Saturday, May 30, 2009


When we talk about art we often only think of the visual arts but dance, theater, music and storytelling are also part of the arts. Any time that you can integrate more than one art together into a lesson the more likely you are to reach every child. Many times my friend Peter a second grade teacher and I would work together to create lessons that used literature, visual art and sometimes theater skills. Our favorite was a lesson which integrated the Harlem Renaissance artists with the poets. We also included a children's book about Duke Ellington for a little history. This also gave me the opportunity to play jazz music while the students worked. At the culmination of the lesson we held a coffee house reading, inviting the parents in for punch and cookies as the students read their poems. The other students beat light rhythms on bongos and small drums as the reading took place. We used all the arts in this one.

What I discovered is that the students really liked the jazz music and often asked me to play it as they worked on other lessons. They seemed to concentrate more and some even stood by their seats and danced as they worked on their pieces. I remember one parent asking me what was going on in the art room because her son started asking for jazz music when they were driving in the car and she was pleasantly surprised.

We decided that we would create a book which included all the students images and accompanying poems. If I were going to do this lesson again, I would have enough colored reproductions to allow for each child to receive a copy of all of the works. Unfortunately, I didn't think of this so I have the only copy.

I used the work of Romare Beardon as a visual stimulus for the students. He created a number of images about jazz. To produce their images the students made their own scratch board paper (much cheaper than buying it). First the student colored the entire piece of oak tag paper with craypas crayons using many of the colors. (Avoid using black as it won't show up in the artwork.) Then using black tempera paint, which had a small amount of liquid dish washing soap mixed into it, the students coated the entire surface of their paper. When it dries, the students used small bamboo skewers to etch their images into the surface. This lesson really requires prior planning as once the line is scratched it is there forever. There is no way to erase it. The students had created pencil sketches of what they wanted prior to beginning the etching. The real problem solving happens when a mistake is made as the student has to find a way to incorporate it into their plan.

When the poems were written and the artworks were completed, the work was bound into an accordion fold book. The poetry is surprisingly sophisticated for second grade students. It is full of rich descriptive language.
"I hear fireworks in the drumsticks..."

"And the music teaches me to play
And the keyboard just playing
away as the crowd's mouths open
Like doors opening as fast as they can."

"I hear the pounding of a drum
saxophone screeching loudly and
the water sailing around the slippery keys
of the piano."

"The keyboard acts up
the music turns itself around."

"I hear the trumpet yell out its blues."

AMaZing! As a reference of how artist and writers respond to jazz music, try reading Seeing Jazz published by Chronicle Books.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


I can't believe that it has been so long since I sat down to write. We went on a cruise and then I caught a cold and haven't done much of anything for a couple of weeks. Well, where was I? Oh, yeah, I was writing about my experiences at the Children's Studio School in Washington, D.C. By the way, I Googled the name and found another Children's Studio School but it is not the one where I worked as it has only been in existence for 18 years and I was in D.C. almost thirty years ago.

Some of my favorite memories are of the students. My favorite was Mildred, a Hispanic girl who was the same age as Jeremy my son. Her parents worked for a doctor. Her dad was a chauffeur and her mother was a housekeeper. Dad spoke only English to Mildred while her mother spoke only Spanish; hence, she was fluent in both languages. Mildred could explain how to create a silk screen from start to finish. She made many lovely paintings and would often ask me to write her stories for her as she dictated them. She was very articulate and creative. At least once a week Mildred would come into the office to deliver a work of art which she referred to as her "gifts". They were very conceptual. You see she would fold whatever she had drawn into very small shapes with the drawing on the inside and then tape them shut. She would tell you not to open the packages as this was the way they needed to be seen. I must admit that while I was tempted to open one, I never did.

Later in my teaching career, I had a fellow art teacher who taught a lesson where children made dream necklaces. She had students write a wish on a piece of paper and put it in a plastic film case which was glued shut. The lid had a loop sticking out of the top so it could be laced onto a necklace. The children decorated the container and strung it with paper beads to create a necklace. This lesson reminded me of Mildred's art.

Mildred was the one who taught me salsa dancing, encouraging me to sway my hips and shake my shoulders. She loved music and dancing and especially loved a party. Once she attended an art opening with Jeremy and myself (more on this later) and her only comment as we walked around looking at the art was, "they call this a party? where is the music and dancing?"

Over the years, I have taught nearly 9,000 children but Mildred and her "gifts" is still one of my fondest memories.

To be continued......

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I haven't been very good about keeping up my blog. I'm not really making excuses but I have been a little busy lately. Actually, I have been working in my studio every free chance I get so I have been avoiding the computer. I read an article in Cloth, Paper, Scissors magazine (January/February 2009) recently about clutches made from recycled plastic grocery bags. I decided to give it a try.

My first attempt was beautiful to look at if I do say so myself but it had a few problems. The paint was too thick and and once I folded it the paint began to crack. I added some paper to counteract this but I still wasn't happy.

The next three are more successful. I painted a thin coat of gesso on the surface before I applied the designs. This worked much better and I kept my paint thin, Also, for some reason that I can't fathom the plastic seems more pliable than the first one. Each one is lined with a faric that matches or enhances the design on the outside.

My pictures are not great but I think you get the idea. They have the appearance of painted leather. They are very light. They would make great evening bags or special occasion purses.I have already had requests to buy them. I want to build up a better selection before I start letting them go. What do you think?

