Taking care of FUTURE YOU

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“To take care of you, you must take care of future you.” 

These words were shared with me by a fellow Boss Babe, Pia Fleischmann Park. I have been fortunate to enter my studio and find an encouraging note on my desk from Pia many a time. This small act brings oodles of joy and energy to my soul and I hope to pass it on.

Pia taught me how to take care of others as well as how to take care of myself. A simple note of encouragement to yourself could make a big difference for a busy day or a big event. Furthermore, leaving yourself reminders, preparing for a future endeavor in advance, AND making time for reflection is form of self-care.
Imagine a time when you de-briefed after big project, an event you planned or after teaching a lesson to children. Most likely you thought about:
– what went well,
– what you didn’t plan for,
– what you might do differently next time,
– and what was so kick-ass that you must plan to continue in the future

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How did you make sure you would remember what you discovered from the de-brief? Did you leave a note-to-self?
Consider how the simple act of leaving a note-to-self is an act of love. We can schedule notes-to-self through the schedule send option in Gmail (see illustrations later in this post). You can take care of future you by literally sending a note to yourself on an exact day and time, weeks, even years in the future. Yes, you will forget in the meantime, but that “hello there!” message will certainly be a treat when it arrives unexpectedly.

As we enter a new cycle and embark on this next trip around the sun, consider how self-reflection might support your personal growth.
What might you want to share about how you relate to CURRENT SELF?
What might you want FUTURE YOU to know a year from now? 

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Join me in this playful public service art piece about “How to Care for Future You” using the Gmail schedule send option.

I visited two sites, The Art of Simple and Brands for the Heart for inspiring questions that provoke reflection. Below, I share a list of questions from these two sites that are great conversation starters and opportunities for personal growth. Remember, having conversations with yourself is a form of intelligence!
What are your favorite juicy questions?

REFLECTIVE QUESTIONS FOR THE PAST YEAR AND NEW YEAR

  • What are you most grateful for about this past year?
  • What made you feel purposeful this past year?
  • What was the single greatest lesson of this past year and what did it teach you about yourself?
  • What new qualities, skills, superpowers did you discover about yourself this past year?
  • What was your most courageous action this year?
  • What was your most selfless act this past year?
  • What did you get absolutely clear on this year?
  • What relationship most supported your growth this past year?
  • In what way(s) did you grow spiritually?
  • What do you want to get absolutely clear on for next year?
  • What does success look like for you in the upcoming year and how might you need to redefine your definition of success?
  • What single thing do you need to do this coming year to feel more productive and intentional around how you manage your time?
  • What new relationships do you want to give more attention to in the upcoming year?
  • What creative projects do you want to bring into the world this upcoming year?
  • What is your single biggest challenge in making this next year off the charts successful in your eyes? What are you committed to doing to overcome this challenge?
  • What 1-3 words best capture last year? What 1-3 words best capture your intention for the next year?
  • What was the single most challenging thing that happened?
  • What was an unexpected joy this past year?
  • What was an unexpected obstacle? How did you work through it?
  • Pick three words your partner or close friend would use to describe your year.
  • What were the most memorable books you read/most memorable films you watched this year?
  • Who were your most valuable relationships with?
  • What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year?
  • In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?

Thank you for listening, friends! Best of luck on this next solar adventure.

You Got This,
MJ

YOU GOT THIS: 3 Habits Any Teacher Can Embrace to Build SELF-EFFICACY in Children

Think about a time when you saw someone complete a task that made such a beautiful or jaw-dropping product, like witnessing a caricature artist at a street fair or a magician pulling off a mind-bending stunt. Would you offer your services and step in to create the next portrait or perform the following stunt?
Most likely not, right?
When we don’t have the technical training to complete the task at hand, why would we even think of offering our services? We might fail. We might feel embarrassed of our ability. We just don’t believe we can do it.

The feelings that arise when we are challenged are related to self-efficacyVeryWellMind defines self-efficacy as a person’s belief in his or her ability to succeed in a particular situation. In my own experience, when I am observing a new task and I don’t believe that my hands and brain can accomplish the task, I will not even try. Can you relate?

