Art is the only way to run away without leaving home. ~Twyla Tharp

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Non-Objective art and a simple foray into printmaking...

We've been talking about non-objective art for the past couple of lessons here in mizzsmiff's art room.  Normally, I don't usually camp out on one kind of art for very long as I like to mix things up but it just seems that my brain has been drawn to abstract colors and shapes lately.  I shared the oil pastel drawings that we did in my last post and I have to tell you that I have them on display in the hallway near where I have afternoon dismissal duty and they make me smile whenever I see them.  I love the bright cheerfulness that they bring to the gray walls in the hallway. 

I am so fortunate to have colleagues in my district that I can count on for inspiration, support and the sharing of ideas.  Being the only person in your school that teaches a subject can be rough.  No one understands you like a fellow art teacher.  There are only 4 middles schools in my county so it's not like there are that many of us to start with.  I know that I can always shoot Tammy an email over at North with a cry of desperation for inspiration. So, at the end of the last quarter, I was looking for a quick project that we could do in the few days that were left before fourth quarter started.  (Can I get a hallelujah for fourth quarter, teacher friends?) Tammy mentioned that she had recently done this project and it took all of 2-3 days.  I was pleasantly surprised by the results.  

As with many most of my projects these days, this was found on Pinterest from this link over at Artsonia. The original called for crayons but I let my students use watercolor since they had been begging me to paint.  

We talked about Wassily Kandinsky and I showed my kiddos lots and lots of his artwork.  I am generally amazed by their reactions to art and artists and I love nothing more than showing them something new that they may never have seen before.  We also discussed the many types of printmaking and how found object printmaking is the most simple of them all.  I have another printmaking project that is a little bit more difficult planned for later in the quarter. 

Here's a link to my little iMovie Gallery Crawl for this project:  Kandinsky Printmaking. 

Once again, I love the results. I love how they are all so different even though we followed the same parameters. 

We are currently working on another non-objective drawing that is being done with colored pencils.  We are just 2 days into the project and I am starting to get really excited about this one.  I think they are going to turn out beautifully.  The kids are excited about it too, and I can tell they want to do their best.

I can't wait to share the results with you!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Oil Pastels and Sacrifice

Confession.  I HATE oil pastels.  With a passion.  The only other thing that is dislike more is chalk pastels.  I hate the texture. I hate the mess.  I hate the residue that they leave on my hands.  I hate them.  But I do it anyway.  

I haven't done an oil pastel project in probably 5 or 6 years and I thought that it might be time to break them out.  I think that the kids might be getting tired of markers, colored pencils and water color paints.  I have a big sculpture project planned for when it gets warmer but we probably have a few more weeks before we will get into that. Unfortunately, the supplies are getting scarce this year for some reason, so I am having to be a little more creative than usual.  

When we start using oil pastels, I have the kids do a practice chart where they can try them out and practice different techniques, some of them for the very first time.  We fold our papers lengthwise twice and then in thirds, which is easier said than done.  I have them label the 12 boxes that result from the folds as follows: Light Pressure, Heavy Pressure, Light Blended, Heavy Blended, Highlight, Shadow, Sgraffito, Red + Yellow, Blue + Yellow, Blue + Red, Blue + Green and then a free space where they put their name.  It always tickles me when some of the more tactile kids (who are like me) ask to wash their hands every five minutes while others enjoy the mess that they are creating.

We talked about the differences between objective and non-objective art for this project.  For the most part, the kids enjoyed using this medium and I think that the projects turned out nicely.

While we were working, I heard a few comments along the lines of "I HATE oil pastels! They are so messy! Can I wash my hands?" and a few more "I LOVE these!  Can we do another project with them?".  I must admit that I felt a little bit guilty projecting my own feelings about oil pastels on the kids, but I am pretty sure that they saw it in my face when I was demonstrating how to use them anyway so I might as well be honest and upfront with them to start with.

If it were up to me, we would paint and doodle and make books and mixed media and do projects with lettering and type and words and do printmaking and learn about art history every day. Thank goodness it isn't.  So we have to stretch ourselves a little and sculpt and collage and do technical things like perspective and drawing on a grid and try charcoal and pen and ink and even the dreaded pastels.

The parameters for the project were: At least 3 geometric shapes.  They can be different.

Or all the shapes can be the same.  You can do more, but not less.

Have at least 3 lines dividing the page.

