Sunday, February 21, 2010

What I am Doing in my Classroom, II

Thank you to Astaryth for sending me a copy of my entry that I lost. I was able to piece it back together. It only took me an hour to reclaim it all...THANKS, Astaryth! You rock!

Recently, in Kindergarten, I read to the students a book, A Stranger in the Woods. The beautiful photography, from wildlife photographers Carl Sams, II and Jean Stoick, tells the story of animals living in the winter woods. One day, a stranger shows up. As the animals gain the courage to walk closer to see who the stranger is, students are also curious about this stranger. Students never even suspected it to be the Snowman until they saw a clue in one of the photographs. After all, the snowman is no stranger to them. It is interesting for them to think from the point of view of the woods animals, how the animals respond to the new stranger, and why it is there. Following the reading of the book, I lead the kids through a series of steps to begin a painting that tells the story from their point of view.

I taught them how to blend blue and white for a background sky of tempera paint. They learned about painting trees... it doesn't matter how many times I showed them how to make the same tree, they made theirs different from all the others.

I admit, their trees are generally more interesting than mine, but they're nice to me when the work is done.

One kindergarten student offered these words one day: "You could be an artist when you grow up!" It brought a smile to my face.

We painted the falling snow with the ends of toothpicks and tinker toy sticks to create varying sizes of snowflakes.

We painted the snowman,... well, I painted one snowman, but more often they painted multiples of this image, for they do love their snowmen.

After we recalled some of the woods animals from the story, the children added theirs with oil pastels. Deer and chickadees seemed to be the favorite animals drawn in, a few rabbits, and one student even added a huge owl flying amongst his trees.

First graders are presently working on a kite-flying landscape with watercolors. I'm often in conflict when teaching the students how to work with watercolors because it is, at once, a simple and complex medium. So much about watercolor painting is in knowing the medium, and how it responds to certain papers, about the colors and color mixing, how much water to use, the brushes.

But that's too much to teach at any one time, and I really just want them to enjoy the experience of applying water and paint to paper while creating this image of sky and land. Soon they will add trees, a fence, some children flying their kites, and flowers blooming in the trees and on the ground. I see the big picture, and I show them a finished example so they'll know where we are going... but as with the snowman painting, every painting will be different as students add their own personal touch.

My second graders are delighted about their Jazzy Jungle Cat designs.

Watercolors is also the medium for this project, but they'll be adding a third dimension later on.
The whole effect will be very jungle like, with the colorful cats prowling through the bright leaves of a rain forest.

Fourth Graders are puzzling over the idea of abstract art as they make an Abstract Animal Relief. Their work is mostly soft pastels, a medium I am about to swear off of for teaching in a classroom. It is messy, dusty, and the finished piece needs to be sprayed with a fixative of some type.

Did I say it was dusty? I took precautions, of course, and had students stand at the doorway to tap off the dust from their pictures when they changed colors. The final piece will remind me "but it's worth it." But next year, no soft pastels will be my mantra.

Third graders came with me to explore the world of air dry clay. I told them right at the beginning that it was as much a learning experience for me as it was for them, and now that the project is finished, I am satisfied to say that clay is another medium that should be reserved for art classes with longer sessions.

Preparation and clean up time is important, but practice time is the entire point of having an art class. I did everything I could to reduce the time spent cleaning up so they could get those few extra minutes of practice time.

At the start of every class, I filled four dish tubs with water, set out hand towels and nail brushes to make sure the kids could get cleaned up before returning to their next class.

Once they learned the routine, clean up was a breeze.

Most of the items they made were bowls and cups. I think they learned to appreciate clay more, as the only experience most of them had had prior to this class was with modeling clay. One thing we learned about air dry was not to make something that had little arms or limbs sticking out... things like that broke off easily. We learned that making and using slip helped hold parts together, and we learned that shaping pots, bowls, or cups more than a 1/4 inch thick resulted in stronger products.

I loved the Space Fantasy Art pictures we made in Fifth Grade.

Here you see students applying an acrylic varnish to their finished pictures. The varnish was my idea, serving two purposes: 1) to give it a glossy finish; 2) to make it water resistant to any future spills or splatters; 3) to protect it from fingerprints of curious students that walk by in the hallway and want to touch it. I had taken some pictures of the Space Fantasy Gallery, but they are not on this computer... must be on my computer at school. I'll have to find them and come back later to post them.

My latest art project borrows from the style of Gustav Klimt, who liked to surround his subject with flat planes of color and pattern. If you check out the link to this interactive website, be sure your volume is turned up.

Most of his subjects were women, but there is this one painting, called Baby Cradle, which shows a child covered in a myriad of blankets and quilts. However, the planes of color do not appear to be flat as those in the women portraits he painted.