Monday, April 13, 2009


The Children's Studio School was a daycare program for 3 to 5 year olds which used the arts as a basis for learning experiences. There were 50 students and, for at least 35 of them, English was a second language. Most were Hispanic but we had a few children from Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. My son Jeremy was the only Caucasian child. Coming from Maine, where everyone knew the only African American student in our high school, I was indeed entering a new world. (By the way, things have really changed around here since then. We now have children from all over the world in our schools. At our high schools there are more that 38 languages being used.)

The staff was composed of trained pre-school educators and artists, actors, dancers and musicians who were supplementing their incomes by participating in our school. Tom, one of our teachers, was a docent at the National Art Museum and a visual artist. Walter was a PHD candidate who also did appearances on a soap opera. Other people included a Brazilian dancer and an African dancer, a musician for a well-known singer, and several other struggling actors and artists. A very diverse group, to say the least.

The center itself was located on 15th Street, NW. The area had been devastated during the riots after Martin Luther King's assassination. The building, a church, was used by the community to help rebuild the area. There was a food program for the elderly in the basement, a health clinic on the second floor and our program on the first. We had a huge common room with a stage, three classrooms and a small office. The door to the office was always open so that I could watch what was going on (my choice). Children were always coming in to show me what they had made or to share a story. I liked this part best. There was a great deal of spontaneity!

The teachers took full advantage of the city, arranging field trips to Rock Creek Park for science lessons, the zoo, the many different playgrounds and museums and the workshops that were offered at the Kennedy Center (free to schools in the area). Transportation was the public bus which allowed 5 children to ride free for each adult or by foot. It's amazing how far a young child could walk if there is an adventure involved!

My job was to keep track of where every class was, to arrange for extra adults if they were needed for a field trip, to set up workshops for the teachers, to report all of this to the Department of Human Services as many of our children had the cost of their daycare supplemented by them, to write grants, pay bills, to cover classrooms as needed to arrange for lunch deliveries and purchasing of snack foods, and to keep parents informed and happy. Oh, yes, I also had to complete the application forms for DHS for the parents. Very often these interviews were in Spanish, hence the requirement that I be able to read and write Spanish. Occasionally, I would run into difficulty translating what the parent was saying due to dialect and idioms. Luckily, there was Mildred, 4 years old but fluent in two languages. She was a great help! More about her later.

I worked 10 hour days. I loved every minute of it!

To be continued......

Friday, April 3, 2009

Sometimes the choice isn't ours

Thirty years ago I moved to Washington D.C.. The choice to move there wasn't mine. I would be finishing my degree in art education and had been substitute teaching art in a local district in hopes of landing a job there when I was finished. So the idea of packing up and moving somewhere else was not what I had planned for myself. After all, we had a lovely two family home and a great three year old son. My family and my husband's family all lived nearby. we were comfortable if not rich.

My husband was a middle school science teacher and had been for about 7 years. He should have felt pretty secure but our local school district had had trouble passing their budgets so they had informed him every year for three years that he may not have a job in the fall. In this district he was the last science teacher hired therefore he would be the first to go. During his last year of teaching he had assigned a project for students to investigate and report about careers in science. One of his students wrote about a program at Georgetown University. This program, at no cost to the students, trained people to be ophthalmology technicians. He was very interested in this program so he wrote to Georgetown for more information. Then he applied and was accepted.

He left at the end of the school year but I still had one more course to complete so I would not be joining him until sometime in September. We were very naive about the change. We thought it would be easy to find a place to live and I would easily find a job as an art teacher since I had some experience and a degree. Because we were not sure that we wanted to stay in D.C after he completed his two year program, we rented our house in Maine and arranged for my father to pick up the rent every month. We had just enough money to last us through December if we were frugal and we were sure that I would easily find a job.

We found an apartment in Hyattsville, Maryland just outside the District. The apartment complex would allow us to have our dog and had a child care facility ( a Montesori school) on site. Perfect! Art teaching jobs were nonexistent. No problem. I had worked for the local Blue Cross and Blue Shield office in the Public Relations Department and had written some training programs that had received recognition from the National Plan. There was an office in DC. So armed with recommendations and the knowledge that I knew the person with whom I would be interviewing, I felt pretty secure. No Soap! While they thought I was qualified for the position that was available, they couldn't hire me as I did not understand how the "district" worked.

We were rapidly running out of money and I was thinking of returning home with Jeremy where at least I could find a job. Then one day I was reading the classifieds and I saw an advertisement for someone with a degree in art who could read and write Spanish and was capable of writing grants for a school that used the arts as the main focus of education. I nearly fell off my chair. This, I was sure, was the reason we had come here. I had always felt that the best way to teach a child was to use the arts. I called the school, talked to the Director and arranged for an interview. I was hired on the spot but not before I negotiated free tuition for my son as daycare in DC was very expensive and the pay was low. Thus my two year tenure at the Children's Studio School in Washington DC began.

To be continued........

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Well, it's April already and I have not been doing a great job on my blog of late. I have been really busy working on my own art work. It must be Spring fever! I just want to see a lot of color!

I promise to do better. I think what I will do next is tell you about my experiences at the Children's Studio School in Washing ton D.C. and how this influenced my thinking about the teaching of art to young children. No time today between doctor's appointments and meetings so I will write tomorrow.