You can have more than 3 lines, but not less.

Show me blending of at least 2 colors.

Show me highlighting with white.

And/or shadows with black.

Love the intense colors on this one.

Love the balance in this one.

This student attempted a little bit of sgraffito!

This one has a soft water colory feel to it, I think.

I love the color choices that this student made.

So, tell the truth.  What materials do you hate using personally that you let your students use so that they  can experience the medium and make the love/hate decision for themselves?  Are there things that you gravitate toward that you seem to fall back on, with your art lessons, time and time again?  Do you have to push yourself to let your students create outside of your comfort zone?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Second Semester

Mid-Term, second semester is almost upon us.  While the rest of the (north) east coast is still digging out from a record amount of snow fall, we in the south east are preparing for what might be the only snow that we have this winter.  Last night, it was windier than I can ever remember it being since I've lived here.  I am pretty sure that something flew into the side of my house but I have been afraid to venture out too far to inspect any damage.  My garbage can blew over, several large clay pots are now fodder for mosaics and the little things that I had hanging on my house are now on the front porch floor.  It's sunny and 31° here in North Carolina today but the weather is supposed to turn blustery late tomorrow afternoon.  Further south in Atlanta, they have already closed schools, I am assuming to avoid last years disaster where students and teachers ended up spending the night at school because of road conditions.  Me?  I am hoping for an early release and a 2-3 hour delay, the holy grail of teacher (and student) days.  I enjoy the chaos, the change in schedule and the excitement that snow brings to the south.  And the no-make-up-days.  Which around here, are Saturdays when we are fresh out of teacher workdays.  I think that we have one or two left this year. 

I've been doing this art teacher thing for a while now and honestly, it should be easy.  I should have a stockpile of lessons so fabulous that I never have to find another lesson plan or project again. Whether I am teaching classes that are one quarter or one semester long, I ought to be able to pull out a file that says something like "Year 3 Rotation" and have my whole year planned.  I'm just not that kind of teacher.  I get bored easily.  Every year, my classes are different, even the grade levels that I have taught before.  My access to supplies changes from year to year and my motivation for doing certain projects ebbs and flows. Some kids are really into painting, some are into 3D, some would rather draw in pencil all day.  Some of my classes like those big crafty projects like paper making or print making or papier mache'.  This year, I bought some of these Straws and Connectors for the kids to use when they are done with their projects. I have been thinking of doing a STEAM oriented type project in the spring and thought that they might be a good exploration activity before doing one of those newspaper tower projects. I may have some engineers on my hands.  They can't wait to use them and some of the conversations that they have had when building towers that touch the art room ceiling (14') have been intriguing.  I am looking forward to spring when I can put them in groups, have them work together in teams and take them outside where the sky is the limit. Literally.
Lee and Adam hit the ceiling.

Zachary and Sa'Vion and their tower.  I apologize for the picture quality but apparently there was a filter on my iPhone camera and I didn't realize it until it was too late.
My point is that I am trying to come up with projects that spark the interest of my students.  That can be easier said than done when you teach middle school and everything is lame. (Is that even a word anymore?  Ratchet?  Sucks? [mizzsmiff frowns on this synonym] Lamesauce? I dunno.  Whatever.) Interest + curriculum + integration + materials = no easy feat. 

So far this semester, I did the same two projects that I did last semester but I am thinking that I am done with the rest of the stuff that I did the first half of the year.  It's not that the projects weren't good or successful, I am itching to do something different.  I tend to feel more "arty" (painting, drawing, teaching technique and methods) in the fall and more "crafty" in the spring (bookmaking, papier mache', experimenting with materials).  We have tomorrow off for a teacher workday...President's Day.  I'm still not sure what we will be doing on Tuesday.  Something will come to me, it always does.

But I'm kind of hoping for a snow day.

In the meantime, here is a short iMovie of the last project my first semester students did. We talked about line and movement and planning.  It was a quick art project that took just a couple of days but I think that the results were nice.  The project itself is all over Pinterest, but I found it here. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Holy Hand-grenades, Batman!  The last few weeks in the art room have been a flurry of activity!  Seriously, I need a break.  Good thing Thanksgiving is coming up fast. It's all been great and fun but we have been so busy!