While surfing on Instagram recently, I came across a post by ArtCartKids that caught my attention with a question about comfort zones, risk taking and self-efficacy. ArtCartKids began her post with: “Typically, my approach to art with children tends to be all about the process and a whole lot of exploration of materials.”
Here, a Reggio Emilia inspired art educator shares her primary goal for her program. While viewing the photos and reading captions it was clear that, for ArtCartKids, materials are the best teacher and this belief acts as the choreographer for her classroom set up and lesson development. She continued this post by sharing an anecdote about weaving a dreamcatcher with her students. She was surprised at how the children wanted a lot of direction; that they were more comfortable with the instructor leading a step-by-step instruction and were not comfortable trusting their hands. She then asked the Instagram universe:
“Do you think as children get older, and have more structure and direction in schools, this becomes their comfort zone?”
“Does their ability to take creative risk shrink?”
“Are they more concerned with right and wrong?”

As fuel_the_makers, I replied with a few concerns that I think about often: “A lot of how students react stems from what they hear at home and in school. Think about a teacher responding to a student who didn’t follow their directions the way they intended them to follow. As teachers and parents, we set expectations without even being conscious of it, and children learn to meet OUR EXPECTATIONS rather than explore their creativity in school. It is what it is. What we can do is be vocal and very clear that our expectations are grounded in their discovery and we are less concerned with their product.”
I also spoke about how we can invite and celebrate children’s ideas and concerns by asking questions beforehand like “How may we weave this thread through the circle?” or “What might we do if we get stuck?” Also, sharing each others struggles and success throughout the class period celebrates the life of the artist and allows us all to witness how our peers share the same concerns. All these discussions focused on our work habits place an emphasis on the art process over the finished product.

If we truly value PROCESS, how may we make that clearly visible and understood in our learning spaces? And what questions, discussions and activities might we invite into the studio space that will help our students be more aware of their hands and brain? How might we help young artists understand what they are physically capable of and how they can use their brain to work through a struggle?

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The answers to the questions above will allow us to build self-efficacy in our students and, furthermore, strengthen their ability to be risk takers.

Practice Makes Better.
So let’s embrace these 3 habits to build self-efficacy in your students and children:

