March 28, 2018

Book It

As a response to some of their favorite "literature", my pre-K students have been collaboratively filling some blank books with their creations:

The youngest classes at our school are three and four years old, and they made a very simple "colors" book, and a more ambitious alphabet book respectively. 

For our colors book, we began each class by choosing two colors, and students helped mix paint colors, filling a single page with a single hue. (Each day we could do two side-by-side pages, allowing a whole day to dry). Later they added to the pages using tempera sticks and pastels. The cover was gesso'd and got a beautiful rainbow. We've already "read" this book a number of times - you'd be surprised at how intriguing a book with no words can be!

An older class took on the alphabet. We used a die cut machine to make letters, and the kids choose what would go on each page to represent the letter.. Their drawings were cut out and collaged on the corresponding page Some were really easy go-tos (like"Z for Zebra") while others were more...inventive (like "C for Caged Building").  The cover was decorated wth tissue paper letters carefully glued on. Similar to the color book, this alphabet book has already found a prime spot among our favorite reads.

March 27, 2018

Flora up Close

Inspired by a recent* comprehensive Chuck Close photography exhibit at PAFA, I designed a lesson for my pre-Kindergartners that would allow them to dip into old school photography. 

In Close's show, there were two enourmously large scale still lifes photomontages of flowers - which is where I drew my subject matter. Many of the photo collages that were in the exhibition were visibly held together with tape, which gave them an imperfect and purposeful feel - a connection I intentionally included in our version of this project. 

Our small friends have experimented with photography before, and we reviewed parts of a camera. We've also done some still life drawing, so were able to dip back into that experience - setting the scene, choosing what to include in our frame, etc.

Students took two or three instant photos of  live cut flowers, anxiously and excitedly watching them develop. For this endeavor, I used my tried and true favorite instant film - Fuji Instax Wide. The colors and price can't be beat! After a week of taking pictures (and trying to refresh my wiltering bouquets), all the kids IN THE WHOLE SCHOOL had snapped photos of our sunflowers, carnations, and daisies. Each kids work was collected in a labeled envelop for later.

The second week of this project was all about layout. The kids arranged their photos onto 12x12" cardstock, glued or taped them down, and then decorated with colored tape, metallic markers, or other ephemera they dreamed up. 

*btw this exhibit turned out to be somewhat controversial. After it was open, several credible sexual misconduct accusations came out against Chuck Close. PAFA handled the news in a very cool way, and instead of pulling the show, they scheduled exhibitions and open ended talks about power dynamics in art and the museum and art viewers responsibilities. 

March 26, 2018


What a treat to teach some Josef Albers color theory right in front of the real deal at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The five and six year old class listened to the (beautifully illustrated by Julia Breckenreid!) bio of Albers "An Eye for Color" by Natasha Wing, and discovered how colors interact with each other. I love seeing his work in gallery 174, surrounded by Robert Slutzky, Alma Thomas, and Geneviève Claisse, sleeping under a giant Sol LeWitt ceiling mural - there's a lot of "simple" side by side color explorations in that hallway. 

From the book, they learned that Albers often preferred to paint "straight from the tube", without mixing colors - investigating the pigments in their most pure form. 

Back in the studio, each student chose a shape and traced concentrically smaller versions of that shape within the original. Colors were thoughtfully picked form a selection of acrylics and the students carefully filled in their shapes with a flat brush (working on the edging skills!)

With a whole class working on this project, we were easily able to see how colors looked different depending on their neighbors: magenta looked more vibrant paired with silver, or green was dull next to red. 

April 23, 2017

Stained Glass Stories

Started our Spring semester at the Art Museum with a walk up to European art. On our way up, the kids looked at all the galleries through these transparent color paddles, and we talked about the effects of colored light.

At our first stop, we checked out these Heraldic stained glass panels, with shields and swords and lions and knights, and discussed what they might have been for, and where they might have hung.

We ventured into the next room, A French Gothic Chapel with these big, beautiful 16th century stained glass panels.

In this quiet space, we tried to determine how these windows told a story, and what story they might be telling!
(This particular one features a lot of John the Baptist, but my 5 and 6 year olds didn't necessarily immediately get that. Some of them recognized Christ, but there's also unicorns and a castle in it, so the story suggestions were pretty...non-traditional).

Back in the studio, students either created abstract or narrative stained glass windows, cutting shapes from colored cellophane and carefully arranging their compositions. My excellent assistant Miss Alex and I encouraged the kids to experiment with their arrangements, try different arrangements, and urged them to consider how to use the allotted space.

 The 12x18" assemblages were sandwiched into laminating pouches and sent through our VERY MAGICAL laminator.
Finished pieces got hole punched and and fitted with string for hanging. Students had the option of using a Sharpie to add details or fill in space. 


