December 12, 2016

De Stijl: LEGO Block Prints

For our final week of the semester, my small friends and I ventured into the Modern Art collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  In the galleries, we read Coppernickle Goes Mondrian*, and as we followed the painter Mr. Quickstep's journey to "find the new", the kids began connecting the increasingly minimal and simplified illustrations in the book with the simple, graphic style of the Mondrian paintings hanging around us.

Piet Mondrian, "Oppositions of Line, Red and Yellow" 1937

Cool, they got neoplasticism: the purest colors, the straightest lines, the most basic forms.

Back in the studio: demo. We would use everybody's favorite bricks to create compositions, one color at a time. 

I had pre-assembled a printing plate with Legos, then showed the kids how to roll out ink with a brayer and ink their plate.  Paper was aligned on top of the plate, then (another new vocab word) the "baren" was used to transfer the ink to the paper.

After each color (yellow then red then blue then black), the kids got a wipe to wipe down their Legos, their plate, and their hands before starting the next layer. With 20-some kids making four blocks each, we went through some wiiiipes. But worth it.

For teachers anxious to try this out, I gotta tell you: preparation was crucial. It took a lot of legwork to get everything together. I've had this project in my mind for a while, and enlisted some help along the way assembling the Lego blocks, AND had my super great assistant Tara on board all day.

For interested parties, here's what we used:
  • 20 6.5x6.5" Lego plates (these were mounted on MDF, for ease of handling, and to help them stay nice and flat during assembly and printing)
  • millions of Legos (we used regular "bricks" for printing dots, and "tiles" which have flat tops for printing solid areas. I bought these anywhere I could find them, including Lego trading sites in Eastern Europe, really.) These Legos are now very dirty, and are designated printmaking Legos.
  • Blick block print ink
  • Speedball brayers and barens
  • plexiglass to roll ink
  • block print paper cut to 8.5x8.5" (allowing a 1" border on all sides, making for easy alignment)
  • a wooden guide - you can see this in the photo above- it was a 8x8" square, with a 1" frame on two sides. Students would square up their inked Lego plate in it and align their paper with the edges of the guide, ensuring a 1" border all around.
  • one billion hand wipes for cleaning Legos, plates, and hands. You might be able to skip this if you've got a good sink set up. We didn't.

Overall, much success. Each print turned out differently, and the kids looooved touching Legos (seriously, their eyes LIT when they walked into the room), and I think they made the connection with the art we saw in the collection, which is super.

*and now a disclaimer about this book:

I don't really care for the story.
I find the phrasing and dialog strange, and the story (of looking for the future) too abstract, but kids still seem to like it and the illustrations are ON POINT. So it's an okay companion for this project.

November 20, 2016

Horsing Around: BARDING

This week at the Art Museum, my 5 and 6 year old friends and I spend some time in that favorite spot of museum going children everywhere: ARMS and ARMOR. With this visit, we gave some special attention to the 500 year old Horse Armor of Duke Ulrich of W├╝rttemberg

We took in all the details of the barding (that's horse armor!), including decorative and functional elements. The kids picked out toy horses and took them to meet all knights in the gallery, looking for the bravest candidates with the best designed armor.

Back in the studio, each horse got named and developed special skill sets. Kids used Model Magic, foil, pipe cleaners, chain, pom-poms, feathers and jewels to create custom barding for each toy horse.

Upon completion, horses participated in a fashion shoot and then were recruited for a horse army march before heading home. See pictures: they were ALL. SO. GOOD.

(Wearing a medal for bravery.)

(Very ready for winter, "almost like wearing lots of blankets".)

Muy misterioso.

 This horse needed a pal (and now has one!)

So safe. So protected.

This one has very beautiful rainbow hair. Lots and lots of rainbow hair.

Teachers and museum educators out there: A+, strong recommend, high engagement and interest from all kinds of learners. Horses!

Philly friends: take a kid to the Arms and Armor gallery at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

November 12, 2016

All Eyes

In one of the furthest corners of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (gallery 296 for interested parties) lies a most fascinating collection of teensy tiny portraits of eyeballs.

These "Lovers' Eyes" were perhaps popularized by George IV in the 1700's. They're miniature size meant they could be worn clandestinely, a perfect way to celebrate your secret love. These tiny eyes were painted on ivory and decorated with pearls, fine fabrics, or jewels. FANCY.

My 5-6 year old students saw these and theorized about the provenances of each piece, noting the size, details, and settings.

Back in the studio, armed with mirrors, the kids made portraits of their own eyes on one of my favorite mediums: shrinky dink film! 

Once shrunk (a week later! Much patience from these jokers), students added felt, gems and jewels to make stunning necklaces and pins that (I think) anyone would be excited to wear:

November 1, 2016

Magic Beads

Ever since I first laid (internet) eyes on Ugo Rondinone's Seven Magic Mountains outside of Vegas, I've been itching to hear what kids had to say about it.

We looked at images, but more importantly watched drone footage of these SEVEN, THIRTY FOOT TALL, DAY-GLO STACKS OF ROCKS in the middle of the desert. Lucky for us, people seem to like to go to the desert and send their little flying robots around out there, making videos for us to show our students! (Thx, drone nerds. Really.)