  1. SET CLEAR EXPECTATIONS THAT EMPHASIZE PROCESS:
    Begin each learning experience with a discussion about the expectations you have for working on a specific task or activity. This can be as simple as:
    “Today we want to discover all the possible types of marks a brush can make. We will act like a scientist would act if they just found this tool. There is no right or wrong way to work today because we are trying to discover all we can about how we may be able to use a brush. Take note of what you discover so that we can share our new knowledge and make connections with others who have similar findings.”
    In the words above, there is no discussion about what the marks should look like, or about what to do first, second or third. The expectations are grounded in discovery. Students are invited to wear their curiosity hat and are encouraged to ask questions and share what they find. This exploratory activity may take place before a painting unit where students will be invited to implement a variety of techniques focused around mark making, color mixing, layering, composition, etc. Whatever it may be, offering this simple activity about the tools we use and making the time to have reflective discussions about it, will allow students to feel more in control when they pick up a brush in the future.
    When we offer directions on how to use a tool or comment on how a student chose to make a mark different than what we may have imagined, we give a message that there is a right and wrong way. Doing this once in a while may be necessary. But if we tend to consistently give too many directives, students will come back to you asking: “Is this OK?, “Is this good?”, or the worst “Is this what you wanted?” or “Do you like it?” Before offering directions, think hard about what your expectations are and try to be specific to the artistic behaviors you wish to promote.practicemakesbetter
  2. CELEBRATE STRUGGLES AND SUCCESSES:
    Before starting any activity, invite students to share their own concerns and/or goals. When we ask questions like “How may we choose to use these tools today?” and “What can we do if we get stuck?” or “How may we care for our mixing tray?” we are telling students that we value their ideas and that we, the teacher, are not the owner of information. We send the message that this a community that celebrates the ideas of everyone and it is important for us all to be heard and feel comfortable sharing.
    When students are half-way through a class period and are messy in the process, I will ask for their attention and invite anyone who wishes to share something they discovered, a struggle or concern they have, or a successful technique they have practiced. This allows students to practice feeling comfortable talking about their personal art process with others and also builds compassion and connections. Celebrating the times when we learn from our mistakes allows students to discover the benefits of messing up and having the motivation to do things again and again. Hey, isn’t that building resilience? Why, yes it is! And these steps lead to OWNING and BELIEVING in our ability which is the definition of self-efficacy! The more we celebrate our struggles and mistakes, the more they will feel like common experiences and we will feel less afraid when they happen. And they WILL happen.trynew
  3.  CREATE A SELF-SERVICE CULTURE:
    Offer children the opportunity to be independent, and they will blow you away. Imagine the parent who is constantly tying their child’s shoes because they don’t want to spend the time waiting for a beginner to finish. Or the teacher who tends to collect materials because they want them to be organized a certain way. The message they are sending is clear: “You are not capable and efficient so move aside and let me take over.” And then as a parent or teacher, we wonder: “Why is ____ so lazy and lacking awareness? Why won’t they unpack their bag or put away their laundry on their own?” It is not because a student or child is lazy, but because they simply have not been given the opportunity to practice and they are not aware of what to do or a successful way to do it.
    What we can do as teachers and parents, is make a list of every. single. little. task. that our children CAN do. There is no job too small. What may happen is that the parent or teacher will need to do some “elf work”, or adjustments behind the scenes afterwards, which is a tiny task compared to the oodles of empowerment that comes from offering children the opportunity to be independent. In our art studio, from age 3 and up, children are responsible for placing brushes in the “brush bathtub”, wiping tables with a zokien, a special towel, organizing pencils, markers, glue sticks and any other reusable materials, collecting paper scraps and reusable paper…you name it, they collect it. And guess what? They can not do enough.
    I believe it stems from the language we use to describe the task. If anyone asked you to clean up, what is the first emotion that comes to mind? For me it might be “ugh, cleaning? I just want to play.” But what if someone asked: “Who would like to use a zokien to care for the tables?”, “Who would like to save the unused papers from the trash?”, “Who would like to be the glue police and make sure all the caps are on tight?”, ” Who would like to place brushes in the bathtub?”
    So the next time you are about to speak aloud: “time to clean up!” pause and redirect your language to something that specifies the job at hand and incorporate a bit of humor and care. Imagine the ways you can transform your language to make a simple task seem like a meaningful rescue.landscape

Ask any parent or educator “what are the top 3 things you wish for your children?” and what do you think they will say? I want my students to be happy and confident and successful. Please comment below with other ideas, but this is what first came to my mind. Building self-efficacy will grant all of these wishes above. So remember:

SET EXPECTATIONS,
CELEBRATE STRUGGLES AND SUCCESSES,
HELP STUDENTS HELP THEMSELVES,
&
QUESTION, REFLECT, DISCUSS, and REPEAT.

Create a space that values diversity of thought and allows all these actions to become common behaviors in any learning environment.
Let’s put children in the drivers seat of their learning and give them the tools they need to look adversity in the face and say “I GOT THIS”.

Artfully,
MaryJo

 

#FACEYOURSELF @Peconic Community School

I was fortunate to set up #faceyourself, the programmable portrait machine, at Peconic Community School this past weekend. They hosted a Maker Fair and my 9 year-old daughter was entertained for a continuous four hour period. On her own, she constructed life-size cardboard sculptures, made glow-in-the-dark slime, played in a black light room, bought a turkey and cheese sandwich, explored mixed-media collage and made a no-sew skirt. Does a maker fair get any better than that? No, it doesn’t. This was the BEST maker fair because it was planned, organized and facilitated by a group of people who are genuinely passionate about empowering children. Props to Shannon Timoney, Sharon Cook, Miranda Milligan, Eileen DeCecco, Liz Casey-Searl and Kathryn Casey-Quigley.

I did not do all of these things that my daughter did. I wore florescent pink glasses with polka-dots and painted portraits of children and adults using the programmable portrait making machine. Here are some finished products of the paintings with their programmers.

If anyone out there has photos of the machine in action, I would LOVE to post them here so send them my way.

Are you curious about #faceyourself? If so, continue.

My friend, Joy Lai, introduced me to videos of the Face-O-Mat. It was built by artist, Tobias Gutmann as a portrait making machine. Tobias’ machine was created to comment on how we are obsessed with machines. The videos on his website inspired me to do something with my own twist.