Have a nice day!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


My art class with Leah is finished for now but I had promised my niece that I would post one more article about the class. There was one activity that I thought was the most age appropriate. STRINGING MACARONI NECKLACES. This requires some prep work before the child can get started but it is an activity that a young child can do with very little supervision. Stringing beads helps to develop fine motor skills and eye hand coordination, both of which are essential pre-reading and writing skills.

Step One: Preparing the Macaroni

You will need to purchase some macaroni. You need to select pasta that has a hole like penne. Try to avoid the kind that has too many bends like elbow macaroni. There are so many shapes out there so be creative. Secondly, you need to have rubbing alcohol, food coloring and some large empty plastic containers. I used a large yogurt container.
Pour a half of cup of the alcohol in the container. Squirt in a generous amount of food coloring. I used red. Did you know that food coloring now comes in neon colors? Add approximately 2 cups of pasta. Cover and set aside. I let mine sit for about a week because I was too busy to check on it but overnight is probably long enough. Drain off the alcohol and spread the macaroni out on newspaper or paper towels to dry. They will look lighter in color and the pasta will be soft. Don't worry! The color darkens as it dries and the pasta gets hard again when dry.

Step Two: Beading

You will need some string for the necklaces. Shoelaces work great! You can use cotton crochet thread or yarn but you will need to tape around the end to make it easier for the string to push through the pasta.

Remember that plastic tray I suggested that you use for finger painting. Well, it would be great for this project too. Spread the different colors of pasta out on the tray or a cookie sheet. Show the child how to put the pasta onto the string and then watch. Once the child masters the stringing part, you could start suggesting different ways to string the "beads". Here's one suggestion. String a pattern like "two red, one blue, two red" or "one round shape, one tubular shape, one long shape." Lay it in front of the child and ask him or her to copy your pattern. This is a pre-math skill called sequencing.

When it is time to clean up, have the child sort the different colors into containers. Sorting is a great skill. This promotes color recognition and naming.

Have fun!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

melted crayon stained glass effect

Well, I promised that I would work up the idea that I was thinking of for the melted crayon sheets.
This first set of pictures shows the steps to creating the wax paper sheets.The next photo shows you the finished product. You have to admit that this would hold very little attention for young children.

My idea is to surround this paper with a black paper frame and then have the children glue strips of black paper to the black paper to create the stained glass window effect. I did not take much care in cutting my frame but I was thinking you could have the frames be a variety of shapes (like ovals for Easter eggs) depending on season or use. The materials needed would be a glue stick and some black construction paper. Young children like too use the glue sticks and there is very little mess.

The rest of the pictures are self-explanatory. Did you notice how much brighter the colors became once they were surrounded by the black paper?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Last class

Today was the last of this series of art classes. What a dud! While she was telling us that new classes were starting next week, we were working on the worst project yet. (I did not take pictures, sorry.)

Today we took old broken crayons and crushed them with a rolling pin. A great deal of adult strength was required to accomplish this. Then the children took the pieces and sprinkled them on a piece of wax paper. The adult then carried the wax paper to an alternate work space where they placed another piece of wax paper on top of it, sandwiched it between two piece of newspaper and then ironed it. This melted the crayons. The results are quite attractive but the lesson fell flat with the children. Once the crayon breaking was done and the crayon bits were sprinkled the children had no interest in the project. After one Leah said, "Okay, all done!"

I definitely would have added another piece to this. The paper is quite attractive when held up against the window. Why not take advantage of that and create a stained glass look from the melted crayon paper? Using a folded piece of black construction paper, the children could have cut into the paper removing bits and pieces of the black paper. I know, most two year-olds are not very good with scissors but why not help develop cutting skills while making this a more complete lesson. When some holes have been cut into the black paper, open it up. Tape or glue
(tape would work better) the melted crayon paper to the black paper. The results would be a stained glass window effect that could be hung in the windows of the child's room or some other window in the home.

The day wasn't a total loss though as Leah and I made a day of it. First, I took her to the school where I used to teach art and visited with my friend Gail. The children were thrilled to have a little visitor and I think Leah enjoyed her first glimpse of a big school. Then we had lunch at IHOP and went shopping for an Easter bonnet. Of course, we also bought a pocketbook and just for fun a dance costume. Life is good.

While I was writing about shopping, I came up with another way to create the stained glass look.
I want to make one first so I will write about it tomorrow. Have a great day!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Yet Another Idea for Printimaking

I was looking at some samples of student art work that I had accumulated over the years and came across these fish paintings. The lesson itself was based on warm and cool colors and was taught to kindergarten students. It also had a science component to it as we had to look at fish and determine what parts we needed to create an image of the fish.

As motivation for the lesson I read A Fishy Shape Book by David and Joan Wylie. This book shows a fish created from a variety of basic shapes. It ask the question is it a circle fish? Is it a square fish? And so on. The illustrations are simple and it show students how to add shapes together to create the image of a fish. This is only one of the fish books written and illustrated by this couple.

After looking at the book students would draw a shape on the paper with a crayon. Then we would talk about what we needed to add to create the head, fins and tail. I would often show slides of real fish and we would try to decide what shape best represented the body of the fish to further our study of fish. The idea is to get them to think beyond the circle with a triangle fish that they are often taught to draw.

Having drawn our fishes, we then focused on color. We would divide colors into two families, the warm family or the cool family. Each child would then select a color family for there fish and paint it. To create the scales the students would use piece of cardboard stamped on to the surface of the fish. This was done by standing the cardboard on end in black paint and then pressing the painted cardboard on to the fish.