My co-teacher and I knew we wanted to teach Seven Magic Mountains this year, and tossed around a whole bunch of possible ways to facilitate it. Obviously, our study started with questions (and loads of counting):

  • Where is this?
  • How big are they? How many?
  • Why are the rocks those colors?
  • How did they get on top of each other? 
  • How are they MAGIC?!
Our initial plan involved large, abstract, stackable, 3d shapes made from cardboard and papier mache. After some experimentation, it became clear this wasn't feasible in the week we had to complete this project, and so I instead turned to errybody's favorite, Model Magic (while my colleague went with airdry clay and neon paint, also beautiful).

My students mixed MAGIC colors using primary and white hues, and created roundish-but-not-perfectly spherical shapes that we turned into beads. 

A couple days of dry time and the beads were ready to be strung into necklaces almost as magical as the real deal.  (We used my favorite fatty neon yarn from Pacon. Get it.)

We indeed ended up with some special, magical totems that we LOVE. 

August 15, 2016

Magic Paintings

For our last trick, Magic Academy campers ventured INSIDE paintings from PAFA's collections. They began with a photo hunt, scouring the galleries for magical elements of paintings. Armed with iPods, they captured images that spoke to them - which tended toward the surreal and sparkly.

With a little cropping, a projector, and a nice dark auditorium, the kids were able to insert themselves into favorite paintings (which were then photographed again.) They took turns choosing which painting they wanted to step into, and jumped right into the paintings (in this case, hanging off one of the branches of "Tasso's Oak" by Peter Blume):

Magic, indeed.

August 6, 2016

Light Drawings (long exposure photography)

We made lots of cool stuff during our week of "Shadow Play" at PAFA this Summer, all (obviously) referencing light and darkness. In this particular project we investigated the qualities of line, by taking long exposure photos in a dark hallway!

If you've never done this before, it's fun and so easy and produces stunning shots! We used my digital SLR camera*, and with some experimentation, set the shutter speed for 15 seconds. The camera was set on a stool (poor man's tripod) and they kids took turns being photographers, directors, and light artists. And screaming about how spooky the hallway was. 

They experimented with a variety of tools,  making abstract shapes and lines in the dark, impatiently waiting to see the results! We used an LED flashlight (a little too much light for 15s), glow sticks (not *quite* bright enough, and found the BEST tool were little LED "finger lights" that came in a four pack at Dollar Tree (and even cheaper from Amazon here!)
Finding the perfect combination of lights and time exposure was like a (fun) science experiment, which I think really speaks to the artistic process.

The final cut of photos got printed on PAFA's fancy schmancy Epsom printer and looked muy bueno at our art show.

*I did try, in vain, to find an iOS app that could help us produce similar long exposure results so the kids could BYOD or at least play around with it at home. No dice. Hear me all you app developers? 

July 17, 2016

Altered Silhouettes (Kara Walker)

"Monkey's Uncle" 1996

I spent a week exploring SHADOWS with 8-10 year olds at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. We saw three different Kara Walker pieces in the galleries, part of PAFA's "Happiness Liberty, Life?" exhibit, and discussed how silhouettes can tell a story.

"Canisters" 1997

After seeing these pieces, I broke out of one my personal favorite art-making tools: the overhead projector of olde. (The kids guessed it was an old scanner, a microscope, and a "typer". Sigh.)

Using the projector as a light source, they traced oversized silhouettes in pencil, then added a detail that would tell their story. 

Each student mixed their own special paint color, and completed a detailed altered silhouette.
(And, through the course of this project, I learned how to confidently spell "silhouette". Victory.)

June 15, 2016

Visiting Artist: SEPER

My students were lucky enough to have a visit from a Philly muralist and street artist (and Kaleidoscope parent!) SEPER. 

We looked at some slides of his work, mused about the tools and techniques he might use, and watched a time lapse video of one of his murals going up. The kids were so stoked to learn that we'd not only be meeting the artist, but we'd also be collaborating with him that very day.

Anthony set up a demo outside, and taught us the tricks of the trade. After watching him put down the first layer, the kids got to take turns trying out spraypaint for the first time.

A quick aside: I found these awesome, tiny cans of MTN water based spray paint. The nozzles were easier enough for little kids to manipulate, and they're easy to clean, safe, and spray like a straight up dream. Really, I can't recommend these enough. NICE PAINT. (Not cheap, but....write a grant or something.)

Kids combined button-pushing fine motor skills and large sweeping motions while experimenting hands-on with the materials street artists use on the regular. Lot of patience and turn taking and decision making too!

At the end of the day, we had two rad collab paintings to show:

"Ring Dash" and "Cool Kids"

So what other artists want to come in and do a demo? I want to host a million next year.

June 4, 2016


I love to do photography projects with little kids, and this year we had the opportunity to experiment with real cameras, real film, and real, tangible pictures. 

This year we checked out the photomontage joiners of David Hockney, comparing his iconic gridded Polaroids and sprawling film collages. Students learned about portrait, still life, and landscape photography through his work, and thought about looking at things from multiple perspectives!

Students tried out both techniques, first making gridded portraits of their classmates using instant film.  In this case, the students were the photographers, and directed the shoots. After a solid day of photography "practice" (photoshoots with unloaded cameras), students spent two days photographing with my FujiMax Instax, then spent a third day arranging the photos of themselves into their final compositions.

I am like, In Love with these pictures but will begrudgingly send them home.

As a companion project, I photographed entire classes, making sure to take lots of pictures from various angles. The students helped decide which ones should be printed and carefully assembled them into cohesive puzzles. 

These, I'm also in love with. Obviously.

Happy snapping!