I am very fortunate to work in a district that has implemented a 1:1 chromebook initiative with all the high and middle schools.  High Schools got theirs last year and thankfully, worked out some of the bugs and we got ours mid-first quarter.  At first, I was a little bit hesitant wondering what in the world I would be able to do with them in the art room, but they have turned out to be a great asset. 

I started out by creating Google Classrooms for each grade level and had the students sign in, using a specific code for their class.  Using Google drive, I can send out messages, assignments, photographs of examples, slide shows and any number of resources that students can refer to at any time.  The kids are so much more tech savvy than I, which is saying a lot because I really consider myself pretty darn good with technology and they have totally embraced using the chromebooks in not just my class, but most of their other classes as well. 

Working on the Art Scavenger Hunt in Google Classrooms

Neil found the information about American Gothic fascinating.

Google Classrooms and a chromebook in every student's hands makes leaving sub plans a breeze!

Art Club
The art club recently completed their first project. We meet every Monday afternoon for about an hour and work on some kind of project that I generally can't do on a large scale.  I had some old vinyl records donated last year and was hoping to get enough to do this project with a whole grade level but only got about 30 so I decided that it would be an art club project.  We took a couple of weeks and drew on the records using plain old crayola colored pencils.  

We drew lines and patterns and just colored them in until one side of the record was completely covered.

We took them down to what was, at one time, the old careers classroom that has a small 'efficiency' kitchen in it and boiled water in a shallow skillet.  I have to tell you that I was worried sick that 1. It wouldn't work 2. The designs that they drew on the records would wash or melt off 3. Somebody (me) would get scalded with hot water. 

Much to my surprise, IT WORKED!  We were all thrilled to pieces with our record bowls and took home our first (successful) project.  Trust me, MizzSmiff breathed a sigh of relief.

I created an Art Club classroom in Google Classrooms and sent them all a message to let them know that we wouldn't be meeting this Monday.  We only have 2 days this week before Thanksgiving and many of us will be out of town and busy with preparations for the holiday.  I took the opportunity to let them know that our next project will be a canvas painting.  They are so excited and want to know what it will be.  The truth is, I really haven't decided yet, but I have an idea.

The art club and their record bowls

 Field Trip
The 'Arts Department' at AMS (that would be me and the band teacher, ha) took the 8th grade art, chorus and band students on a field trip about a week ago.  

We filled a bus with our students and headed to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  G'boro is a little over an hour's drive from AMS in a car and we were expecting it to take much longer by old yellow school bus, but thanks to Ms. Watkins, we were there in record time. 

I know you aren't supposed to take pictures in museums but I couldn't help myself.  This was part of the 'Art on Paper' Exhibition.  I wish I would have written down the artist who did this piece.  I love it!  It was done by tracing shadows of iron gates, then cutting them out.

We saw an Opera, toured the school of music and the art students visited the Weatherspoon Museum of Art while the band students sat in on a practice session.  I have never been to the Weatherspoon before and was pleasantly surprised by their collection.  I was thrilled that the kids got to see art, in person, in a real museum.  They asked the docents a lot of smart questions and I think that they enjoyed themselves. By the end of the tour, they were tired and asking what we were doing next and when we were going home.  It was a long day with a lot of walking.

That all being said, I hate to admit that I think the highlight of the trip was having lunch in a real college cafeteria.  Can I just say that college cafeterias have been stepped up their game since I was in school back when the crust of the earth was cooling?  I'm not kidding.  It was overwhelming.  It was huge.  The kids didn't know where to start and what to do. We heard a lot of 'Can we have anything we want?' and 'We can go back for seconds?'.  There was a lot of wandering with plates out and eyes glazed over.  Apparently, the tater tots were amazing, mashed potatoes with a side of bacon bits make for the best lunch ever and cookies can be stuffed into back packs and the pockets of cargo pants for the long ride home.   

We also hit the bookstore up right before we headed back to the bus, I got wrangled out of 20 bucks for Starbucks for I don't know how many kids (did I really do that?) and we got back to school about an hour and a half later than we expected.  I really hope that we put a spark in their minds about what a large college campus looks like and what they can expect in just a few short years when they head off to college.