Here's a tip for painting with tempera with young children. Empty egg cartons make great paint trays. You can put some color in each of the sections. When the painting is done you simply throw it away. Makes clean up easy!

Balloons and Paste

Week six at our class proved to be an interesting experiment in how long a two year-old can spend dipping their hands in paste. The instructor decided that this would be a good time to try papier mache. So balloons in hand we began.

Of course, since the children are young, they were more interested in playing with the balloons than using them as armatures for pasting. To help with this we were each given two, one for play and another which we taped onto a plastic container to prevent it from rolling around the table while we worked with it.

For paste we used a flour paste which is simple to make and not too pricey. I prefer Pritt Paste. It is available at most craft stores for about $1.49 per box. One box makes a gallon of paste and it stores quite well if covered tightly. It does get a little more watery this way. Left uncovered it will form a crust which can be peeled off but it will last only about a week this way before it starts to dry up. The difference is that it sticks together better than the flour paste and dries faster.

Secondly, we used strips of newspaper. The strips should be torn not cut as the rough tear edge helps the pieces to blend together. When tearing newspaper, you should tear with the grain. It is pretty easy to find out f you are tearing the right way. If you tear with the grain you will get nice long straight tears; against the grain the paper tears off in small uneven tears. You should tear a good pile before you start. You will be surprised how much paper it takes! Once you have torn the long strips you should tear them into pieces about 2 inches long for easy handling.

The rest is pretty simple. You dip the newspaper strips in the paste wipe off the excess and then press it onto the surface of the object that you are using as your armature. completely cover the surface with newspaper. The more layers of paper the harder the structure when done. If you are working with more that one child, you will need to take a plain piece of paper for writing the child's name and that should be applied last. I liked to use either unprinted newspaper or paper towels for the last layer. This gives you a plain surface for finishing and also helps you see that you have put at least two complete layers on the surface. Take some paste and rub the entire surface with it to smooth out the surface. Let it dry.

When the object has dried, you can decide how you are going to finish it. I will show you what we did with the balloons after the next class.

1 cup of flour
1 cup of water
1 teaspoon of salt to prevent mold formation
Basically you need an equal amount of water and flour and a small amount of salt. Mix until there are no lumps.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Yet Another Snow Day

Welcome to March in Maine! We had 9 inches do snow last night which is less than they predicted.
I love the way the world looks after a snowstorm, the way every thing is clean and fresh and the way the snow clings to the trees. Since my house is surrounded by trees it is a good thing that I feel that way.

This morning as I looked out the window I was reminded of an art lesson that I use to do with second grade students after a big snow storm. It was always one of my favorites and could be completed in one class so the results were immediate.

  • A 12 by 18 piece of paper (not white) I preferred to use dark blue or purple because I like the way the color worked with the other colors.
  • Black tempera paint
  • White tempera paint
  • Paintbrushes, a fine one for white and a larger one for the black
The students were instructed to paint five or six black vertical lines across the paper. They could be the same length or not. It is best if they don't know what the lines are being used for when they start as they are more likely to vary the length of the lines. After he lines were painted we looked at photographs of trees covered with snow or out the window if I was at the school that had the trees close by.

The students added lines to their first lines by painting from the bottom up and out on either side of the original line, creating the branches. When the trees were complete, the white paint was added. The width of the white paint at the bottom of the page had to be as high as the bottom of the highest vertical line from the bottom of the page. White paint was brushed on the lines that served as branches. They could add snowflakes if they desired. The two picture show here are ones that were left behind when students moved away and have no name on them.

Since I live in the woods, I attempted to capture this same image a few years ago with cut paper and collage, using a variety of colors for the trees and then added white acrylic paint. I like the image but I am still drawn to the black and white paintings. I appreciate the simplicity of the students images and the silhouettes of the trees.

What do you think?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Week Five- Activity Two

The second half of this week's class was also a painting activity. It was one of those standard activities everyone does with children but they don't know why. When I was teaching art, I left this project to the classroom teachers and focused on helping children to draw pictures of themselves instead.

The child lays down on a large sheet of paper while an adult traces around their body creating a large shadow shape of the child. The proportions are distorted and there is very little resembling the shape of a head because of the hair. There are many ways to fill in this shape. Our instructor elected to have the children work with tempera paint and markers if desired. She also provided yarn for hair but for children this young it would require much adult intervention to glue down the yarn.

Leah was aware that this shape was her. She chose, however, to ignore the idea of adding eyes and other details. She simply wanted to paint. There were only five colors with a single paint brush in each. Remember that there were four children painting at the same time. Needless to say this was not the best arrangement. The best part of this activity is that every child approached this differently. I was going to include a picture where too much parental intervention had taken place but decided against it . What I want to do is caution you that if you are working with your child remember: "It is okay to ask questions. It is not okay to paint it for them. Little learning takes place when you do all the thinking."

Friday, February 27, 2009

Art Class = Week Five Painting Our Clay

Well, we finally made it to the painting stage of this class. The class was broken into two parts.
One part was glazing the clay tiles that were made three weeks ago and the other was a large painting project. This was mainly because there wasn't enough room for all of the children to glaze their pots at the same time.

Leah loves to paint in any form so despite her cranky mood (She seemed very unhappy this morning which is unusual for her.) she dove right into the painting process. I'll let the picture speak for itself. We worked with low fire clay and lead free glazes which is great if you have access to a kiln. I would like to offer an alternative since most of us do not have a kiln.