I often struggle with feeling comfortable in my own skin. I dislike this feeling and so, I want others to see themselves as beautiful. So, I decided to put myself out there and draw people. This would force me to be myself and talk to strangers and just see what happens. This would allow me to create art that will, hopefully, help you SEE your natural beauty.

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So I bought the largest box I could at the local shipping store, went home and made #faceyourself. This up-cycled cardboard box has interactive dials and switches and pom pom punch holes that allow you to program your portrait. The choices are:

COLOR or NEUTRAL
ABSTRACT > MINIMALIST or CUBIST
CONCRETE > NATURAL or ALTERED
and
HUMAN or ANIMAL or MYTHOLOGICAL

Basically, there are a number of different groupings you can create. Is anyone out there eager to take on an Algebraic equation to figure it out? It would be considered Algebra, right? You just let me know. I invite the guest to choose how they wish to be painted by talking them through all the dials, slides and pom pom holes. Then I stare at them. And observe. And paint. When I feel like I am done, I write a special message, sign and date it. Then I push the portrait through a slot while making old-school computer noises like “beep beep boop” and watch as people are excited, intrigued, or really disappointed. It is a humbling and fulfilling experience. You should make one too. Just ask Tobias first.

Look out for #faceyourself in your town. I accept invitations too!

Artfully,
MJ

Drawing with Scissors

Hello there!

Do you know about the artist Henri Matisse? Well, he was an unstoppable artist who never gave up. Henri was one of those few fortunate artists who were well known when they were ALIVE! He was famous for his canvases that burst with color and pattern for most of his adult life. When he was older and unable to stand and paint, he began making collages using hand painted papers. Here is a photo I captured from an exhibition at MoMA a few years back. Henri’s actual treasures! Can you believe it?

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Third grade studies collage to grasp a deeper understanding of line, gesture and form. Inspired by Henri, we decided to mix colors and create our own hand painted papers. Aren’t they purdy?!

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After making them, we practiced drawing with our scissors.
How do you do that, do you ask?
Simply pick up your scissors and a fresh slice of paper and see where those sharp teeth lead you.

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Here is where you must TRUST YOUR HANDS. Notice how your hands naturally move and then own your style.

Cut, notice, decide what you like and what you don’t like. And pick up your scissors and try again. Do this 1 million times.

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Henri would seek out help from assistants to manipulate his cut-outs on the wall. If I ever acquire a large empty wall, he will be my inspiration.

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Students use a selection of hand-painted papers and packaged colors to cut organic forms. We keep them organized by color to help us find the right hue.

We think about how composition is a collaboration between shape and space and test out a variety of situations. We use both positive and negative cut-outs to layer our colorful assemblages. We ALWAYS PLAY FIRST before gluing down our designs. This allows us to test out new ideas and practice the art of RISK TAKING. We find it helpful to take a photo of our first design just in case we want to revert back to our original design and we forget the composition.

We use the floor to spread out without interfering with the other artists at our table.

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Or we use the wall like Henri!

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Thank you, Henri Matisse, for not giving up even when your body was tired. You are an inspiration for many and we love your style of shape and form!

What do you like to use when you make collages? Have you made your own hand-painted papers? Do you enjoy using patterned papers? Candy wrappers? Newspaper? Cardboard?
Do you play with your shapes before gluing them down? 

Visit our Etsy shop to purchase stickers, posters and pins to promote
playfulness in your work space.

Have a colorful day,
MJ

“Tell Me More!”: Talking to Children About Their Art

This juicy text has been re-posted from sunporchstudio and is updated and enhanced for Art Engine. Enjoy! 

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For young children, art making is a primary means of expression. It is how they are able to share stories and it is how they reflect on their experiences to better understand their world. As a parent and teacher, it is often the adult’s responsibility to foster their interest as an artist and help them to grow as a well-rounded, happy individual.
Let’s explore ways to make art experiences magical and productive.