Teacher Artists
The next few pictures are of a 'Painting Party' we had in my classroom last Saturday.  This idea all started at the end of the last school year.  Usually, a bunch of us like to do something fun to commemorate the end of the year and thought that it would be fun to do one of those 'Wine and Design' or 'Paint and Pour' activities.  There was a Groupon out and as much as we tried, we just couldn't find a date that would work for most of us. Jennifer Walker, 6th grade science, assured me that I could teach a group of teacher to paint SOMETHING, but I really just wanted to go to an event to see how it was done before I tried to do it myself.  Fast forward to early October.  I'm not sure how it started, but someone, I think it was Heather, found a cute snowman painting on Pinterest and I exclaimed "OMG!  We can do that!  I promise!"  It started with about 5 of us. I ordered 5 canvases from Blick.  Then we said, We have to invite so and so.  And She needs to come! And I ordered 5 more canvases.  And we haven't seen Her in so long!  So, 10 more canvases. And it turned into a THING.  And I said "Eh, fuggedabout it." and ordered 10 more.  I realized quickly that no one had enough room in their house for 25 women, canvases and paint so I emailed my principal and said "Ummmm, Beverly, there are a few (a lot) of us that want to get together and paint a holiday painting on a Saturday and I was wondering if maybe we could use my art room and if maybe you could turn the alarm off so we could use the bathroom and stuff and you can come and paint with us too if you want."  

We had a blast.  And we didn't even have any wine with our design or pour with our paint.  AMS teachers, former teachers, former students, moms and friends came.  We are already thinking about what we are going to do the next time. 

I say this a lot and I know that I am not the only one on my staff that feels this way, but we are so lucky to work with people that we call friends.  We all know that teaching is a hard job and above all, we need to support each other.  Hanging out and just having fun with each other is so important.  

Staci and her masterpiece, pre snowflakes.

Heather,  working diligently.

Maureen.  Notice she put her flakes along the side of her canvas!
Kat adding her snowflakes.
Nancy, Jennifer, Chaundra and Brooke with their finished projects!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Donor's Choose

Shameless plug here, folks.  My Donor's Choose project has just been approved. I'm hoping to purchase a class set of digital cameras.  

If you should feel so inclined, please follow the link to donate.  Any donations made  through October 27th will be doubled if you enter the code SPARK. 

Thank you in advance!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Wait. It's mid-term already?

Here in the middle of North Carolina, we are already in the middle of the first quarter of the school year.  How did that happen already?  The Bulldogs are getting ready for homecoming in a week and the weather has prematurely turned very fall-ish.  I keep telling myself that summertime is going to have one last hurrah! before the cool autumn days set in, but I'm not sure if I believe it or not.  The weather has been awfully odd this year, starting last winter with an unusual amount of actual snow and a relatively mild summer.  Sure, we had a few hot days but nothing like some of the 100° + days that we have seen in the not to distant past.  I wonder is this is a predictor of the winter weather this year?  Silly me, I forgot to count the number of fogs that we had in August, I haven't seen one woolly worm caterpillar to measure their brown bands and I haven't seen any pigs gathering sticks.  I guess I could try to find some locally grown persimmons to see what shape their kernels are but that seems like an awful lot of trouble.  The sunflowers this year were kind of tall so, who knows?  I guess we will all be at the mercy of our local meteorologists and waiting for that text message, phone tree call, blue line on the bottom of the screen on the 5:00 a.m. news and the greatest announcer of the snow day-Facebook posts from all my fellow teachers.  Let's face it, teachers get just as excited about a snow day as the kids.  We are also very fond of the 2 hour delay and the early release just to be clear.

I didn't intend for this blog post to turn into a conversation about the weather, but who knows where my fingers on the keyboard will take me?

So, back to the Art Room...we already have a couple of projects under our belt. One was not very successful as far as the outcome, but I am blaming that on the fact that I can't afford halfway decent watercolor paper and am forced to use construction paper.  Our second project turned out nicely.  We talked about infographics and the kids did a time wheel that depicted a typical day in the life of a middle schooler. I was happy with the result of those and I learned an awful lot.  Some of my kids have awfully jam packed busy days.  No wonder they are sleepy.  I'm going to hang some in the hallway this week and I'll take a few pictures to share with you.

This week, we are doing a project that falls under so many categories in our Essential Standards that I had a hard time narrowing it down.  I saw an image over on Pinterest by an artist when I was just scrolling through one day.   I think it was this one, but I can't be sure.  At any rate, it gave me an idea, which is by no means an original one.  I've seen similar projects all over the interwebs, using paper (similar to Notan designs), markers, colored pencils and paint.