You can buy great self -hardening clays. They can be very expensive at a craft store as you get a small amount. Check your phone book to see if there is a pottery studio nearby as they usually are a good supplier of large quantities of self-hardening clay. I always used Portland Pottery Supply. I could purchase 25lbs for around $50.00. This sounds like a lot but it keeps well if wrapped up tightly. They can be handled the same way as low fire clay. The objects simply have to air dry. They are a little more fragile but this never seemed much of a problem.

When the clay projects dry, they can be painted with watercolors because the clay still absorbs moisture. The color soaks right into the clay. After the paint drys coat the object with Jazz clear gloss medium or Liquitex gloss medium. This helps to brighten the colors and preserve the clay from moisture. The fish mask is one that I made many years ago in a fifth grade art class using these products.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Monochromatic Designs with printmaking

While I was teaching I had to introduce the element of design, PATTERN. Pattern is not always an easy concept to teach to young children. It requires an understanding of repetition. There are simple patterns where you work with one color and two shapes or two colors and one shape. These are called A B patterns. When working with small children, it is best to keep it simple. One of my favorite lessons when I was teaching was set up in two parts. The first part was a monochromatic painting of a shape. The students chose one color of paint and some white and black paint for mixing tints and shades. The main focus of this part of the lesson was to get them to understand that white added to a color made it lighter (tint) and black added to a color made it darker (shade).

The students painted a simple shape like a circle or square on to a large piece of paper with their color. They then added white to their paintbrushes and painted around that shape creating a shadow image. The students either added white or black to their paintbrushes until they had painted around the shape right up to the edges of the paper. The papers were left to dry until the next class.

Step two: Here's where the printmaking comes into the artwork. Students were given white, gold, silver and black tempera paint and small pieces of cardboard (cut from a discarded packing box), sponges and empty thread spools. (the plastic ones have a wonderful wagon wheel image.)
Students were then directed to use these tools to create patterns in the shapes that they had painted. The one included here is that of a five year-old who left her work behind.

One of these monochromatic pattern designs is part of the permanent collection of student artwork of the Westbrook, Maine School Department. Many parents chose to have these images framed to hang in their home or offices. Image my surprise when, about two years ago, I went into my bank manager's office and saw two of these images hanging in her office. One had been done by her oldest daughter, now a high school graduate, and the other had been done by her middle daughter, now in third grade. Both girls had created their work in one of my kindergarten art classes . The mother said that she loved the modern appearance these art works gave to her office. I, on the other hand, was thrilled to see that someone appreciated the beauty of the artwork that young children can produce.

If you are a teacher or a home school parent and would like a full copy of the lesson plan and its expected outcomes in relationship to learning standards, please send me a request in the comment area with your e-mail address and I will send it to you.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Found Object Printmaking

You know that old saying: "life has a way of interrupting your plans" or something like that. Well, I had planned to write at least 4 blogs per week but I haven't been able to find the time to sit down and do it. Here is the second of the printmaking ideas. Some people have a problem with using food to make art so I want to offer this alternative.

Materials needed:
A sponge brush or other painting tool
any color of tempera paint
Objects you find in your home

The process is the same as with vegetables. I spent about two minutes looking in my kitchen drawers to come up with the objects that I chose to paint. I found a cork, a wooden spool, a fork, a chopstick, a plastic cookie cutter of a tree, a tea light in a metal container, a potato masher. a pencil eraser and a pastry blender.
The potato masher is perfect for young children because a child can stamp it in the paint and then stamp it on the paper. It creates an interesting grid shape. The cork, the thread spool or pencil eraser can work the same way. You get a clearer picture from the fork tines if you paint the paint on the fork rather than pressing it in the paint. The pastry blender also works best if the paint is paint on to it because sometimes the paint builds up between the spaces when it is just pressed into the paint.

You might wonder what you could do with these stamped images. They are great for teaching about patterns, repetition and sequencing. All of these are skills needed to understand the voice of language or simple mathematics. The are great for creating original wrapping paper. (You can use grocery store paper bags for the paper. Just cut them open and lay them flat) If you use an acrylic paint (Be sure to dress your child in clothing that is not precious to you as the acrylic paint is non-washable.), you can print images on t-shirts or aprons. To set the paint, iron the fabric on a hot setting between two pieces of paper. When printing a t-shirt, place a stack of newspaper inside the shirt to prevent the paint from going to the back. These make wonderful gifts or terrific art shirts!

Friday, February 13, 2009

class 4...Vegetable Printing

Wow! What a crazy week this has been! Too much to do and too little time for me!
This week in the pre-school art class we worked with two different media but I am only going to talk about one for now, VEGETABLE PRINTING.

With the high cost of fresh vegetables this is not necessarily the cheapest of art projects but it does offer some interesting results. I am going to talk to you about how to do this and some other possibilities for printing tools. You'd be surprised by the variety of printing tools you have right in your own kitchen.

We worked with celery, heads of cabbage, potatoes, carrots, green peppers and onions. This sounds like the ingredients for a nice vegetable soup. Unfortunately, the vegetables were not edible when we were done. The instructor provided squares of paper, knives for the adults to use and washable tempera paint. The paper was unsatisfactory for printing as it had a texture which inhibited the image from printing cleanly. Most people would turn to washable paint when working with young children. This isn't necessarily a great idea for print making with vegetables. You see the vegetables have water in them so they water down the paints which already have limited pigment (the stuff that makes the color) in them . This combined with the textured paper really effected the results. The paint was applied by pressing the vegetable into a meat tray that had paint in them. Meat trays make great paint holders for this project.
The images are made by having the child stamp the image onto the paper in an up and down motion.