OBSERVE AND LISTEN WITHOUT JUDGEMENT
When engaging in art activities with your child, study how they work and look for strategic placement of lines, shapes and objects. Look for gestural strokes of the brush and how they chose to use tools and materials. Notice their working habits and talk to them about it as they work. This builds their vocabulary and also helps them to be a mindful and reflective artist. Art Note: If you down for a big clean up, allow children to explore painting on their own before offering appropriate tool use. They may even teach you a new way to engage with a material. I have songs and phrases that help my students practice skillful tool use. I love to match a phrase or a direction to song or simple tune. I find the students retain much more because they repeat back the tune and the words that go with it. Humans are inherent music lovers and respond well to tonal changes in your voice.

Paint the RainbowENGAGE A DISCUSSION BASED ON YOUR OBSERVATIONS
When you notice specific colors or shapes in your child’s art, tell them what you see: “I notice straight lines moving out from your circle.” Or “This blue line travels up and across your page and ends in the opposite corner.” Trace your finger over the object you are describing. This will not only give them vocabulary to use but will also let them know that you value their art, which is an important component in building self-efficacy. If you are ever unsure as to what your child’s art represents, simply say “Tell me about your drawing/painting/clay sculpture/etc.”. You should avoid asking “What is that?” because, for a young child, it may not BE anything but a visual expression of a kinesthetic experience of paint, brush and paper. Furthermore, and also with older children, this question has the potential to infer that their attempt at clearly expressing a story has failed. Again if you are unsure, look for marks, colors and/or figures and construct a question that is focused around what stands out to you: “I see many energetic green lines in the center of your page. Can you tell me more about that?”

If you would like to prompt a new way to create or a new use of color, make a suggestion like: “Wow, you have a large collection of red circles nested close to each other over here. Would you like to add more detail over there?” “You seem to enjoy painting with yellow; how about rinsing and exploring some blue paint?”

DSC01027PROCESS AND PRODUCT
When your older child brings home a finished work of art, engage them in a discussion about the goals they had while developing their idea, if it changed throughout the process and if they believe they met their goal in the end. Ask them if they faced any challenges and, if so, what strategies they used to work through them. Talking through the art process allows the artist to reflect on their actions which has many benefits. The act of reflecting gives us perspective, helps us to learn from our mistakes, allows us to generate new ideas and also makes us aware of our strengths and how we may share them with others. As parents and teachers who engage in reflective discussions with children, we also discover so much about their work habits, passions and even challenges that we may not have know by simply viewing the work. As the viewer, at times, we may place too much emphasis on the end product and what it looks like. Yes, the visual arts are well known for beautifying our living spaces. However, for the artist, the process, or the act of dreaming, designing and creating, is what they are most passionate about and why they persevere. “Every picture tells a story, don’t it?” Let’s discover what each work of art holds inside.

NURTURING A GROWTH MINDSET
I will often lead a discussion about the power of positive thinking with my students where I talk about the plasticity of the brain. I tell them about an article I read in TIME magazine that proves how our brain can be affected by something as inconspicuous as a simple thought. Read the article here. I elaborate on how a negative thought can have an impact on our performance just as a positive thought can be a helpful motivation. I explain that if we say to ourselves “I can’t do it, I can’t do it” over and over, our brain will actually not be able to fulfill the task. We failed because we told our brain to fail. However, positive thoughts, affirmations and motivating words will help us achieve success. Taking small steps that lead to a complex finished piece will help form an enjoyable art experience and empower us to take on new challenges.

The Mirror Doesn’t Lie

Have you ever given mirrors to young children? Do this and observe without judgment. What you will notice is one of the purest forms of first hand, primary source research. You will witness curious faces test an array of poses. The mirror wants to play and so the children feel free to play too. Eyes widen and squint, lips pucker, noses twitch and tongues make a cameo each time without fail. Children are exploring how they can manipulate their facial expressions to communicate a feeling, a story, or a silly statement.

While studying the self-portrait with a group of third graders, I offered mirrors before paper and pencil and asked them to study their face for a while. After two or three minutes, I chimed in with some requests: “What do you notice about the shape of your head?” “How far are your eyes from your forehead?” “Do you have bangs? And if so, do they fall straight or swoop to one side?” Notice your eyes. “How far apart are they? Does your eyelid overlap your iris?”
We can go on with a list of questions to help them notice the small yet important details of their face. This observational art activity centered around mindfulness allowed each student to collect visual data at their own pace. 