We ended up with ocean scenes and gaming systems and color wheels and buildings, and kitty cats and thankfully, one unicorn:

March 27, 2017

Building the Pyramids

One last Winter Children's Art Class at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and we had a beautiful day to head outside. We hit the sculpture garden, and (after a brief detour to see Claes Oldenburg's "Giant Three-Way Plug") rolled over to see two Sol LeWitt sculptures. Like, literally rolled.

The PMA has two outdoor sculptures by Sol LeWitt - "Steps" and "Pyramid".

The kids examined the sculptures from all angles, barely restrained from climbing them, then got to work. We counted blocks, and layers, and made some guesses about construction.

In pairs (or groups of three, or four...) we used 5/8" blocks to construct towers and structures, aiming for stability and height. Kids used rulers to measure their creations and shared results.

Then, back to the studio.

They used the same wooden blocks to create their own balanced steps, pyramids, or Minecraft Ninja Turtles, permanently secured with wood glue.

This is our second(!) Sol LeWitt inspired project this year, and you can watch a quickie IG vid of the first one here.

March 5, 2017

Heroic Portraits: Kehinde Wiley and Mickalene Thomas

Inspired by the large scale portraits by Mickalene Thomas and Kehinde Wiley, our pre-Kindergarten students created their own heroic portraits, blending digital and hands-on artmaking techniques.
We began our project by viewing Wiley's paintings featuring street cast black New Yorkers, in familiar Renaissance poses. Turns out, the juxtaposition of contemporary subjects in grandiose postures is intriguing, even to our littlest friends who don't have years of Art History classes on their resume!


Later in the week, we compared his paintings to some (school safe) work of Mickalene Thomas, whose paintings celebrate race and femininity.  
I love to show work that kids might see someday in Philly, and happily these artists both have work in the collection at PAFA. 
Look into either of their work if you want to get inspired to make some impactful portraits!

The first week of our project was photography and digital manipulation. I run a choice based studio, so about six kids at a time were working on this, and it took a week for all the kids to finish each each phase of their portrait (two weeks total).

Wiley's work features complicated patterned backgrounds, so our first task (of many) was to create hand drawn patterns. For this step, kids got to use my special smelly markers, which elevates any basic drawing project into a Special Event. These drawings were photographed and archived into folders (one folder per class). 

Next up was photography. I bought a (cheap, but effective) green screen on Amazon for about $10, and tacked it to a bulletin board wall. The kids used some scarves and minimal props to make heroic poses, and snapped photos using iPads. The portraits were also archived into class folders.

After that, we had to combine the portrait with the background. For this I used the app "Green Screen" by DoInk, which is so simple and a thumbs-up recommendation. Import the background and the portrait, and the kids can resize either image, spin the orientation, and adjust the green screen sensitivity. Finished pictures were saved into their folders as well.

When everyone's pictures were complete, I sent them off to Snapfish. Two weeks (and two projects) later when the printed photos arrived, we started Phase 2.  Working from the heavily bejeweled images by Mickalene Thomas, we created embellished frames to contain our photos.

Students painted the backs of sushi take out containers (I got FIVE HUNDRED for $3.50 from NAEIR. If you're not a member, get a teacher membership today.) The photos were glued on, and then students choose pom-poms, sparkles, glitter, doilies, beads, and more to add to their portrait! They also used fluorescent window markers to decorate the lids of the sushi containers before gluing them on and completing their masterpieces!
To see our process in process check us on YouTube.

February 12, 2017

Visiting Artist: AMBERELLA

Our school-wide theme for February is "measurement" and we had a special guest come in to the studio to explore the concept of scale with us!

Amberella is a Philadelphia street artist who makes the itty bitty messages on candy hearts into large scale public art pieces. Many of her wheatpaste hearts contain thoughtfully selected texts that convey messages of love, solidarity and empowerment to passerby.

In preparation for this collaboration, my students "studied" candy sweet hearts, and came up with some favorite love notes, which were sent Amber's way. 
Along with a bunch of Amber's messages, the kids picked "NO MATTER WHAT" from B.J. Novak's "The Book With No Pictures", which I looove (both the phrase and the book).

In the days before her visit, we prepped canvases by painting them in monochromatic color schemes. Some kids just have a ball attacking a blank canvas, nah'mean?

We ended up with a whole rainbow of canvases ready to be upgraded with Amber's messages!

During her visit, students saw slides of Amberella's "goth hearts", saw some of her latest products (this collab with UO and this one with Pizzeria Vetri) and had q&a with the artist. I love when they get to meet practicing artists, and learn that being an artist could be their job!

After this introduction, we mixed batches of wheat paste, and used the tools of the trade to paste hearts onto canvases. 

We were all verrrry gooey from smoothing the glue covered papers onto the canvases.

At the end of the day, we had a slew of candy colored posi vibes that we'll hang around the school.