this link http://phillips.kimbellart.org/ you can get a glimpse of some of the pieces in the exhibit.
Back in the studio the talented Studio and Family programs Coordinator Marilyn Ivy leads us through exhibit-based art projects. My photos show Marilyn demonstrating a lino plate printmaking project; one of my favorite lessons this year.
Printmaking is not my strong suit, so it was nice to have Marilyn demonstrate. I think I may finally have enough of a handle on the process that I can use it with my students this school year.
Inking the lino plate
Placing on the chase
Securing the print
The Kimbell provides top notch art materials and we get to try our hand at the painting, sculpture and printmaking activities. Again, happy teachers shown with time to create.
As an added benefit this year the museum had Carol Ivey, a Fort Worth based artist, present a still life from observation clinic and offer a critique of our finished acrylic paintings. She arranged a still life in the studio and we got a canvas and acrylics and got to work. No pressure there, right? Here’s a link to information on Carol. My painting is still a work in progress, but in three hours at the workshop and a few more at home, I’m feeling good about it.
We also did a mixed media interior drawing with a wonderful black multi-media board I had not used before. Here is a beautiful example by Carolyn. Jessica Montes this Great Dane made me think of your sweet dog. Carolyn, thank you for offering to give this drawing. I hope your family loves it as much as I do.
The last day of the clinic is invaluable as each teacher presents a lesson plan to the group inspired by the exhibit. I chose to relate to the Degas painting Dancers at the Barre.
Image courtesy of Google Art project. Public domain.
I chose to break my lesson down into three steps. First, draw the painting upside down to so that my students focus on the shapes only rather than what it is they are drawing. The human figure is very daunting for elementary students. Second, concentrate on the arrangement of positive and negative shapes in the composition. I was really fascinated by the way this Degas painting is composed, the legs of the two dancers are almost at unbelievable angles, but it works. Using tracing paper on my contour line drawing I concentrated simply on isolating the positive and negative shapes of the composition and how they fit into the format. Finally, the third step is using another tracing of my contour line drawing to make a paper collage of the piece, using basic tones of paper and adding chalk to simulate the textures of the painting. So you explore three of the basic elements of art in this lesson, line, shape and color.
I’ve included some shots of the other teachers presenting their ideas. That is one of the best things about these days, hearing ideas from other teachers about how they would present a concept. It is always eye-opening and fun to see what everyone comes up with.
You walk away with a catalogue for the special exhibition A Modern Vision: European Masterworks from the Phillips Collection, a copy of all those lesson plans (40 pages in all this year), a flash drive with all the lecture notes and images plus a binder with the written version of all of the resource materials.
What a treat and a stretch for the right side of the brain at the same time. Next year is Asian art. I can’t wait.
In our elementary school we pack everything up in the classroom so that the maintenance crew can strip and wax the floors over the summer. That means the six-foot tables in my art room have to be stacked against the wall. I have seven of those tables in my room. A few years back I lucked into a end-of-year routine that keeps my sanity, is fun for the kids and guarantees I have clean table tops when I come back the following school year.
I have an inside Bubble Day. This requires a trip to Walmart to buy four giant containers of bubble liquid, hundreds of straws and plastic cups. My treat, because I love the effect it has on the kids. Both exciting and calming at the same time.
You must be sitting to blow bubbles.
Bubble stuff can go on the table, but not on the floor; too slippery.
Don’t blow bubbles directly into someone’s eyes. It stings.
If you bubble up all your bubbles, you are out. No refills.
End of the class all straws go in the trash, all cups go back on the counter, wipe down your table with paper towels at the end of class.
So here’s how it goes. The kids blow bubbles in the air for about two minutes until someone realizes that if you blow into the cup it will bubble over the lip of the cup and onto the table. Sort of like when you blow bubbles into you milk glass when you are having milk and cookies. Viola! Instant clean tables. Children combine straws in a bubble to make the largest bubble. Shouts of “Look, Mrs. Strandberg, Look!” fill the room. They progress from blowing bubbles into swishing their hands around on the table top and writing letters in the bubbly film on the table. Fun stuff.
The art room smells like soap. Clean tables. Clean hands. Happy kids. Happy teacher.
My 4th grade art students always seem to have fewer barriers between their art and their imagination than my 5th and 6th graders. I’m not sure why that is, but is delightful to watch and listen to them as they open up to a project. I revisited an old classic recently when I asked my 4th grade artists to draw their favorite meal.
The set up for the project is a discussion about going on a picnic. Students get to pick their favorite foods to have at the picnic, which must include a main course, sides, drink and dessert. They must also include silverware and a napkin and a tablecloth under the plate.
I have three goals for this project.
They must have their food shown from a bird’s-eye point of view, which involves a demonstration and discussion of how shapes change when they are shown from different perspectives.
They must show a place setting, which involved a discussion and pictures of how you set a table. Social skills in art class. I wonder how many families sit down at a common table for dinner these days, so I hope I filled in a gap for some of my students who have not ever set a table.
They must show a pattern of some kind on the tablecloth, which reinforces the definition of a pattern in art as a repeated shape or color series.
Students have a large sheet of paper as their format, 12 x 18 inches, and draw first in pencil, then outline in sharpie and color with crayon. I give them a paper plate to draw around to make sure we don’t have miniature plates.
And oh the stories about what food my students like the best!
And the extras! Ants on the tablecloth. Butterflies flying over the picnic. Good memories about family. Great fun.