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Offering this 5 minute block of time to simply explore, notice patterns and make observations had a noticeable impact on their drawings. They trusted the mirror and used it more frequently to check for visual information because, The Mirror Doesn’t Lie.

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Before being introduced to the mirror, we exercised our brain with blind contour drawing. Blind contour asks the artist to refrain from looking at their paper while they draw. There eyes must focus on the object or person they are observing and let their hand travel across the page. It is not an easy task. Your brain is used to having control over your hand, telling it what to do. During a blind contour drawing, you must quiet your controlling brain and TRUST YOUR HANDS.

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Here is what the children have to say about practicing blind contour and its benefits.

“Blind contour helps our brain get ready to draw.” -Bianca
“It helps us get better at being an artist who is able to see.” -Vir
“Drawing helps your brain get more focused.” -Meher

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Try it sometime. It is a thrill. You will realize how focused we are on how our art LOOKS. We wish to make it look the way we think it should. Remember, this is an exercise focused around process. The goal is to quiet your controlling mind and let your hands record the information, first hand (pun intended).

After our blind contour exercise, we took part in the observational mindfulness activity that I spoke of at the beginning of this post. I had shared that this activity of simply looking first before being given a pencil had a strong impact on the attentiveness of the children. Here are two more examples:

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Thinking back on my role as the facilitator, I was involved in a listening activity. My task: listening with my eyes and ears and and using data to make meaningful decisions. No more instructing on how to use this tool, rather listening to how it was being used.

Honor. Assume the good in everyone.
What creative knowledge does each child hold?
What can they teach me so I can, in turn, support them better?

For me, it was no more of “draw an oval, now draw your eyes near the middle of your oval, now draw two lines for the bridge of your nose”. To truly honor their knowledge, we need to instead ask them “What do you notice?” “How would you describe the space in between your eyes?”. Offering the questions up to a group rather than giving out information allows them to process what they see and make related decisions.

When asking students to create a self-portrait or take on any challenge for that matter,
Do we wish that all products look the same? 
or
Do we wish to learn about each individual and listen to what that product tells us about how they view the world?

How do you honor your children and students? What valuable lessons have they taught you?

With Gratitude,
MJ

Celebrate Mindset in your Work Space

Hello There!
Consider how simple mantras inspire us everyday to open our eyes, ears and mind to the new adventures ahead. We grow when we feel supported and are celebrated for our work habits rather than the end product we produce. Say Goodbye to “Great Job” and “Super Work” and Hello to a celebration of risk taking, mindfulness and the use of a growth mindset.

These hand painted signs are a great way to set a positive tone in your workspace. Purchase an 11×17 inch poster, playing cards, stickers and pins. To adopt some art engine fuel for your workspace today, visit my ArtEngine shop @ Etsy.

Have a colorful day!
-MJ

 

 

We sell Stickers and Buttons too!

 

Flower Portraits

 

photo (10)Artist Georgia O’Keefe once said “Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.” Her most famous works are large scale flower portraits. Georgia zoomed in on each flower and illustrated their form to help us witness the fine detail and beauty in this tiny living thing.

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While observing the life of a paperwhite for a three week period of time, students documented the growth through time-lapse photography as well as observational drawing. Students looked closely and created a contour line drawing each week for three weeks in an accordion-style book and wrote about their observations.

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We were careful to place the table line and jar in the same place on each page so that the viewer had context of size and growth from a baby bulb to a 2. 5 foot tall blossom (yes, we are scientists and recorded measurements too).

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Enter IMAGINATION. We observed Georgia’s flower portraits and noted on her zoomed-in approach. Using our knowledge of flower petals and our imagination, we developed our own petal and created a personal flower portrait that illustrated our understanding of cropping and zooming in.

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We used ink to make our drawing more defined. We work slow and practice mindfulness when using this permanent material.

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We noticed how Georgia had knowledge of warm and cool color families. We choose one family to incorporate into our petal spaces and our blossom was born.

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We explored mixing colors beyond the ones that Crayola manufactured for us. We were motivated to invent our own warm and cool creations. If we didn’t like a shade, we changed it. We practice perseverance.

