Thursday, August 14, 2014

Am I from planet Mars?

Just finished a challenging course outdoors, my first with an all-American adult audience. Challenging not quite because of the material covered, but because I had to fight lots of my own demons. I realized that after some twenty plus years living in the US - I still felt inadequate in communicating in English. I felt again like a newly arrived immigrant from planet Mars. Why? Are we forever plagued with self-doubt if there's no land to call one's own?

It's the little cultural differences that struck me and wouldn't let me move beyond them. Participants not wanting to be close together, seeking solitary time instead. People not wanting my communal blanket, my tables and paint tubes brought to share, my Dale Carnegie inspired chitter-chatter about their everyday lives.

When indoors with a Russian-speaking group it's all about wanting to have good company, sharing some therapeutic insights into our lives and the world outside, taking my lead into exploring how our creative outcomes tell us something about things needing attention in real life.

Or is this just two sides of my own personality wanting to fight it out, clashing in their goals? Part of me wants a great tight group of friends to share in the experience of finding myself. Yet, another part wants some alone time, to reflect and come to my own conclusions, without someone's five cents in the process. Was this experience merely a mirror into how we all struggle to find our true self?

Friday, July 4, 2014

Rainy day supplies

Happy 4th everyone!

It's been forever since I wrote: third pregnancy and finishing off the semester took all of my energy. But now that I have some free time (ahem), very weather appropriately I decided it's finally time to share a summer supplies list. It should come in handy for all you heading out to vacation homes and encountering some cabin fever moments :)

I found that kids are always ready to come up with stories via drawings. My favorite drawing material (for adults as well) this past year have been oil pastels. What's great about them is that they act somewhat like oil paints, mixing one on top of another and creating great color combos. A parents' paradise too is that they don't smudge or make little artist hands overly dirty. No pastel paper is necessary for support, but tinted background does make things a lot easier for an adult artist.
Fine motor skills are forever useful, and a set of fine quality construction paper, a pair of scissors and some glue sticks will go a long way in perfecting some art projects.
Start with cutting out basic shapes, but then add finer details like ragged edges of grass, or patterns on top of a tree trunk, overlayering. Feel free to experiment with whatever scrap material is lying around the house like buttons, yarn, twigs and shells found outdoors, for more texture and dimension. It also might be useful to invest in a glue brush, and use Palmer's Glue for finer control of details.

Sculpting is an activity that can occupy you all for hours. The only problem with most sets sold for kids is that the material is either crumbly or unbendable, and it breaks just as soon as a figurine is built. What I found to work best so far is Sculpey III sets that are also sold in lots of fun color set combinations. Once the project is done, it can be baked in a home oven for 15 min, at 275F. These do need to be conditioned for a few minutes, the most fun way of doing it is with a pasta machine.

And though it's supposedly not recommended for children to use watercolor paints till the age of 12, we've had some very successful projects even by 3 year olds. Only mistake to avoid is buying thin watercolor paper, 90 lbs or lighter. I typically go for 140lb cold press sets, 9 x 12 inch in size. I also don't like spiral sets as pulling out paper is never easy. My favorite for both kids and adults are Crayola educational watercolor sets, and believe me - I compared them with Yarka boxes. They come with a pretty good round brush as well.

I know you don't want to spend too much time at arts/crafts stores, so these key supplies should suffice, oh and don't forget a large sketchbook, newsprint quality should do just fine :)

Happy travels and have a great summer!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Barcelona as inspiration - teaching children to view the world differently

I was lucky to finally make it back to Barcelona, Spain, a city where so many greats had started, and which even today proves to be a place of inspiration and innovation.

What had impressed me the most this time around (last time of course Antoni Gaudi was the focus) was the Fundacio Joan Miro, which I had missed on my last trip to the city.

I was especially taken with the incredible accomplishments of its education department. In the course of a few hours that we spent there, there were at least 4 different school groups passing through, beginning with pre-school aged children, and all the way to high schoolers. I went to the museum not only because I'm fond of Miro's work, but also because I was unsure as to how to approach Joan Miro with kids. How does one introduce abstract art with ease to different aged students?

What I had learned was that it's best to let them interact with the work as much as possible and use their imaginations to complete its meaning. Each of the tours I  had encountered, and unfortunately my Spanish was lacking to fully understand them, was nothing like I had ever seen in museums in US, where museum docents are simply being informative. Tour guides sought to encourage each student to communicate what he/she thought they were looking at, meanwhile carefully extracting what it was the kids were feeling as spectators while engaging with each piece, or color, or symbol.

We also spent a bit of time watching a video on Miro's life and work, and his goals for the foundation. His main idea behind the endeavor was to teach people a new way of looking at things. I believe the goal is certainly being accomplished there and should serve as a motto for every art teacher...inspiring kids to view the world through their own lense...

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tips for Parents: How to tell your child's work is created by your child....and not the instructor

Disclaimer: My sincere apologies in advance to instructors, who are focused more on results for the parents, rather than the creative process with the kids. I tend to subscribe to the camp of creativity, rather than perfection. Sometimes our end results aren't understood by the powers at be at the end of each class. However, it is important for me personally to know that the child had worked on the project himself, and there's natural development in his/her skills, rather than a forced vision of the world by the instructor.