In this case, I have my students working on 6 x 6 squares of paper.  Why 6 x 6 you ask?  Well, I can get more squares for the buck out of my 12 x 18 construction paper.  Who says we don't do math in the art room?  As if...

We divided the paper into 9 - 2' squares.  I then told them to draw an identical geometric (not organic!) shape in the center of each square.  Next, they had to draw the same shape, smaller, inside each shape.  For the last drawing step I had them draw 3 squiggly lines through their design.  The lines were to go from one edge or corner to the other and they weren't to cross.  Then they had to draw the same thing on their second piece of paper.  This was greeted with a lot of middle school worthy sighs and groans, a few exclamations of "This is too much!" and "This is haaaaaaaaaard!".  I reminded them that we could just walk down the hall to their math classrooms and start solving equations and writing down formulas and the room suddenly got quiet.

The hardest part of the project is the planning.  They have to actually sit there (OMG! MizzzzzzSmiffff!) and plan where the colors are going to go.  The first square is in black and white and they get to choose 2 complementary colors to finish the second.  I tried to explain to them that if they don't plan it right, it isn't going to come out right and they are going to have to DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN and I am so mean, I know this.  The rules are that the colors cannot touch side by side, so I instructed them to do the black and white one first and to write (LIGHTLY) a 'B' where the black will go.  So far, I've had about 7 or 8 kids to have to do it all over again out of 5 classes.  Not to bad, I guess.  This project covers positive and negative space, pattern, repetition, complementary colors, contrast and planning and Op Art.  Not too shabby.

I think they are going to look really neat when they are done.  I am thinking that our next project is going to be one using Emphasis.  I am not sure exactly what I am going to have them do but I have a few ideas swimming around in my head.  After that, it will be mid-October and I think I am going to try some atmospheric perspective with some spooky trees.

Treasure working diligently
Meghan doing a fast duck and Emma trying not to smile.
I love these guys.  They all do such a great job in class and seem to like art, which makes my job easier.

He gets it.  That would be his mid-term progress report right there by his left arm.  Again, time is flying.

Christopher, working hard.  

Misty, planning where her colors are going to go.

My examples.  Mine are 8 x 8 because I had some scraps that size left over from something.  I'll mount the student work side by side on one piece of paper when they are done.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Welcome Back!

Well, it's a new school year at Albemarle Middle School.  I am looking forward to the adventures that my students and I will be taking this year.  I've been told by both of the art teachers from my feeder elementary schools that the fifth graders coming up are quite the artistic bunch.  That put a big smile on my face!  The ones that I met during Open House were very excited to learn that they had art every day.  Our schedule has changed a little bit and this year we will be on semesters rather than quarters.  I think that I like this a little bit better since I generally end up seeing most of my students for 2 quarters during the year anyway.  I wish that we had it in our budget to have a full time chorus or drama or language or orchestra teacher but those are just pie-in-the-sky dreams that won't become reality until there are some kind of budgetary changes across the board.  I sure would love it if our students had those opportunities, especially in middle school, though.

This year is the first year that my classroom isn't perfect and ready for students.  Don't get me wrong...they won't notice that things aren't in place but I know they aren't right.  We've had more meetings this year than what seems normal to me.  We did, however, have the opportunity to hear the North Carolina Teacher of the Year, James Ford, speak.  Mr. Ford is a World History teacher at Garinger High School in Charlotte and was very inspirational.  I believe that we are very fortunate to have him speak on our behalf, especially in this current climate of education.

Our Open House was last Thursday evening and I am happy to say that we had a record turn-out.  Attendance in the art room is typically sparse, but I had a nice turnout of students, both past and present come to visit.  I always love to see my kids after the long summer break and meet their parents.  One dad let me know that his son, Trevor, looked at his schedule and was excited to see that art was there.  When asked if he wanted to go meet his new teachers, he said "No, I just want to go see MizzSmiff."  I also had a mom of a former student, who is an amazing artist, come by to say hi.  She told me that her son made her promise that she would come to see me.

We, in the Arts, are being tested this year so I am going to be sure to take a lot of pictures.  None of us on the middle school level are really sure how this is going to work.  When we find out, I'll be sure to fill you in.  We are starting the semester off with One Point Perspective.  I don't know why I do this to myself.  Rulers.  The bane of my existence.  Every. Single. Year.  Sigh.

Welcome to Art prezi

A little bit of beach perspective.  Memories of summers past.