When I have done this with young children, I used regular tempera. You might ruin an old shirt but the colors are brighter and the images are much clearer. Sometimes pressing the image into the paint results in an uneven coverage of paint on the vegetable. Using a small paintbrush or a sponge brush to paint the vegetable surface gets an more even coating resulting in a much clearer image. A smooth white paper or brown packaging paper like that used for mailing packages is a great surface for printing. Remember that their hands are small so limit the size of the pieces of vegetable that you are using.

I've included some images that you might expect to get using vegetables. Since this blog is getting too long. I'll write about printing with found objects in the kitchen tomorrow.
In the first picture, the image on the left is made from a potato that has been cut in half. The middle image is made from an onion and the images on the right have been made with a hunk of red cabbage. The images in the second picture are made from a slice of green pepper and an apple that has been cut open. When sliced horizontally rather than vertically, you will find a nice
star-shaped image. The potato can also be cut into a variety of shapes. Here I have cut a heart shape out of it. It's a great way to print cards or wrapping paper for special occasions.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Art Class: Week 3: clay

Okay, I apologize I forgot my camera so I don't have any pictures. This week's art class with two-year-olds proved that this is a class about making things rather than learning. We were give slabs of clay to make tiles. It was apparent that the parents were more involved than the children.

Our first assignment was to make a hand print in the clay. Leah had no problem with this as she had already done this. She placed her hand on the clay and I pressed down on it making sure to get the heel of the hand. It is a common error when making a hand print not to get the heel. This is partly due to the awkward angle that the child's hand has to be in order to accomplish this. The wrist must be at a complete right angle or the heel does not print. We were then allowed to embellish our hand print tile with a variety of implements.

This could have been great! Unfortunately, there was only one of each item and eight children. As you can guess this did not bode well. Young children do not have much patience. The other problem was that they were using sponge printing tool. This would be fine with adults but to make an impression with a sponge on clay requires a great deal of pressure and strength, The little kids just didn't get it. Wooden blocks or hard plastic would have been more suitable.

It is great to explore clay with young children but you should do that. Let the child "explore" the clay. Creating a clay tile for Grandma is a project with very little learning taking place. Letting the child roll the clay, smash the clay, coil the clay, squeeze the clay or otherwise manipulate the clay provides them with a understanding of what clay is and how it can be used. Not having a tangible object at the end of the exploration is okay. Such manipulation also is more age appropriate for the child. They are at a stage where they are not so concerned about the beauty of a project as they are about the feel of the project.

I promise to take pictures this week. I think we are going to paint the tiles that the adults made.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Story Starters

Teachers of writing often use one line sentences, like what I did on my summer vacation, to give children a jump-start to writing. This can also be helpful in visual art. I don't mean that you should have your child draw a picture of what they did on their summer vacation. I mean that you could give them a visual jump-start.

When I was teaching, I loved to use children's stories as motivators. My favorite book was one that I rescued from the library discarded books. It was called "The Line Sophie Drew". A very old book, probably out of print as I haven't been able to find a source or copy, the story was about a little girl who drew a line on a page and on each page someone is trying to guess what it is that she is going to draw from the line. It ends with the unanswered question. After reading this book and discussing the ideas, I would give children a piece of paper with a line on it and have them draw a picture from the line. The results were always very interesting and surprisingly different from each other. This works well with children around 4 or 5 or older.

Children also love stickers. Using stickers as a story starter for drawing is also a great idea.
This works best with stickers that are characters or objects. Have the child place one on a blank piece of paper. Ask them where the character is. When I used to ask my youngest child Zach this, he would answer "On the paper. " He was always very literal. I would then say in your imagination is the robot (We'll use this for clarity.) inside or outside. If he said outside. I would say is it sunny or rainy outside. How do I know? What does it look like where he is? Is he alone? I think you get the idea. Leave the questions open ended, letting the child decide what is the correct answer. Often after a couple of questions the child knows exactly what they want the picture to look like. These drawings often led to stories about the experiences of the character which I would write down as they told them.

Other ideas for story starters:
  • A circle on a paper...What could it be?
  • A rubber stamp that the child uses before putting crayon or marker to paper.
  • A piece of torn paper glued on to a piece of paper. What does it look like?

These are just a few that I used. I'm sure that you can think of many more. If you try any of these or some of your own let me know. I would love to know how this idea works for you.

Quote for today: "Too often we give children answers to remember rather that problems to solve." - Roger Lewin

Friday, January 30, 2009

The dot

When I retired from teaching, I was given two copies of the same book by friends. I kept one and donated the other to the school library. The book is called "The Dot" by Peter H. Reynolds and published by Candlewick Press ( The inscription on the inside of the one that I kept reads "Karen - You are this teacher! Don't ever forget that! love, Peter" No. it is not the Peter who wrote the book but my friend Peter whom I mentored as a new teacher and then collaborated with on a number of interdisciplinary lessons.

Yesterday when I wrote about not always being able to create just because someone says it is time to do so, I thought about this book. The basic story is about a little girl who says she cannot draw. The teacher encourages her to just make a mark and she makes a dot and says there! How the teacher uses this dot to encourage her to explore her creativity is the remainder of the story.