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 We take pride in our creations.

The next time you spot a blossom, prove Georgia wrong and STOP and see the flower. Feel it, smell it. Savor it. Life is beautiful.

 

So, what green do you mean?

Green is my favorite color. Mostly because, in my eyes, I believe it to be like no other hue on the spectrum. Green is never considered blue, nor yellow. But orange can labeled as tomato or even yellow-gold. And purple, well add a drop to many of blue and it becomes indigo. Now, Green, this shade has so many possibilities that it is a natural phenomenon. We witness it all around us in nature everyday. Oh, oh, and oh: If you feel the same way about green as do it, check out this post from NPR about green pigment or lack there of in animals, How Animals Hacked the Rainbow and got Stumped on Blue.

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To kick off this journey, I picked up my second graders and we embarked on an outdoor scavenger hunt for specimens of green nature. Back in the studio, we arranged them over white paper and compared and contrasted their hue. I asked my artists-slash-scientists: “How many different shades of green live in our world?” We had a mission and so we gathered the appropriate tools and materials to collect our data.

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When we paint, we are only given the primary colors, white, black, brown, magenta and turquoise. We use squeeze bottles on white palette trays to mix. We practice being mindful of the amount of paint and palette space we use, as not to waste, but we also keep an open mind and add new colors to a pre-existing mixture in order to “witness a new hue”.

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We document every shade we invented by painting a swatch on a page of our accordion-style book. Alongside our mixture, we include the color recipe that helped us reach our destination. We agreed on a system of measure to align our helpings of color. During the next class, we swapped recipe books and tested each others recipes.

A close friend and former colleague uses the color recipe format to help her students explore color mixing with primary colors. How can you utilize the idea of a color recipe book?

Next Up: Color Wheels. How do color wheels help us understand how colors are born?
Sneak a peek at this post about innovative color wheels.

Have a colorful day,
-MJ

Nurturing Creativity at Home

warm & coolAs an artist I get excited over colors and shapes and am inspired by many things that I encounter each day. I can easily say that I am an art teacher at heart because I yearn to share my excitement with others. I would rather use my energy dreaming up creative art experiences than make a personal work of art of my own. Pedagogy and Delivery is my passion. On this blog you will find artistic endeavors for you and your children to take part in, engaging art materials, special tips for set-up and clean-up and thoughts about the process of what happens in between. Learn new recipes for artistic fun that are not cookie cutter or product based, rather focused on exploration and grounded in sensory based learning.

Exploration is how creative discoveries begin to blossom. Don’t be afraid to get messy. Lay down an old sheet or vinyl tablecloth before setting up shop. This will make for an easy clean-up as well as less stress about material use while playing. If you are nervous about getting messy, your child will sense that energy, which may in turn interfere with their natural curiosity. contour line in ink

I often catch myself concerned with the way my child chooses to manipulate the materials at hand. My instinct is to change her movements to the way I know to be “correct”. I have made a conscious effort to simply notice how children use the tools that I offer them. I am not judgmental, rather curious, and I use that knowledge to direct how I set up and lead future activities. I go through a filtering process before intervening in the activity. Here is how I see it: When your child asks to take part in something, ask yourself first “Is it safe?” If your answer is Yes then tell yourself that your approval will help your child grow by giving them the opportunity to explore at their own pace and make discoveries on their own terms. This shows them that you respect their ideas and strengthens their self-confidence. When you begin the activity, if things get messy and you find it difficult to settle your nerves, ask yourself  “Can it be easily cleaned in the end?” If your answer is Yes, than relax and witness the magic. Give them the tools to manifest their dreams. Notice the materials that are popular. Mimic the movements of your child’s hand to feel what they are feeling. Notice the marks they make on the paper. And share what you see with your child. Praise their creative choices and safe habits. If you are curious about how to talk to your child about their art experience and finished products, read my post about the Language of Learning from Art Engine.

Are you ready for your next creative endeavor?

The Language of Learning: Talking to Children about their Art

IMG_1740For young children, art making is their main means of expression. It is how they are able to share stories and it is how they reflect on their experiences to better understand their world. As a parent and teacher, it is often the adult’s responsibility to foster the child’s interest as an artist and help them to grow as a well-rounded, happy individual.