The Baby Cradle painting reminds me of the times when my young son would wait with anticipation for the clothes to come out of the dryer.

When he saw me taking them out, he'd say "Momma, throw them on me!" The dryer was just a few steps from the living room, so I'd grab up an armful of the warm towels and sheets and toss them on the boy who lay on the couch waiting. He snuggled there for several minutes before the heat wore off.

Then he'd help fold them, like a good son.

One of the characters I painted into my version of this blanket collage is an image of my son (as a child) in the white t-shirt, with his arm peeking out of the blanket. It's just the memory I tried to capture, and the feeling of peace, warmth, of being embraced, loved, safe.

Fifth grade students are producing their own versions of a Krazy Quilt. Some are including their pets, friends... currently we are at the stage of initial drawing, creating shapes of blanket planes, thinking about colors and repetitive lines. We'll be using watercolor and tempera for the most part. They'll be learning how to make tints of the color brown, to create any skin color they wish.

Last week, students helped me stage a live version of the Crazy Quit: I brought in several blankets, and borrowed a couple of quilts from one fifth grade teacher. I positioned students in and around a hammock chair, covering each one with a different blanket. Then they pretended to be asleep. The rest of the students could easily see how sleeping postures vary, how faces angle and tilt, how hair falls around the face, how eyes and eyebrows look in sleep. Doing this little staging prior to starting the drawing helped give them ideas on what they wanted their drawing to look like. I took a picture to show the ones who were involved in the staging so they could see themselves.

I plan to post the results of their paintings here within a few weeks... it will take that long to finish them.

Since this is actually the second time I've posted this entry, I found another Crazy Quilt I painted that would fit well here. Teachers need to have a model or two for the students before beginning a new lesson. In teaching art, we walk a fine line between showing them an example and giving them something to copy. I do not want them to copy my example, but use my model as a jumping off place. I encourage them to copy elements of design and arrange them into their own creation.

It helps stir the imagination of those who seem unable to imagine the picture they want to paint. When I show them several examples, of classic pieces, prints, my work, other teachers' work, or even other student examples if it's a project I have done before... if I can show a variety of examples I know they will have a more confident beginning.

Those of you who knew me before, when I was with aoljournals, you might recognize the miniature schnauzer sketch I worked into this. Whether I used the memory of Max or of Misty, I can't be sure.

And I apologize for those people who had left comments in the previous entry... those were lost as well. Please come back and comment. I enjoy reading your comments!


  1. So glad you were able to reconstruct the entry. My comment yesterday was along the lines that your are lucky to be able to help inspire such a diverse group of students.

  2. Yeah! Now I can leave the comment I tried to leave on this entry earlier before it disappeared!

    You are so lucky to have a job doing something so creative and with children to boot. That would be my dream job. I always love the pictures of the children's artwork and how they interpret what you are doing into something of their own.!

  3. So sorry that you lost your entry Bea. I was so happy to finally see a post from you. I loved seeing all the children's artwork and also yours. I just love that picture quilt you have done with the image of your son in it. How very lovely. I do hope that it is not long before you post again. I have missed you!! xxoo

  4. Well, maybe my comment was lost too. I mentioned that another way to paint snow is to dip and old toothbrush in white paint and 'flick' it over the canvas. I used to paint stars that way.

  5. I've lost an entry or two before. I often wonder why it isn't saved automatically in your drafts, as it would save a lot of time and frustration. Glad to see you posting again, Bea. Still caught up with Olympic fever, and going to spend some time getting more photos on my blog, if possible before I watch more events on the television. I've been among the mobs of people here in Vancouver the last three days. My feet are killing me! - I love your photos of you and the children hard at work. Amazing talent~*

  6. I remember reading Stranger in the Woods with Eler Beth when she was little. Once again I am amazed at your enthusiasm for teaching. It's good to see art alive and well in (at least some) schools.

  7. I am so glad to see you posting again. I'd definitely missed you. Anyone who reads you and does not get inspired has just missed the point.
    My Katie is a kindergarten student now in public school. Art is her favorite class as she has a wonderful caring teacher. We still have the big crayons we melted together with your help. Thank you for that memory.

  8. Hiya Bea! What a gift to be able to pass along your knowledge to children with a glad and willing heart. Bless people like you.

  9. Hello Beatrice. God bless you today and foverer. I am a franciscan frier and I live in Brazil.
    Good luck in your blog.

  10. Looks like a great project for the children.

  11. I love your blog lots of useful information. I've added it to my favorite bookmarks and subscribed in a reader.

    All these issues are important, and that's why I just started blogging a while ago and it feels great.

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