I always told the parents of my students that some of the hardest thinking their children would do during their school years would happen in the art room. Think how intimidating it is for someone to give you a blank piece of paper and say draw something. Most adults respond that they can't draw a straight line. I always respond, "Good! That is why they make rulers and straight edges."

Don't get me wrong. I know that doing math or writing sentences for your spelling words is not easy for children. With those subjects, however, there is a place to go to find the right answer. In art the answer lies within you. What is the story I what to tell? What color makes me feel happy, sad or excited? How does that object look to me? What shapes do I need? These are just some of the questions that the child needs to answer as they explore the visual communication process. Are there wrong answers? Some of the answers are more pleasant than others but that doesn't make them wrong. Often the picture that did not work is the one that teaches us the most. It helps us to develop aesthetic judgment or to work on creating a clearer image next time. There are incorrect ways to use the materials or tools but that is why the art teacher shows how to use the tools or materials before they start. (Modeling how to use the tools or materials is one of the important skills of teaching.)

If you get a chance, read "The Dot." Then get a piece of paper and a marker and start exploring your ideas. Remember that a line is just proof that a dot has moved around the page.
Have fun!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snow Day

No art class today with Leah. We are expecting at least a foot of snow if not more. So after I get myself organized I'm going to work on my own stuff.

For the past few years I have mostly been working in collage, combining paint with cut or torn paper. More recently, I have been working with smaller pieces. About a week ago when I was reorganizing my studio, cleaning up my workbench and making shelves more orderly so I didn't waste so much time looking for stuff,, I found that I have four different kinds of watercolors. I set a goal for myself to incorporate watercolors into my work. The first piece I did combined some printing with watercolor and cut paper. After inking a piece of corrugated cardboard, I printed it on the surface of some very nice watercolor paper. Then I wet the entire surface and randomly painted with watercolors, letting the colors run into each other. I let this dry. I used a sharpie marker to draw images into the watercolor and then went back into the images with deeper watercolors. I had forgotten how much I liked the way black line and watercolor look.
The printed image reminded me of wood and looked like the side of a house. I often add a window in my work, I like the idea of a picture in a picture. I decided that I would make one of my cut paper collages on the printed section. I was pleased with the results,

Today I decided to just use black line and watercolors. The image is small, 3"by3". I quickly sketched the still life in pencil, traced the lines with black ink and proceeded to paint the image. I worked with watercolors on dry paper which gives a different quality to the painting. The work went fast. I had planned to create two or three more. Unfortunately, I was interrupted by a phone call and when I returned to work the muse had left me.

This is an important thing to remember. A young child may not always feel like making something that day or minute. Creativity cannot be scheduled. This is why it is important to have a space where the young child can draw or paint freely as the "spirit moves them". When I was teaching, I called my classroom the art studio. This led to conversations about what a studio was and why it was different than other rooms. A studio is a place where an artist goes to make art. Try to create a small studio space for your child. He or she will love it! I remember the day that i was describing my studio space to some students. A second grade boy, looking at me with awe, whispered, "You have a studio in your house. Could I come over sometime and share it with you?"

A quote to think about:
"Children don't need mechanical toys to teach them about the world. The world itself is a kid's brain gym" - Lawrence Katz, PHD, from Better Homes and Gardens, November 2005.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Glitter, Glitter, Everywhere

Art class for children two years old: Week two

Week two at my art class with Leah answered my question about the purpose of this class. It is just about making things and not about teaching parents ways to work with young children We worked with glitter. Why anyone would choose glitter as the art material of choice for two-year-olds is beyond me. Don't get me wrong. I love glitter! It has a definite use in art work of young children. It can really help children learn about when enough is enough. Children of this age, however, are not at that level.

At this class we were given a 10" cardboard heart shape, a small tub of Elmer's glue and some q-tips. The instructor asked the children to cover the cardboard heart with glue using the q-tip. Asking a young child to cover a 10" space with a q-tip is like asking your husband to mow the lawn with a pair of scissors. The q-tip does not pick up very much glue and makes it difficult for the child to cover the space. Once again I would suggest the use of a cheap and disposable foam brush. A one inch brush will help the child cover the area before the glue starts to dry. They were asked to cover both sides of the heart which meant that the grownups were required to hold the heart steady in the air to avoid the glue coming off one side in the process of doing the other. Not as easy as it sounds!

The second step of this lesson was to have the children sprinkle glitter onto the surface of the heart over a tray. Leah was proud of her heart and wanted to take it home to hang it up.

Realizing that this would not take too long. The instructor planned another activity, making a wave in a bottle. Let me explain how this was done. Take and empty water bottle (1 liter size).
Pour about 1/3 cup vegetable oil into the bottle. Fill the rest with water. Shake the glitter in to the bottle by pouring it through a funnel. Add four drops of food coloring. Put the top on the bottle and fasten with duct tape. Give the bottle a shake.

This activity held no interest for the young children. First of all, they didn't understand what they were doing. Secondly, the glitter wasn't essential for the activity. Mostly, the glitter just stayed on the bottom rather than floating through the water.

Here are some facts about glitter:
  • It's pretty.
  • Young children are attracted to it.
  • It sticks to everything, especially young fingers which are apt to go into the eyes and mouth.
  • Glitter enhances the look of many things but can also take away from the images when overly applied.
  • If not applied correctly, it tends to fall off the art work and makes a mess in your environment.
  • Once it ends up in your carpet it never seems to go away.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

An Easel in the Kitchen

I'm sorry that I didn't write this sooner but I was trying to find a picture. Unfortunately, I didn't find it. In case I haven't mentioned it, I have three children, Jeremy (33), Sarah (26) and Zachary (20) and I worked full time even when they were babies.