Let’s explore ways to make art experiences enjoyable and productive.

When engaging in art activities with your child, study how they work and look for strategic placement of lines, shapes and objects. Look for gestural strokes of the brush and how they chose to use tools and materials. Notice their working habits and talk to them about it as they work. This builds their vocabulary and also helps them to be a mindful and reflective artist. If you are up for a big clean up, allow children to explore painting on their own before offering appropriate tool use. They may even teach you a new way to engage with a material. I have songs and phrases that help my students practice skillful tool use. I love to match a phrase or a direction to song or simple tune. I find the students retain much more because they repeat back the tune and the words that go with it. Humans are inherent music lovers and respond well to tonal changes in your voice.

When you notice specific colors or shapes in your child’s art, tell them what you see: “I notice straight lines connecting to your circle.” Or “This blue line travels up and across your page and ends in the opposite corner.” Trace your finger over the object you are describing. This will not only give them vocabulary to use but will also let them know that you value their art, which is an important component in building self-esteem. If you are ever unsure as to what their art represents, simply say “Tell me about your drawing”. You should avoid asking “What is that?” Again, if you are unsure, notice and ask “I see a lot of green lines in the center of your page. Can you tell me more about that?

If you would like to prompt a new way to create or a new use of color, make a suggestion like: “Wow, you have a large collection of red circles nested close to each other over here. Would you like to add more detail over there?” “You seem to enjoy painting with yellow; how about rinsing and exploring some blue paint?”

I will often lead a discussion about the power of positive thinking with my students where I talk about the plasticity of the brain. I tell them about an article I read in TIME magazine that proves how our brain can be affected by something as inconspicuous as a simple thought. Read the article here. I elaborate on how a negative thought can have an impact on our performance just as a positive thought can be a helpful motivation. I explain that if we say to ourselves “I can’t do it, I can’t do it” over and over, our brain will actually not be able to fulfill the task. We failed because we told our brain to fail. However, positive thoughts, affirmations and motivating words will help us achieve success. Taking small steps that lead to a complex finished piece will help form an enjoyable art experience and empower us to take on new challenges.

PEOPLE: From Collage to Drawing

PEOPLE. That is what we are. Super complex beings on the inside and out. Have you ever sat down to draw the human figure? Drawing people from observation is quite challenging let alone creating one from our imagination. There is so much to include, so where do we begin?

SHAPE. We begin with geometric shapes. Read on, I will tell you all about it.

people collage

First graders have been exploring geometric shapes through paper collage. We have discovered that many shapes can be made by simply cutting a square into smaller pieces. Cutting on a diagonal can create two triangles and cutting horizontally can make two rectangles, or even four more squares. A circle can be made by trimming corners. We use our shapes to form the recognizable things that make up our world. One of which, is people. We begin building people in paper collage.

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We ALWAYS PLAY FIRST by arranging our shapes until we are satisfied with our design, then glue is introduced to make it permanent. We discover how our body is made up of ovals of all sizes!  We discover that our arms and legs bend and that we can show action of these parts by snipping a rectangle in half and arranging it at an angle. We discover that shapes make up our world.

collage into drawing

Let me ask you this: If I gave you a pencil, could you draw a simple square? How about an oval? Now try a rectangle? Yes! I thought so. Children begin a second work of art in pencil. While looking at their collage, students illustrate a human figure beginning with simple shapes and adding color and details when necessary.

collage and pencil

Children discover how a drawing of absolutely anything can be achieved by breaking it down into simple shapes. It is empowering to know that you have the potential to manifest anything your imagination can possibly dream.

Why Collage before Drawing?
Offering children an actual shape to hold in their hand, manipulate and feel, offers them the kinesthetic experience that we all need to build new knowledge. Hearing the idea is one thing, but experiencing it with our own hands makes it real. Furthermore, the act of holding the shape while working in collage helps them to “see” where the shape ends and begins. We feel its corners and sides and the shape is distinctly defined for us.

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Shapes are all around us. Take a walk outside and embark on a shape scavenger hunt. See what you find and notice how your mind opens up to new discoveries. You may even “see” something in a way.

Have an artful day,
-MJ