So onto to the task at hand. I've been asked multiple times to assess how much involvement a child might have had with a particular finished product. Though surely some little artists are more talented than others at a certain age, here're age related benchmarks for physical development. These developments  had been witnessed in classes, but are initially based on the research by the famous Child Psychologist, Viktor Lowenfeld:

Age 3-4: Most children are still scribbling and some might begin to develop basic shapes, mostly circles. They have no concept of space or planes within a picture, or a developed human figure representation.
Ages 4-5: Shapes of objects are geometric, they float in space and sizes/proportions are subjective and distorted. Human form is being developed, starting from head/feet symbol, followed by inclusion of arms, lots of details will still be missing.

Ages 6-8: A form concept is developed but doesn't change much, base line establishment but no understanding of overlapping (tree in front of house), human figure consists of geometric shapes, no proportions.

Ages 9-11: Events are characterized rather than drawn realistically, no understanding of shadow, there's a beginning of relationships between objects, lots of details in the figure, but greater stiffness

Ages 12-14: Wrinkles and folds might be important, can zoom in or out, still only important elements drawn in detail, attempt at perspective, greater awareness of joints and body actions, sexual characteristics overemphasized

Ages: 15-17: Will begin to show light and shade, imaginative use of figure for satire, expressiveness and awareness of atmosphere.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Material exploration vs. progress

So my goal when planning the curriculum for the school was to make sure there're varieties of materials at hand and that at every lesson there's a rotating exploration of various art forms: painting, drawing, collage and sculpting... half the classes indoors and have outdoors.

This way kids never get bored, feel more open to experiment and discover hidden talents.

However, there's this constant demand for progress, and the trouble is that by the time a monthly rotation is over and we start on the same medium again next month - it often feels like they don't remember how to approach it and we're starting from scratch. To anxious parents who are trying to ascertain progress at the end of each class it also doesn't feel like things are moving fast enough. It feels like more of a jerky reaction approach rather than a program developed for long term natural growth.

But then I'm totally against a step by step demo class, and every time I show my own variation, they immediately copy what I did as opposed to turning on their imaginations or powers of observation. I really don't want every child to walk out with my version of a cat. I want them to observe the world and develop their own schemas that will remain with them for a lifetime, or change based on their changing perceptions of the world...not mine. And I don't want to be the teacher who says: 'You came here to paint, so why are you so focused on the sharpener?' I think sharpening pencils is part of the process of material exploration and developing comfort with the medium.

Also, if I prolong a project which half a class wasn't thrilled about, then it turns into the torture many kids associate with school projects and art is no longer fun and therapeutic like it should be.

So it's a constant dilemma and I know I can't be all things to all people, but how do I achieve this balance between teaching technique and providing fun variety of media?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Are we killing their imagination?

I'm amazed at the flight of imagination in most
3-6 year olds. Free associations abound, twisting, connecting and disconnecting at 100 miles an hour. A single sketch can have so many different layers that effortlessly succeed each other and just work. And then, abruptly, perhaps with the start of school, it stops.

The other day in class a 5 year old came up with 3 different variations of a zoo theme. An almost 7 year old copied exactly what the other child did as he couldn't imagine anything else. So sad.

The more they root themselves in the real world, the less their imagination roams, the more they become like us, adults, unsure of our beliefs, striving for perfection, afraid to let go. These free associations only visit us in dreams, or induced by hallucinatory drugs, like in the case of Dali and most Surrealists.

But am I partially at fault then for forcing the kids to pay close attention to details around them, instead of nurturing their ability to invent realities? Are we as overachieving parents , while pushing the kids to study the tangible, scientific truths earlier and earlier - killing their innocence prematurely? Should I help the kids complete their imaginary realms rather than attempt to ground them? If they allow their imagination to flourish, then perhaps it will live a bit longer, perhaps as adults they'll have an easier time summoning it? Perhaps they won't have such difficulties returning to purity? Like all us artists do?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Template projects for children

So of course my imagination doesn't run wild all the time and I have to resort to checking various project ideas on the web. Also because I'm strong in some things and haven't used other media in some time - I go ahead and try various suggested lessons on my students.

Perhaps I deal with a much younger audience and simply miss the point, but I'm getting more and more frustrated with the prevalence of follow me instructions. If the main goal of an art teacher is to develop creative thinking - then why do all Monet ponds in one class have to end up looking almost identical?

Yes, if we're raising robots, then they should simply follow step 1, 2, 15, 20. But with excited kids full of raw emotions shouldn't their imagination play a certain part in the process, shouldn't there be an element of media exploration, experimentation, flight of imagination? So what if it isn't a pond with water lillies a la Monet that will look perfect for when the parents come in to look at it? What if it's a farm, or a zoo, or a cave with dragons? At least you see real personal interest there and not a follow along manual.

And yes, I know that with age children's minds cannot roam as freely and they become as rooted as adults in the real world. But perhaps just in art class they can get in touch with their inner selves and be kids just a little longer?