I always kept an easel in the kitchen when my children were little. At first it was out of necessity. When we lived in D.C., the apartment was small so, the only place to put an easel was in the kitchen. Watching Jeremy draw or paint while I was preparing dinner soon became the highlight of a very busy day. As he was drawing, we would talk about the colors he was using or he would tell me the story of his picture. Occasionally, he would ask me to write down what he was saying. I seldom wrote directly on his work. Instead, I would write on a separate strip of paper. The strip would then be placed under the picture. The wall behind the easel became his gallery. While Jeremy majored in jewelry design at Savannah College of Art and Design, he currently works for a large food chain in their marketing department.

After Sarah was born, we returned to Maine. There we had a larger house but I still put an easel for Sarah in the kitchen. Sarah was and still is a talker. She would chatter away while I worked. By now I was more skilled in finding out the meaning in the scribbles, although with her there were few scribbles and more images. She always wanted me to write what she was saying and wanted it placed on her pictures. She loved words and books. Any folded piece of paper became the place to write her story. Needless to say,she read early and is still an avid reader. Sarah received her BA from Dartmouth in art history and a masters in art history from the Courthauld in London . She is currently a free lance writer and editor.

Zach did not spend as much time at the easel. Perhaps this was because I was also busier and we spent more time transporting people around. Jeremy was in high school and needed transportation to and from marching band and Sarah and I were in a clogging group where I was an instructor. He was more likely to lay on the floor with a pad of paper and a crayon. As he grew older I discovered that every time he read a story or watched a movie, he would have to draw a picture of it. It was his way of processing and remembering. Today he is majoring in film at Emerson College and still drawing pictures of the movies he sees. As evidenced by this quick sketch of the joker in Dark Knight.

On my granddaughter's second birthday I bought her an easel to keep the tradition going.

They also make a great place to hide!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What's with the name...

You may be wondering about the name of my blog. For many years the license plate on my car had this message. It was my way to advocate for the teaching of art. Many people would ask me what a t chart was. I would explain that it was an assessment tool but the license plate should say teach art also. The use of the numeric 2 was due to the limitations of characters on a license plate. While it wasn't the greatest way to advocate for my subject, it a least got people thinking and talking about art.

As an art educator I was often confronted with the fact when most people, including most school committee members and administrators, talked about education, they really were only talking about reading, writing, math and science. What they failed to recognize was the importance of an aesthetic education in the development of a child' s learning process. The introduction of "no child left behind" limited the focus even more. Numerous tests for reading and math left little time for art education.

I had spent 13 years volunteering for the Maine Department of Education, working on developing assessments for the state, writing the state standards for arts education, training to be a table leader in teaching other teachers how the tests would be evaluated, and even working with the people who were going to be scoring the tests to ensure that they were looking at the responses for the correct artistic answer not the best writing. I even had the privilege of meeting with members of the State of Maine School Board to look at the arts assessments. What marvelous progress I felt we were making! And then the focus of education went back to looking at only math and reading scores as ways to prove that schools were successful.

Many people didn't have a very successful art experience in school so they fail to see the importance of a good art program. Their image of an art class is one where everyone made the same project. While this may be a fun release from the standard fair of daily ditto sheets and workbooks, it has very little to do with art education. A real art class should help children explore their surroundings, learn about the history of the world, learn to make informed judgments and learn how to question what they see. Many parents were amazed to find out that I used art history as a basis for teaching art skills to my students beginning in kindergarten. We would look at the works of an artist, or a selection of art works on the same topic, and talk about the use of color to convey meaning, how lines help us see the idea,what were the shapes they saw, or what was it that the artist was trying to say. Very often the younger students saw ideas that were new to me as they were looking at the art work with a newer (no preconceived notions) eye.

When I wasn't using reproductions of artists' works, I often used children's books from the school library or my personal collection to show students how the arts influenced idea making. Connecting ideas with words and images is important in a young child's development and literacy.

More about this tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thursday afternooon

After spending so much time thinking about children's art it was fun to spend Thursday afternoon crafting with some friends at the Portland Elks Club. We had been talking about the up-coming Valentine's Day Dance and the centerpieces for the tables when it was suggested that it might be fun to create some of our own. Always ready for an art project I volunteered to come up with an idea.

After a quick trip to the Christmas Tree Shop, I returned with some glass heart shaped vases ( 4 for $1.00), three packages of hearts on stems ( a package of six for 99 cents) some peel and stick hearts, a few bouquets of silk roses from Micheal's craft store ( two for $400) and a collection of foam letters, glitter and heart shape stamps from my own supplies. We were all set.

We had no specific plans for the decoration of these vases. We simply looked at the materials and started experimenting. We had a bag of candy hearts with sayings on them and used them as resources for our words.

The results were quite pleasing. I was thinking that this would also be an easy and inexpensive way to make a personal gift for young children to give to grandmothers for Valentine's Day gifts.

The final picture shows some of the vases. Not too bad f I do say so myself. We added some shredded mother of pearl paper inside the vases to finish them.

It is really fun to sit with friends and share a creative activity. We talked and laughed. We offered each other suggestions and we gathered a crowd of interested by-standers who were quite amazed with our artistic abilities. A fun afternoon with friends for very little expense. Have a great Day!